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Opening Season (Love/Fear/Loss)


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This came out long--I would very much enjoy hearing from others who see Atlanta Ballet. (I know mileages vary...)

Atlanta Ballet's closing program last season--at least the matinee performance I attended--seemed to me...well...not one of the company's strongest outings. So it is with some relief and more pleasure I can report that I very much enjoyed this season's opening program which concluded with a new work choreographed for the company by Claudia Schreier: First Impulse. I am probably too much under the immediate impact of the performance to make a cool judgment about it, but I'll act on my own first impulse and say I think First Impulse is a terrific, genuinely neoclassical work well deserving to be taken into the repertories of other companies.

The program opened with Liam Scarlett's Vespertine which was created for the Norwegian National Ballet and had its North American Premier with Atlanta Ballet two seasons ago. I wrote about it then and my impressions of it have not changed on a second viewing. Set to an assemblage of baroque scores the ballet plays on the tension between formalized/courtly "baroque" manners and the more private/intimate sexualities underneath.  The most emotionally raw and viscerally engaging of the more intimate moments is a pas de deux for two men that feels like the emotional core of the work. The choreography draws on modern dance as well as ballet and more or less blends them together. I did think it held up well to a second viewing, though the shadowy, moody lighting is at times a bit too shadowy both for my taste and for my eyes. I enjoyed all the performances, but I will mention Jackie Nash in particular. Her dancing wasn't just technically accomplished--though I should think she must be one of the most technically accomplished dancers in the company--but looks natural and authentic in a way that especially suits Scarlett's choreography.

The program as a whole took its marketing moniker--Love, Fear, Loss--from the title of the next ballet on the program which was a company premier by Brazilian choreographer Ricardo Amarante set to songs by Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel and said to be inspired by episodes in Piaf's life. I had assumed this meant that the music would include recordings of Piaf and Brel, but was wrong about that. Rather, the ballet used a live pianist and no vocals. This was a short lyrical work -- three pas de deux on the ballet's three themes set to piano adaptations of three songs. The choreography stayed well within familiar, lyrical "piano ballet" territory, but I appreciated what felt like a certain modesty and good taste.  It was also the one work on the program with live music. And, like the Schreier, it was very warmly received by the audience. (As indeed the whole program was, but those two works--perhaps not coincidentally the most balletic on the program--also seemed the most warmly received.)

Like last year, the company included a guest performance from another company in its September program. This season it was a performance of excerpts from Dwight Rhoden's "Woke" danced by members of his company Complexions Contemporary Ballet -- and early next year Rhoden will choreograph a premier directly on Atlanta Ballet.   Rhoden describes "Woke" as "a physical reaction to the daily news" and is explicit about the range of topics and issues it addresses, but the ballet's interpretation of its themes (at least in these excerpts) is not at all literal, and its "physical reaction" is one of power and vitality. The music assembles different contemporary works including vocals  and none of it identified in the program. (The most clever and stirring of the vocals riffed on all the possible phrases for which the letters R.I.P. can stand and made those phrases into a kind of manifesto. I am trying to track this down on google--but there are a number of recent "RIP" songs and...uh...they aren't the one I heard.)

In a perhaps fortuitous symmetry with Love, Fear, Loss, which it followed on the program, the excerpts from Woke also featured three couples exploring different experiences and emotions but if the former was lyrical and gentle even at its most intense moments, "Woke" was explosive -- intense (and technically challenging) even at its most gentle moments. I look forward to seeing what Rhoden creates for the Atlanta Ballet dancers. 

Schreier's First Impulse closed out the program. In the video featurette that introduced the ballet, she speaks about selecting the score by Eino Tamberg which she discovered on Spotify. I had never heard of Tamberg and from the first seconds of the ballet I found it to be a brilliant choice--the best kind of 20th-century "musique dansante." The music is itself neoclassical I suppose, though I guess I should leave that to experts--rhythmically lively, modern and even modernist at times, but accessible with lyrical, lilting passages, even a waltz.  In the same featurette, Schreier talks about having looked for music that answered to the company's youthful energy as Nedvigin had described it to her -- but also wanting a score with emotional fluidity. Well, she found it. I guess I'm spending a lot of time on the choice of music, but Schreier's choreography for First Impulse is very musical -- even the transitions in the ballet as dancers enter and exit the stage in varied groupings captures the music's shifts in phrasing, tone, and instrumentation. Some of this is craft that one should expect from any professional choreographer, but I found Schreier's musicality to be at least a notch above the level of "craft" -- I feel that I was indeed "seeing the music." The costumes By Sylvie Rood helped set the tone as well--white leotards with geometric shapes painted on them, and white "practice clothes" type outfits for the men--all imagery that was clean, bright, and (neo)classical, complimented by mostly very bright lighting by Nicole Pearce though with a few more moodily lit sequences.

Beyond "neoclassical" I'm afraid I don't find it easy to describe the choreography. First Impulse is a high energy ballet with occasional freeze-frames of images--striking groups or lifts. But  it is "emotionally fluid" and theatrical as well. The audience audibly ooh-ed and aah-ed at a sequence of dimly lit and very fast bourrees that opened the adagio. Dancers were gliding forward across the stage--gliding one by one or spaced irregularly--in such a way that they seemed like ghosts floating above the ground or 21st-century Wilis . (I oohed and aahed too but silently.)

Here and elsewhere the occasional play with lighting effects worked for me. Perhaps because I never felt I was getting shadowy for the sake of shadowy or atmosphere in place of choreography. Likewise, choreographic shifts between extroverted and introverted moments felt organic, probably because of the overarching musicality of the work.  Some of the ballet's effects have been used by others, in particular silhouetting the dancers at the beginning and end of the ballet, but I thought Schreier always handled these astutely. In other passages I saw a genuine dialogue with classical ballet tradition and in particular, with Balanchine. In one passage she has the dancers twice organize into diagonals (first facing in one direction and then in another) and the second time the dancers along the diagonal assume shapes with their bodies that make it seem as if the choreography is deliberately superimposing shapes evoking those that the dancers assume at the close of Symphony in Three Movements onto the stunning diagonal that opens that ballet. (Intentional? Something I'm just projecting onto what Schreier has done? Well, at any rate, there seemed to me a serious conversation with Balanchine.) And though the ballet was without any story, the way a single woman was sometimes surrounded and held aloft by men in different groupings also somehow came across as something other than another unattainable Ivesiana female, but rather as somehow about that woman and her role among those men.

Technically the choreography was more classical than the Schreier I have seen posted online (which isn't much); artists don't like to be put in boxes, but I must admit I am hoping this is the real Schreier. Her classical choreography pushed the Atlanta dancers too. She herself comments on the fast footwork of the ballet. (It looked very much as if one of the passages had a gargouillade in it, though the dancer didn't quite articulate the circular leg movement enough.) But I thought the dancers kept up well and/or kept up enough to enable the whole ballet to resonate. And of course some of them did much more than "keep up"--I'll mention Airi Igarashi in particular. She continues to impress and move me with her beautiful dancing. Anyway, this was a very enjoyable opener to AB's 2019-2020 season.

Edited by Drew
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Oddly enough, the same Ricardo Amarante work (Love Fear Loss)  was performed earlier this month in London, by the Astana Ballet at the Linbury. Sadly it was recorded music rather than live, which I'm sure would be a big improvement.  There was another (longer)  Amarante work on the  programme, A Fuego Lento, with a strong tango influence..  I think both of these might have been originally made for the Royal Ballet of Flanders.  

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10 hours ago, Lynette H said:

Oddly enough, the same Ricardo Amarante work (Love Fear Loss)  was performed earlier this month in London, by the Astana Ballet at the Linbury. Sadly it was recorded music rather than live, which I'm sure would be a big improvement.  There was another (longer)  Amarante work on the  programme, A Fuego Lento, with a strong tango influence..  I think both of these might have been originally made for the Royal Ballet of Flanders.  

You are right -- in a short Q&A posted on the Atlanta Ballet website, he says that Love, Fear, Loss premiered with the Royal Ballet of Flanders (You probably know that he danced for many years with them--but maybe not everyone reading this will.)  He also created a new work, The Premiere, for Atlanta Ballet last year.  I had a mixed reaction to it on just one viewing but at any rate it had a clever hook rather similar to Wheeldon's Variations Sérieuses which was done for NYCB relatively early in his career -- a ballet company preparing a premiere for a performance. However, Wheeldon had a whole comic backstage story about divas and debutantes, Amarante's work wasn't narrative in that way. 

Here is the Q&A with Amarante posted on the Atlanta Ballet website:


Here is the Q&A with Schreier the company posted:


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