Atlanta Ballet’s 2013 New Choreographic Voices Showcases Emerging Choreographers

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In 2011, there was Ignition. John McFall did what artistic directors everywhere would love to be able to do: He dedicated a segment of The Atlanta Ballet’s season to the works of the new generation of choreographers who are shaping what dance will become. This year’s event is roaring down the backstretch. The Atlanta Ballet’s 2013 New Choreographic Voices will open at Northwest Atlanta’s Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center March 22, and there is a sweet treat for The Backstage Beat readers. Read on.

The annual mixed-repertoire offering debuted in 2011. As I write this, it has been 296 days since I reviewed the 2012 NCV concert, and I have been waiting for the next opportunity for every one of those days.

Gina Patterson's "Quietly Walking,"  courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

Gina Patterson’s “Quietly Walking,” courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

The 2011 performance included “Quietly Walking,” by Gina Patterson, and she returns this year with the world premiere of “I Am.” “Quietly Walking” was a statement grounded in ballet but overlaid with contemporary movement, simple walking, canons and counterpoint, complex lifts, and spiraling descents. Back Stage has described the former Pittsburgh Ballet Theater dancer as having “startling originality,” which explains the numerous awards she has received for her choreography. She is a prolific choreographer with more than 70 original works to her credit in the past 15 years. Atlanta is fortunate to have the premiere of this one.

"Rush," by Christopher Wheeldon. Photograph courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

“Rush,” by Christopher Wheeldon. Photograph courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

If you saw Christopher Wheeldon’s “Rush” last year and, as I do, wanted to see it again, here’s your chance. This contemporary pointe piece was created in 2008 and had its Atlanta premiere on the 2012 New Choreographic Voices concert. In Rush, Wheeldon’s greatest strength lies in his complex use of large groups and the way he pushes the dancers technically and athletically.

Last, but anything-but-least, is Ohad Naharin’s “Minus 16,” a work set to music that spans the repertoire from Dean Martin to traditional Israeli songs. This piece required the Atlanta Ballet dancers to learn Naharin’s signature dance language, Gaga, which has found a growing, worldwide popularity with dancers and non-dancers alike. It is “about giving people keys to opening doors within themselves,” says assistant to the choreographer Rachael Osborne, who served as Répétiteur for the work at the Atlanta Ballet. She comments that there are “no mirrors in our studios—we relate to our bodies through sensing it instead of trying to imagine what we look like on the outside.” Dance Professor Sally Radell at Emory University found through her research that beginning dancers learn more quickly and produce better technique when they are deprived of mirrors, also perhaps because they are then forced to internalize the movement. The Atlanta Ballet dancers learned “Minus 16” with no mirrors, an experience that must have been both frightening and exhilarating for dancers who habitually use them to check body alignment, spacing, and a host of other qualities.

"Minus 16," choreographed by Ohad Naharin.  Photograph courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

“Minus 16,” choreographed by Ohad Naharin. Photograph courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

Naharin says that Gaga has “a venue for dancers and a venue for people…who have no desire to be on stage.” It has had a dedicated following in Israel for years, and is now developing one in major cities in the U.S. When working with dancers, Naharin uses “words that describe places in our body and also different activities.” Gaga requires total understanding of the body and the way it moves, and total concentration by the dancer. The movement can appear deceptively simple, sometimes beautiful, sometimes not. (Find out more about Gaga from Naharin’s presentation at the Guggenheim Museum at http://www.ohadnaharin.blogspot.com.)

I have seen Gaga performances in the past, but set on dancers whose primary training was in modern dance, not ballet. I am most interested to see whether the end result is the same. Is Gaga filtered through the experiences and training of the individual, or is the individual molded by the language of Gaga? In either case, I expect to see the dancers’ abilities expanded—not a small feat for a company that has been consistently enlarging its boundaries since New Choreographic Voices became an Atlanta staple two years ago.

New Choreographic Voices runs March 22-24, with four performances, including two matinees. Parental discretion is advised, as the program contains nudity. For more information or tickets, visit http://www.atlantaballet.com/tickets-performances/new-choreographic-voices/. The sweet treats? 25% off your ticket order for The Backstage Beat readers, using the promo code GAGA. Or a Single in the City $30 offer that includes a complimentary cocktail at Cinco before the show and a discounted ticket to New Choreographic Voices, using the promo code SINGLE.

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