Atlanta Ballet’s Modern Choreographic Voices

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Atlanta Ballet’s Modern Choreographic Voices brings together three works by three choreographers in a fast-paced evening bursting with creativity at the Cobb Energy Centre March 21-23.

Alexei Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas was originally choreographed for American Ballet Theatre. Featuring six dancers in flowing ivory and gold costumes that hint of its classical origins, Seven Sonatas takes classical ballet to a new modern incarnation. The curtain rises on a grand piano, deftly played by guest pianist Barbara Bilach, and there is a pleased murmur from the audience that has learned to expect recorded music from mixed-repertoire bills. The music is seven actual sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, but the dance is beyond the wildest dreams of 18th Century dancers who might have used his music while he was alive. It is a ballet of deception, appearing to be easy for the dancers, when, in reality, the cast is performing technical feats with seeming nonchalance. Placement of each foot, hand, and turn of the head is precise. The dancers carve space with their arms and upper bodies. Pirouettes spin off-axis. Dancers charge into space and impossibly stop or reverse. Even awkward movement seems right. For the dance-experienced, there are clever nods to famous ballet moments, but they are fleeting. The dancers play with the rhythm of the music, syncopating like swing dancers.Watch closely or you will miss something ineffably lovely.

“The Authors” is the latest in a series of fascinatingly intriguing ballets by Atlanta Ballet Company dancer Tara Lee. Following on the heels of last year’s successful “Pavo,” “The Authors” weaves complex concepts. The audience watches the writing—and sometimes erasure—of a letter, shown on an elevated screen. The Authors explore their individual realities on the stage below, using their bodies to recreate the writing, and finally come full circle: back to the letter they have composed. Interacting with

Atlanta Ballet dancers in Tara Lee's "Pavo." Photograph by C. McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

Atlanta Ballet dancers in Tara Lee’s “Pavo.” Photograph by C. McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

movable doors, the dance explores the idea that reality is different depending on the individual’s perspective, demanding a more open-minded journey through life than many of us are prepared to undertake. Tara Lee demands total body engagement from the dancers. Her very serious premise is relieved by flashes of subtle humor that won’t surprise anyone familiar with her ballets. A duet between John Welker and Heath Gill has the dancers performing the same movement on opposite sides of a door, but each infuses his own personality in a metaphor for life interactions Equally powerful, Welker is more lyrical, controlled, and polished, while Gill is more dynamic, raw, and explosive. Another pas de deux between John Welker ad Christine Winkler entrances with intertwined limbs that support and propel the movement.

I eagerly awaited Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharim’s “Secus” because I fell in love with the choreographers “Minus 16” last season. For me, this peace was a disappointment. Perhaps it was because “Secus” is the third movement of a longer work, although the choreographer says that it stands alone. Personally, I found the movement very esoteric, the earth-toned shirts and sweat pants dull and uninspiring, and the momentary nudity pretentious and unnecessary. The patterns of this large piece were interesting, and some of the movement was difficult. The dancers performed it very well.

Atlanta Ballet is certainly challenging its dancers, both by the works they are performing and by the compression of the season, requiring dancers to shift choreographic styles weekly and learn new ballets in days. “Seven Sonatas” is so demanding it requires two casts to allow dancers sufficient recovery time. I saw Cast B, which is not an inferior cast, just a description. The company is also challenging the audience: Modern Choreographic Voices is filled with choreography that requires the full attention of the audience and that pushes the dancers to expand their technical and artistic palettes. The program may be too abstract for general or young audiences with little or no dance experience, but it definitely explores the directions in which contemporary dance is heading. For dance aficionados, it is a delightful program.

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