This May, Atlanta Ballet (AB) Artistic Director John McFall will present another cast of emerging choreographers in the Company’s now annual production New Choreographic Voices(NCV) – a mixed repertory program featuring two world premieres and an Atlanta Ballet premiere on the Alliance Stage at The Woodruff Arts Center May 18 thru May 20.
The three standout chorographers, including AB dancer Tara Lee, combine classical dance with daring new movement, music, and diversity that McFall describes as “emotional, inspiring, and intellectually stirring.”
This year’s production marks the second season Atlanta Ballet will present the edgy program of premieres. Last season’s show, which was then titled Ignition: New Choreographic Voices, featured three world premieres, including the powerful, Atlanta-inspired “Home in 7” by choreographer Amy Seiwert.
Tara Lee’s “Pavo” – World Premiere | Original Score by Atlantan Nickitas Demos (Performed Live)
Best known as a company dancer in her 16th season with Atlanta Ballet, Tara Lee has proven that she’s as dynamic offstage as she is on.
Artistic Director John McFall has commissioned Lee three times to create new works for the Atlanta Ballet. Her last creation for the ensemble was in 2004, and now Lee returns with the world premiere of “Pavo” – a unique alliance of classical and contemporary movement styles inspired by the beauty and symbolism of the peacock.
“I came across an article about the spiritual significance of the peacock, and it ended up inspiring the central themes of the ballet,” said Lee. “The peacock has the ability to digest poisonous snakes, so it represents transforming one’s poisonous tendencies into something beautiful.”
Lee’s work is also marked by collaboration. Assisting her with the choreography and artistic direction is fellow company dancer Jesse Tyler.
“One of the best parts about this project has been working so closely with the dancers. They’ve been a huge part of the creative process and tremendous collaborators. I knew they were amazing before, but being able to step back and work with them in this capacity has made me appreciate their artistry even more.”
To accompany her choreography, Lee commissioned Georgia State University professor Nickitas Demos to create an original score for the work, which will be performed live by Atlanta DJ Jen Mitchell and percussionist, saxophonist and cellist from the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra.
Helen Pickett’s “Prayer of Touch” – World Premiere | Music by Felix Mendelssohn
After an overwhelming response from last season’s Atlanta Ballet debut of “Petal,” choreographer Helen Pickett is back with a world premiere titled “Prayer of Touch,” set to the music of Felix Mendelssohn.
“When I set ‘Petal’ last year for Atlanta Ballet, it was my privilege to work with these passionately connected individuals,” said Pickett. “I felt their bounteous energy fill the rehearsal studio and watched it pour over the edges of the stage. ‘Prayer of Touch,’ my second commission for Atlanta Ballet, explores not only the desire, but also the necessity we have for connection. We present this ballet to you, an offering that reveals who we are.”
Christopher Wheeldon’s “Rush” – Atlanta Ballet Premiere | Music by Bohuslav Martinu
Atlanta Ballet closes its 11-12 season of choreographic giants with the premiere of “Rush” by famed dancemaker Christopher Wheeldon. Wheeldon, who has been regarded as one of today’s most innovative contemporary ballet choreographers, creates a wistful, neo-classical homage to the traditional pas de deux that has been described as “ardent, enigmatic, energetic, and highly technical” since its debut by San Francisco Ballet in 2003.
“Mr. Wheeldon’s ‘Rush’ emerges as one of the most vividly satisfying constructions by him or any other ballet choreographer in this decade,” said New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay in a 2008 review.
Tickets start as low as $20 and are on sale now. To purchase tickets, visit www.atlantaballet.com
“20/20:Visionary”: Looking Back, Looking Forward
Last weekend (March 18-20) the Atlanta Ballet gifted the city with “20/20: Visionary,” three pieces, including a world premiere, presented at the Cobb Energy Center.
The world premiere, “Playground,” by British choreographer Douglas Lee, belied its name by being a shadowy piece danced between upright, rolling chalkboard set pieces. Prepared for a lighthearted, joyful expression of childhood, I was surprised that the work instead exposed the darker side of childhood memories. There were some light moments, such as the towering billboard inscribed with multiple lines reading, “Jackie must remember the steps” – clearly a humorous aside about Jackie Nash, one of the most capable company members and perhaps the quickest study in rehearsal. There were some easily-seen choreographic devices–a lot of theme and variation, even more pushing around of set pieces–but there were a few exceptional moments as well, including intricate, slow-motion manipulation of a dancer’s body by another dancer.
The opening work, “Boiling Point,” by Darrell Grand Moultrie, was playfully performed at breakneck speed. Dancers are often told to “make it look easy,” and the company took that concept to heart. Highlighted against the men in black costumes, the women wore bits of metallic fabric, providing splashes of intense color and exposing powerful bodies with long muscles. The piece began with the stage space open almost to its fullest, and the dancers running across like a rushing river. They rolled, twisted, turned, and slid like water itself. The choreography juxtaposed synchronicity with counterpoint, traditional with innovation. There was a gargouillade, rarely seen even in classical ballets. The lines of the bodies were critical to the piece, and often layers deep. The flow was almost nonstop, with only an occasional flick of a wrist or toss of a head to provide momentary stasis. The standout was Christian Clark, who sometimes nearly managed to integrate himself into the group but then something distinctive and powerful in his dancing drew the eye to him again.
“Home in 7,” a work by Amy Siewert, closed the concert. A portrait of Atlanta, the ballet was a rich tapestry woven from music, spoken word, and movement. Performed in 7 segments to a libretto written and performed by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and an intriguing, haunting string score composed and performed by Daniel Bernard Roumain, the dance, too, was a poem, shimmering like summer moonlight on the Chattahoochee. John Welker opened the ballet with tiny explosions of movement “Secrets.” Perhaps the most enchanting segment was “Home of the Braves:” 5 men using baseball imagery, holding their formation as they slid precisely between pitches and catches. “Red Clay” evoked August nights, intolerance, and redemption—Atlanta history, a story familiar to many. I first saw this ballet in 2011, and it has grown in depth as the dancers have matured technically and emotionally. Atlanta loves its ballet company, and never more than when it showcases its home city.
John McFall is ending his tenure with the company at the end of this season. For newcomers to Atlanta Ballet offerings, this will have been a dynamic performance. For long-time supporters, it will have been an opportunity to reflect on his legacy. There are a couple more opportunities to see the company under his watch, and then he will pass the torch to Gennadi Nedvigin, the company’s fourth artistic director. Stay tuned!
Atlanta Ballet’s “Nutcracker” Enchants
This year, the Atlanta Ballet marks the 20th anniversary of Artistic Director John McFall’s “The Nutcracker.” Attendance is a familiar holiday season tradition for many area families, who line up to see the changes and improvements that occur each year. While the story of the young girl who receives a Nutcracker-who-comes-to-life is familiar to thousands of ballet fans, there are many versions. The Atlanta Ballet’s production is richly designed and elegantly danced.
Originally a failure in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1892, “The Nutcracker” is now a holiday staple in the United States. Nobody dances it any better than the Atlanta Ballet, and nobody loves it more than a matinee house full of children! Whether they are watching their peers on-stage; hearing the Georgia Youth Choir singing in the Snow scene from the boxes; absorbing the live music from the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra in the pit; laughing with joy at Mother Matrushka’s children, emerging from under her skirts; screaming with glee at the capering Chinese Dragon; or reaching far above their heads to capture a snowflake, the children are enraptured for the two-plus hours the ballet is on the stage—and the adults are mesmerized right beside them.
There are some elements of this version of the ballet that are not my favorites, but the dancers didn’t make that list. Casting is impeccable, and, for me, part of the excitement of revisiting the old standby is seeing the dancers mature, improve, and demonstrate new abilities. The other part is watching the children captivated by the allure of the Fabulous Fox Theatre, the live music, the dancers, and the dancing—and being enthralled myself.
My list of this year’s positives goes like this:
John McFall has to contend with decreasing audience attention spans as we move further into the age of technology, and he tweaks Act I each year to make it more exciting. It is fast-paced. You may want to see the ballet more than once to catch everything! The foreshadowing during Act I was clear and well-conceived, and had the audience eagerly anticipating the return of the dancers to the stage after intermission.
Kurtis Blow and the Hip Hop Nutcracker
A holiday mash-up for the entire family, The Hip Hop Nutcracker, a contemporary work set to Tchaikovsky’s timeless music, embarks on an international tour on the strength of last December’s sold-out performances of the world premiere at New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) and United Palace of Cultural Arts (UPCA) in New York City. The Hip Hop Nutcracker will make a stop at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre Saturday, Nov. 28 at 2 p.m.
The Hip Hop Nutcracker is directed and choreographed by Jennifer Weber, artistic director of the all-female hip-hop crew Decadancetheatre in Brooklyn. It is adapted to today’s New York by Mike Fitelson, executive director of UPCA – the work’s original producer – and includes hip-hop interludes remixed and reimagined by DJ Boo and violinist Filip Pogády.
For its stop at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre on Saturday, Nov. 28, The Hip Hop Nutcracker features special guest MC Kurtis Blow, one of the founders and creators of recorded rap music.
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