Atlanta Ballet’s New Choreographic Voices brings three works by emerging choreographers to the Woodruff Arts Center’s Alliance Stage. The final Atlanta Ballet concert of the season offers something for every dance lover. The technical aspects of the concert are beautifully executed, from the pre-performance curtain design, to the lighting, to the lovely and effective costumes.
Rush, by Christopher Wheeldon, is a 2008 piece that makes its Atlanta debut this weekend, and will be a favorite of traditionalists. The piece begins with five couples silhouetted against the backdrop. From there, it is 0 to 60 as the dancers explode into movement. Rush is grounded in classical ballet with contemporary overlays. Don’t expect radical new shapes or designs here. What you will see are fast level changes that are unusual in the classical ballet repertoire, extremely elegant upper bodies with beautifully elongated arms, precision ensemble work, and a lovely adagio movement with unexpected lifts and interesting angles. Excellent technique, in-depth understanding of the rhythms of Martinu’s music, and physical strength and endurance are required of every dancer cast in this piece; it has the largest cast of any on the program, including apprentices as well as full company members. There is a moment, during a roll on the floor, when Christine Winkler places her hand behind her with a gesture so exquisite that it tugs at your heart. The blackouts are so dark that dancers disappear into them, making the next glimpse of movement truly new. Wheeldon pushes the choreographic and technique envelopes, but does not require the dancers to step outside of them. My impression is that it is a really fun piece for the dancers, and they convey their enthusiasm to the audience with their bodies as well as their faces.
Pavo, created by Atlanta Ballet dancer Tara Lee, assisted by Jesse Tyler, is her third piece for the Atlanta Ballet, a world premiere, and ventures closest to modern dance. Like Alwin Nikolais, she has orchestrated every aspect of the work to successfully interact, from her choice of the music of local composer Nickitas Demos, commissioned for this piece, to the costumes and special effects. In her Pointe of View talk, Lee discussed her inspiration for the ballet: an exploration of cycles, and ultimately breaking out of a cycle. Her central image for the choreography is the peacock, which represents a link to the divine in Eastern cultures. Lee does make the dancers step out of the envelope of dance as we have previously seen it, and they do so without struggling with the movement she has created for them. John Welker and Heath Gill, in particular, revel in the challenge, Welker embracing the complex isolations Lee has designed, and Gill launching himself into turns with unusual endings. Dancing entirely in flat shoes, the dancers fly across the floor smoothly and seemingly effortlessly. Lighting in circles or square columns of gray, black, and white divide the stage and allow Lee to work in a more intimate space without limiting her ability to expand into the whole stage. There is fog, and the dancers sometimes disappear into it. The costumes, spare and flesh-toned, expose the lines of the bodies and serve as a canvas. The women are painted in peacock-colored designs, which sometimes blur and transfer color onto the skin of the men as the piece progresses, symbolizing change. After you see Pavo, please answer this multiple-choice question:
Pavo demonstrates the change and growth that happens:
1. To a choreographer making a dance
2. To the dancers performing the dance
3. To the audience that has seen the dance
4. When experimenting with new movement
5. When working as a performing team
6. All of the above
(Hint: I believe that the answer is “all of the above.” I think you will agree with me.)
The final piece on the program is Prayer of Touch, by Helen Pickett, who brought Petal to last year’s season. Prayer of Touch is one of the most exciting new ballet works I have seen lately, and should appeal to anyone who likes to watch dance. Pickett’s choreography is expertly crafted, clever, smart, whimsical, witty, daring, and humorous. A very traditional stage draped in fabric and adorned with some square white chairs and her choice of music by romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn belies the contemporary creativity of this work. Jared Tan stood out for the sheer physicality of his performance, but Pickett designed movement that highlighted the strengths of every one of the nine dancers, and they all owned every bit of that movement. The piece begins with “the boys against the girls” in a spatial structure reminiscent of middle-school dances, but then the similarity ends as one girl crosses over into the boys’ territory. The touch is expressed in multiple ways: one body part touching another, one dancer touching another, a dancer contacting one of the chairs; there is reaction and there is resistance. The dancers are technically precise and, more importantly, dance with the most confidence I have seen from them this season. If you come to the Alliance to see anything this year, come for this piece.
I commend Atlanta Ballet Director John McFall on his choices for this performance, and for his decision to make it the final concert of the season. I hope to see more performances with the appeal of this one. I love it when a concert leaves me wanting more. I love it even more when it is a concert by our home team.
This concert is presented this weekend only. You’re on your computer or mobile device now. I suggest you reserve your tickets before word gets out and they are all gone.
Photos by Charlie McCullers