The Atlanta Ballet’s season was recently announced, and this season’s schedule is packed with family ballets, beloved returning performances, new ballets, new venues, and my personal passion, New Choreographic Voices. John McFall and the Board have outdone themselves in putting together a season filled with something for everyone.
Audience favorites are expected to be the return of Michael Pink’s Dracula; a U.S. debut of Carmina Burana, by British choreographer, David Bintley; and the Atlanta debut of Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin’s experiential Gaga piece, Minus 16, which has received extensive, worldwide critical acclaim, and which was recently performed by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater . However, families and traditionalists will be happy to see both a re-created Nutcracker, which opens the season at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, and a one-hour family version of Cinderella at the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center, a new venue for the Atlanta Ballet. The world premiere of I Am, by Gina Patterson, will join Minus 16 on the New Choreographic Voices program. And finally, the mixed repertoire “Love Stories” will close the season. (The full schedule can be found at the end of this article.)
The Atlanta Ballet family is welcoming some new dancers, including two young men, Alexandre Barros and Benjamin Stone, who have been promoted to the company, and four apprentices who will perform as well. Three dancers from China will be joining the pre-professional division as fellowship dancers, courtesy of the Confucius Institute at Kennesaw State University.
But what was that about family? In the press and season-ticket-holder preview event earlier this month, “family” was a word heard frequently. Artistic Director John McFall used it a lot, speaking of the Atlanta Ballet company and also of the greater, worldwide dance community. He definitely oversees the company as a benevolent parent would, looking out for his dancers’ welfare physically, artistically, and personally. They return the feeling, with Heath Gill, Jackie Nash, and Rachel Van Buskirk all speaking eloquently of the company and the Artistic Director as family. I believe this sense of belonging enriches the ensemble: they dance as a tightly-knit unit, supporting one another and cheering each other’s accomplishments. They are a diverse group, with more than 10 countries represented in the company, and the resulting diverse styles and personalities enhance the company’s performances. The proof of the success of the model promoted by Mr. McFall is that nineteen dancers are returning to the company this season, and several dancers have many years with Atlanta Ballet. (Go to the company artists’ page at www.atlantaballet.com to see for yourself!) Just as with other athletes, more experience as a team improves the players’ performance.
[Speaking of family, Christine Winkler will not perform this season for the first time in eighteen years, as she and her husband, company member John Welker, are expecting their first child in the spring.]
And don’t forget the 250 or so young dancers who will join the professional company, the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra, and the Georgia Youth Choir for the Nutcracker in December. Now, that’s a BIG family! It is noteworthy that nine former Atlanta Ballet students, children who began their performing careers in an Atlanta performance of Nutcracker, perhaps, are now company members. I am looking forward to watching for some exceptional talent among the mice and soldiers, and I’ve been told this year’s performance includes even more magic. My only regret is that I’m told that the schedule didn’t permit a Nutty Nutcracker.
BELK PRESENTS ATLANTA BALLET’S NUTCRACKER (Full-evening Ballet)
December 7-26, 2012 | The Fabulous Fox Theatre
Live with the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra
CINDERELLA (One-hour Family Performance)
January 4-6, 2013 | NEW VENUE: Gwinnett Performing Arts Center
AND February 16-17, 2013 | Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
Michael Pink’s DRACULA (Full-evening Ballet)
February 8–16, 2013 | Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
Live with the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra
NEW CHOREOGRAPHIC VOICES (Mixed Repertory)
Featuring the Atlanta Ballet Premiere of Israeli Choreographer Ohad Naharin’s “Minus 16”
World Premiere of “I AM” by Choreographer Gina Patterson
March 22-24, 2013 | Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
David Bintley’s CARMINA BURANA (Full-evening Ballet)
NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
April 12–14, 2013 | Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
Live with the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra and the Georgia State University Singers
LOVE STORIES (Mixed Repertory)
May 10–12, 2013 | Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
For more information on Atlanta Ballet’s 12-13 season, including ticket information, call 404-873-5811 or visit Atlanta Ballet at 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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