Atlanta Ballet closed its 2013-14 season the weekend of May 16-18 at the Cobb Energy Center with “MAYhem”: a mixed-repertoire performance combining two world premieres with a reprise of Jorma Elo’s “1st Flash.”
At final dress rehearsal Thursday night, the production opened with the premiere of Artistic Director John McFall’s “Three.” The stunning opening of the piece featured Tara Lee in yoga-derived choreography, demonstrating that one dancer, seated on stage in a pool of light, can captivate an audience using simple gestures, beautifully performed. From there, the work became more complex. The frequently-fragmented choreography explores dreams, moving arbitrarily from one idea to another. Dancers made entrances in various ways, sometimes climbing stairs from the orchestra pit, sometimes arriving from the wings, and once erupting through the set. Fluid movement contrasted with erratic athleticism. At one point, Brandon Nguyen was performing a series of jetés en tournant and other steps reminiscent of a classical variation, while women were engaged in more contemporary, core-initiated, grounded activity. It was a controlled cacophony of movement that showcased the dancers’ dexterity. The music was drawn from a long list of composers, with company dancer Jesse Tyler contributing an arrangement and a composition he performed. The stark set, of hanging strips of paper, made sound that contributed to the surreal atmosphere created by the movement and the music.
The second piece, “The Exiled,” an anxiously-awaited premiere by Atlanta Ballet Resident Choreographer Helen Pickett, proved to be a departure from her usual work. The dance/drama included a script, spoken by dancers Christian Clark and Nadia Mara, the Reckoners who mete out punishment to three persons who had lived less-than-exemplary lives. The stage was transformed by lights and a Plexiglas room in which the majority of the action took place, with a group of unnamed dancers portraying others not selected for punishment, pacing near the left stage wing at the beginning and end of the story. There was acting as well as dancing. Each of the dancers inside the room had a distinctive character, with each of the three desiring affirmation from the others, but not receiving it. They began fully dressed in the clothing each wore to create an outward image for the world to see, but, as the work developed, they took off layers until their clothing was minimal and their individual dance styles and personalities alone differentiated them from one another. This would have been challenge enough, but the choreography was exceptionally demanding. The movement was often frenetic and always intense, but with a sense of purpose. The audience ended up with more sympathy for the exiled than for those who exiled them. Helen Pickett emerges as a storyteller as well as a choreographer. This piece doesn’t allow the audience members merely to observe; they are required to participate intellectually and emotionally. When the piece ended, there was a sense of something unfinished, as though the story is eternally continuing somewhere while the audience moves on.