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Atlanta Ballet Brings Us Delightful “Moulin Rouge” for Valentine’s Day

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Are there any happily-ever-after ballets for Valentine’s Day, or must we search out Disney for a happy ending? In recent years, the Atlanta Ballet has staged “Dracula,” “Roméo et Juliette,” and now a reprise of “Moulin Rouge.” But star-crossed lovers seem to make for more interesting stories, and this ballet’s success is certainly not tragic.

When the curtain comes up on Atlanta Ballet’s “Moulin Rouge,” the audience is instantly transported to Paris more than a century ago, complete with a lighted windmill revolving atop a set depicting the world-famous cabaret. The street is quiet, but soon music is heard, and an accordion player and a fiddler stroll along. The stage soon fills with people, color, and energy. A group of Moulin Rouge performers form a circle and strut their stuff. Amazingly, there is a Can-Can fully en pointe, with flying legs, shimmying ruffles, and gleeful smiles.

The laundresses. Atlanta Ballet’s “Moulin Rouge.” Photo by Charlie McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

Jorden Morris’s ballet is a study in contrasts. The obvious are between the more conservatively-dressed men and the brilliant costumes of the dancing girls. Choreographically, the ballet boomerangs from a classical framework to a more contemporary style and back again. Like songs in musical theatre, the  dance sequences sometimes appear out of nowhere. The action is set in the turn-of-the-twentieth-century period of speakeasies and daring investments. The cabaret performers move freely, while the more sedate patrons sit quietly, observing. No classical ballet is complete without a touch of the supernatural, and “Moulin Rouge” does not disappoint here, either. The action set in the real world of Paris at night contrasts with a bit of magic: Appropriately, the green fairies who appear to painters Lautrec and Matthew spring from the absinthe bottle to provide the inspiration for more painting.

Jonah Hooper and Rachel Buskirk with the cabaret girls in “Moulin Rouge.” Photo by Charlie McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

And we like them, or most of them. The Atlanta Ballet dancers have created real people on the stage. They are three-dimensional, sympathetic. Even Zidler, the antagonist, is not entirely bad. He is desperately torn between his love for Nathalie and his desire to control her. Jonah Hooper is intense and believable in the role. The girls are dancing a fine line between camaraderie and competition, as each tries to grab or keep a moment of fame. Rachel Van Buskirk (newly a redhead!) is able to dance with abandon while making us believe she is a little older and a little more cynical than the rest of the girls. The cabaret scenes parallel the modern ballet world, where there is always someone a little younger, with flashier technique, poised to steal a role. One of the stand-out elements of this ballet is the acting ability required of the dancers. The company is ready, without sacrificing technical prowess, as they slip into the Paris world, bringing us people of a century past. The characters dance like there is no tomorrow: protected by youth and beauty, they are in love with the moment, careless of the future.

The famous artist Toulouse Lautrec, danced by John Welker, has a chance encounter with the younger, budding painter Matthew early in the ballet. At first they are gladiators competing for supremacy in the iconic Paris art world, literally riding their easels into battle and jousting with paintbrushes, but Lautrec soon recognizes the futility of such actions and takes the younger artist under his wing, introducing him to the underbelly of Paris and the feverish late-night world of the cabarets. The high point of the ballet for me is the cabaret scene where the girls dance frenetically in a group, each one trying to outdo the others with tricks, kicks, pirouettes, and splits, while the men spin a circle of leaps around them. The stage vibrates with enthusiasm and vitality that pours off the stage and into the audience like a wave that left me gasping for oxygen.

Christian Clark and Nadia Mara in “Moulin Rouge.” Photo by Charlie McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

A close second was the lovely pas de deux on a lighted bridge over the Seine. “Moulin Rouge” allows Christian Clark to show us his pyrotechnical side, but another of his great strengths is as a romantic partner. The pas de deux reminded us of that fact, in spades. He communicates with every gesture that the ballerina he is accompanying is a delicate treasure, but also a creature of flesh and blood for whom he is awash in desire. Nadia Mara, as Nathalie, responds to him as a girl becoming a woman before our eyes.

And finally, there is Tara Lee as the artists’ model. Saucy and impish, whimsically mercurial, she is like a water sprite turned human, seething with anger when ignored, smiling coquettishly when pleased….and always there are the gorgeous extensions, the elegant gestures, the impeccable musicality she always brings to her performances.

There is drama, there is conflict, and there is star-crossed love. The story is not the deepest I have encountered, and the choreography is not the most original I have seen. But  the whole is greater than its parts. “Moulin Rouge” will make you smile, make you gasp, and maybe make you cry. What else can you ask of a Valentine’s offering?

Atlanta Ballet’s “Moulin Rouge” continues this weekend and next at the Cobb Energy Center. I hope there’s not a run on the tickets before you secure yours. For information, visit www.atlantaballet.com

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Art

Rain and Fire in Sedona

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Ange Alex

A rainy day in Sedona? What are we going to do. Everything we have planned is outdoors. I am pretty sure that is why people come to Sedona, for the beautiful OUTDOOR activities, like hiking, biking, Jeep tours, viewing the red rocks and photography. 

What to do, what to do.

Oh, I know. I had the privilege of meeting some great artists that work in fire and glass! The perfect indoor activity when your outdoor plans are washed away!

The Melting Point in Sedona, conveniently located across the street for the Whole Foods (two birds with one stone, yeah!), is a group of artist focusing on creating and teaching others how to create as well.

When we entered the facilities, it was like entering a fine arts gallery. So many beautiful works of glass art. Jordan Ford is the general manager and one of the Artists. He came out of the workshop and told us the rules, then brought us into the fold. 

We were about to become glass blowers! 

Jordan had a love for the natural world from a very early age. He went on to study geology in college but that is when he discovered glass. He currently has Bachelor’s Degrees in both Earth Science/Geology and Visual Arts/Glassblowing.

Jordan says , “It’s the process of blowing glass that drives me. I find the physical act of making glass so overwhelmingly fascinating. I approach most of my work with a consideration for the more classical techniques – it’s the framework that I use as a jumping point for experimentation.”

Not only is Jordan incredibly talented, he is really personable and extremely funny. He made everyone in the room feel at ease and we all often irrupted in bouts of laughter.

Another artist that was helping us is Austin Littenberg. Austin became interested in the art of glass blowing at age 16 after watching a documentary. He spent over 12 years developing his craft and learning the technical precision needed to work at this level.

Austin views the many ways Art presents itself and is in tune with it all, and it shows.

Clearly these two artist love what they do, and I for one am grateful for their expertise and their willingness to show the world their art.

They worked with us to create a beautiful cactus, complete with three flowers, one for each kid, and a Sedona rock like base. We loved the patience they showed and the skill to make us feel at ease. We never felt like  we were about to do something we just couldn’t. It felt like we had been doing this before. That is the measure of a true instructor. 

Our work of art was complete and we left there feeling accomplished and quite honestly, amazing! 

Both Austin and Jordan have remarkable skills but also wonderful comedic timing. They were a absolutely pleasure to meet and I look forward to keeping up with their art in the future.

If you find yourself in Sedona and want to meet some really wonderful people, stop by The Melting Point and say hello! While you’re there, blow some glass!

How could I forget one of them most important things; They have a studio dog! Austin brings his sweet baby girl to work with him and she is an angel! We loved her! Make sure you give her some love when you visit!

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Artists to Watch

Cry With Us! Puddles Pity Party in Orlando

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Ange Alex

I owe him a poem:

Here’s a story of a sad clown who one night in February was traveling through O-town. 

He brought a suitcase and a lot of gum, he brought music and videos and tons of fun.

He sang high but mostly he sang low, and he put of one hell of a good show.

He gave a bearded guy a cupcake and danced with a lady, a wolf he would make

There is no doubt he is a boss sir, he even got love from Kevin Costner.

Fans filled the plaza for a night of delight as the 7 foot clown gave us some real insight.

He sang Bowie and Queen and even some Who, also Cash, Lorde and “Let it go” too

Videos played of pets and babies crying, also beautiful artwork and people smiling.

Last night Orlando was anything but mad as we showed much love for a clown that is sad.

Ok, I’d cry too after that poem. Here’s some more info:

If you haven’t been to see a Puddles Pity Party show, you are missing out. 

The show had me smiling and laughing so hard my stomach hurt, but I was also moved so many times by the range of Puddles voice. True entertainment never gets old and I have a feeling he is going to last forever.

I loved the interaction he had with the crowd. He pulled numerous people up to help him on stage and all of them were good sports, one man even singing the entire song, “All by myself” karaoke style! The show was so well thought out and planned but with room for some hilarious improv. Especially at the end when he pulled the 3 fans from the audience dressed like clowns. At the end of them performing together, Puddles suddenly remembers that he is scared of clowns! Genius! 

Hands down one of the best performances I’ve seen in years.

 

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Dance

“20/20:Visionary”: Looking Back, Looking Forward

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Photograph by Charlie McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

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.

Pen-Yu Chen & Tara Lee in “Boiling Point.” Photo by C McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

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.

“Red Clay” from “Home in 7.” Photo by C McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

“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!

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