This week I had the opportunity to join the Atlanta Ballet for their Final Dress Rehearsal at the Cobb Energy Center. My very cool Boss and I arrived a bit early and were greeted by locked doors. We made a couple calls and were sent through the parking deck, past the loading dock and to the stage door. For your favorite dance columnist, this is exciting. I felt at home and wanted to put on my sweats to stretch and rehearse with the dancers. Don’t worry, I kept my heels on, we made our way to the front of the house and got our pick of seats. What more could a dance lover and aficionado want.
The show playing this weekend is FUSION, a night of three diverse works by three very different choreographers. We knew this right off the bat, from a short documentary played on the scrim at the beginning. It devoted a couple of min. showing rehearsal footage with the choreographers narrating from each piece. It set the tone for what was to come.
I live and breathe for pieces like the first one. PETAL choreographed by Helen Pickett was an amazing example of full body movement. Each dancer articulated their bodies in ways that suggested a spark was ignited at the very core. It wasn’t big muscle movement it was fluid, oozy, rollie and releasy with knee vibrations and short surprising flicks. The partnering was filled with creative lifts, like a giant Pas De Chat arching straight over the head. The women were so articulate; a physical embodiment of a massage came to mind. This was a modern dancer’s ballet piece; it would have had the same impact without the point shoes. I felt the same watching this dance work as I used feel at the Metropolitan Museum of art staring at a Vincent Van Gogh painting. The costumes were bright, lovely and just plain perfect in floral yellows and blues. The dancers moved like petals flying across the air in a brisk spring breeze, or at one point I associated a duet with a butterfly and a dragonfly competing for some nectar. I didn’t expect to be so delighted this particular night. It made me wish I was 23 again and up on stage, so, Helen, if you are ever auditioning for some pushing 40’s, give me a call.
The next work on the roster was the World Premiere of Christopher Hampson’s The Rite of Spring. The music by Igor Stravinsky is an iconic piece in the dance world. It has been reinterpreted many times since its first incarnation, L’après-midi d’un faune by Vaslav Nijinski in 1913. Hampson’s version had an impressive set. It looked like a giant skateboard ramp covering the three sides of the stage. The opening image was powerful, two men in long full black skirts lying on their backs with their heads resting on the other man’s shoulder. The program told us we were looking at brothers. The older brother, played by Christian Clark, seemed to be nurturing, teaching and maybe even protecting the younger sibling, portrayed by Jacob Bush. Bush maintained a really beautiful innocent quality and character throughout the first section. The dancers worked really nicely together running up the walls, hanging from the top and flipping over one another. They used the prop so well, and I wanted more. As the music kicked in, Clark’s movement became more staccato, as though his lessons were becoming more about hard work, fighting and protecting oneself. Bush’s character responded in a naïve and playful manner, yet still trying to emulate his older brother. A shift in the lighting takes the piece to a darker place. A female, Tara Lee dressed in white, emerges from the top of the giant structure, and slides down to join the action. She is supposed to be the character “Faith”. Warrior-like she aggressively reduces the boys to puppets, and they pull her back and forth like taffy. The younger boy is left on stage in front of the scrim. Next a few disturbing pictures on the scrim take us down the path to an even darker place, a prison cell perhaps. Clark reappeared as a soldier and we see a change in Bush’s character, represented by the removal of his skirt, leaving him almost naked and exposed. Beaten down, the boy became limp and tired, but there was also a brief glimmer of a sexual awakening. The Femme Fatale returns dressed in Black, death. The movement negotiations turned into an unlawful interrogation, as the soldier put a black bag over the boy’s head. Although the subject matter has taken a serious and scary turn, this piece was filled with beautiful strong technical dancing and was full of many lasting images. We were left with Bush sitting in the middle of his cell losing his mind.
The final dance of the evening, Lambarena, created in1994 by Val Caniparoli, brought the mood of the theater back up. I think after such a dark piece it is usually a good idea to pep up the place a bit. Atlanta Ballet did just that. The music was a mash up of Johann Sebastian Bach and Traditional West African Tunes. Odd but interesting, the movement reflected exactly what the music was doing. Imagine pretty ballerinas in patchwork dresses doing a hybrid of West African dance and Ballet in point shoes. Africallet perhaps, just a thought. The Dancers bounced seamlessly back and forth between the classical choreography and the earthy, round movement of the African sections. They did it with style, joy and fierce technique.
I don’t have a lot of experience with the Atlanta Ballet, but I hope to in the near future. I’m a budding fan. I can tell you this, these dancers are very good and worth seeing. They are beautiful, strong, and professional and have impeccable technique. It is evident that this company is edgy and willing to take risks. In my world, this means there are many amazing performances to look forward to. Good show and keep them coming, Atlanta ballet.