I love a dance company who takes the time to embrace all audience members. Atlanta Ballet did just that this weekend at the Cobb Energy Center.
This company has launched their 2011/2012 season. There is nothing more exciting than dance with a live orchestra and conductor Martin West accompanied by violin soloist Lisa Morrison and Charlie Whittaker on harpsichord, joined the Atlanta Ballet for “The Four Seasons”.
The central figure is played by John Welker. He moved through the seasons of his life as dictated by the iconic score by Antonio Vivaldi. In each phase of maturity, he is confronted by defining female figures. At first glance, the choreography by James Kudelka is classical. You think it’s going to be an easy movement interpretation of the music. However, the further in we travel, the more interesting, humorous and unexpected it gets.
In “Spring”, Welker is paired with soloist Peng-Yu Chen. Their duet is smooth with inverted daredevil lifts. A male quartet join them onstage moving one by one creating tableaus. It is striking when some of the women join the duet and just simply walk en point with wilted torsos.
In “Summer”, our central figure is joined by Christine Winkler. She lunges and slowly circles him almost like a cat stalking her prey. When they finally connect, it turns into a fast and precise, sexy, allegro duet. They moved in and out of more rich complicated lifts. The movement almost seems in retrograde when he slides her backwards at an angle. They are electrically connected. The dirty secret is that these two performers are married in real life. Their chemistry translates on stage as it does in life.
We move into “Fall”. An en dedans pirouette with the second arm being left behind is broken by a gentle version of the twist. A group of ballerinas cross the stage by bourrée en tournant in fourth position. Tara Lee emerges as the new female soloist. Three men toss her to each other. This quartet includes partnering that involves unisex lifts and lovely jumps to rolls on the ground. Elements such as these aren’t seen in classical ballet often. John McFall, the artistic director, joins the piece at this point. What a pleasure to see him with his dancers. At the end Lee is left shivering center stage.
I felt the temperature drop as the “Winter” movement encroached.
In this section, Welker, now in a long coat, seems older and more protective of himself. Being bullied by another man, the interaction turns into a polite brawl. Three mature dancers, including McFall, joined the action. I just couldn’t take my eyes off them. Our central character dances his final moments being watched and cared for by the fourth important female character.
The second piece “Eden/Eden” choreographed by Wayne McGregor CBE with music by Stephen Reich, couldn’t have been more different than the first. It has a science fiction, futuristic, androgynous feel, like test tube babies crawling out of the primordial muck. I was reminded of the creature in the 2009 Adrien Brody movie “Splice”. I have to give a giant curtsy to Ursula Bombshell, the costume designer. She donned the dancers in nakedness complete with bald caps. Flesh colored panties are simple but perfect for this technological evolutionary tale. The strange serpentine movement was highlighted by the ripples in the musculature of these elite athletes. This is a great example of how costumes can enhance the choreography, and the choreography was exciting and cutting edge all by itself.
At the beginning, the stage looks like a black hole. We hear computerized music and speaking. Video footage emerges out of the black displaying two naked torsos moving together. Latin words like “Cancri”, “Corpus”, “Capriorni” and “Intellectus” appear on the screen. A very alien-like figure rises from the floor bathed in a very stark white light. She is then joined, in the same manner, by eight other dancers. A tree lowers from the heavens. The choreography is electrically charged, abrasive and sexy and pushes these dancers to the edge of what’s humanly possible. The movement was an even playing ground; it allowed the male dancers to be as articulate with their bodies as the women.
McGregor is a movement inventor of the highest grade, and there is no vocabulary to describe how I felt watching this piece. I left my body in seat R 1, transcended my reality, and became lost in a world of indeterminate time and space. I thank Atlanta Ballet for this unexpected adventure.
As a dance lover, I tend to gravitate towards companies of a more contemporary nature, so I hesitate, ever so slightly, before a ballet performance. Once again, Atlanta Ballet did not disappoint, and gave something for everyone to enjoy. I am honored to be part of the experience and am very excited to fill a seat for the rest of the season.