John McFall, the man behind the pointe shoe at Atlanta Ballet, has done it again. He has brought his company to the dangerous edges of their genre of dance. To a place where I’m not sure we can still call it Ballet. And that is just fine, in fact welcomed, by this little critic. This weekend Atlanta Ballet presented an evening in three parts Man in Black.
McFall is the kind of director who will hear rumors about the talent of a young choreographer and then will simply call them up to say ‘how ‘bout coming out and hanging with us for a while.’ He’s the kind of person who creates opportunities and he is an advocate of dance and therefore a man of my own heart.
Juel D. Lane is the latest young choreographer to have been put underneath Atlanta Ballet’s proverbial wing. Lane, a renaissance man, has his hands in many visual art forms. In October 2010, he won the Dance Magazine’s video of the month with Just Another Day.
His piece Moments of Dis opened the evening black. Black dresses, black shoes and black low crotched pants. The phrases are urban and funky, but it took the company a couple of sections to find the pocket of the movement. The choreography is very interesting and Juel has talent, but the pants, reminiscent of M.C. Hammer, were distracting and made impressive steps look awkward. It wasn’t until the 3rd section, during a quartet, where I could look past the leg-wear and actually enjoy what he was trying to say about prefix “dis”. Lane says, “Sometime we become disillusioned, disrespectful or dishonest with our personal choices in life.”
Man in Black is not the kind of piece that solicits mass appeal. There are no circus tricks or razzle dazzle. Choreographer James Kudelka works with a less is more concept. What I really like about this piece is that it’s a lot like Jonny Cash himself. His public persona was outwardly calm and his voice had a soothing tone. But under the skin was a very troubled, addicted, emotional and passionate man, filled with disturbing tales and nuggets of wisdom. The choreography was the same. Every section has an almost monotonous base traveling step that is executed throughout, holding the meat of the story together. A quartet with only one female dancer, Lisa Barrieau, is a nice dynamic; she softens a very steppy, country western, manly aesthetic. As in the first piece, it seemed to take the dancers a good couple of sections to find the groove of the work. Or maybe it just took me that long to adjust to the vocabulary being presented. That being said, once the groove was got, I was able to see behind the curtain into what the choreographer Kudelka was trying to do. To lyrics like “Never lose affection.”, “My name is Sam.”, “I hate you all.” and “Damn your eyes.” the dancers marched, scootched and stamped in formations creating calm waters with an aggressive under tow. The twisted square dance slipped in ideas of struggle, unrequited love, battling demons and suicide all in a tasteful manner. It is also pretty literal, but if you happen to daydream for a second you might miss it. It felt like someone was whispering to draw me in, in order to say something important. If I hadn’t stopped everything to pay attention its message would have been lost.
The thing I like about Atlanta Ballet the most is that they are willing to put tough work out there. Not just the crowd pleasers and classical work, but work that may not be understood by the masses. I believe that is what true artists and ART companies do, and what Artistic Directors should strive for. They are a company with courage.
In 1st Flash Atlanta Ballet was back in true form. Up until this point in the show there hasn’t been one foot shod in a pointe shoe. Choreographer Jorma Elo, a former hockey goalie who turned to ballet for the sport, has created a kinetic, off kilter yet elegant piece representative of his style. It is a contemporary ballet in every sense of the term. The dancers start moving on a Black stage. Pupils must dilate to the lack of lighting in order to see the choreography. A giant platform stage left slowly rises up to the rafters, sometimes illuminating the dance underneath. The actual movement is strong and gutsy without a classical vocabulary; dancers seem to move the air out of their way to string the steps together.
It was an interesting evening. The various manifestations of Man in Black in each section lead to conversation, which is what theater going should do. Atlanta Ballet left me with a lot to chew on and a desire to see it all over again.