Despite some weaknesses on the front in the of the program, Atlanta Ballet’s March production, 20|20 Visionary, was generally good. A mixed repertoire program, all three pieces were commissioned by the company, although only one received its premiere with this program.
The concert began with Boiling Point by Darrell Grand Moultrie, which was given its world premiere by the company in 2009. It is a very kinetic piece — which, now that I think about it, is an incredibly stupid thing to say about a dance piece since they are all kinetic. Let’s say that it maintains a high level of energy throughout the piece with very little in the way of slow moments and is also very athletic. Stylistically, the dance was a blend of ballet, modern, and theatrical dance. There were tiny moments that reminded me of bits of Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV, but those came and went rather quickly. It is a fun piece and gives dancers some great chances to show off, although I found some of the solos to be a bit dull. I’d say that it does make for a good opening to a show, as it certainly catches the attention of the audience, but it is also entirely forgettable. I think that its weakness comes in part due to a lack of an aesthetic sense of progress: everything just kind of flows along with no really goal or endpoint. If I were to call it vapid, I would be implying that it had pretensions toward a deeper meaning, which it didn’t. It was just a fun show piece and it didn’t try to be much more.
The performance was fairly weak. The athleticism was generally spot on, but the attention to blocking was poor. It was obvious that spacing was off, that certain triangles should have been isosceles, and at one point it actually looked almost like one of the dancers might have to worry about hitting another one because they weren’t in the right positions. This was much more of a problem with the men than the women. Unfortunately, there were times where the choreography would have them in a less regular shape and the previous weaknesses made those look like they were also wrong at first, which reflected poorly on all of the dancers, not just the ones who were off often mark. There was also some trouble with timing: a lot of movements seemed like they should have been more synchronized rather than sequential and, again, there were moments that were probably performed correctly that looked suspect due to the previous mess-ups. I also think that they may have missed at least one lighting cue in the final part of it.
The middle piece on the program, Playground by Douglas Lee, was a world premiere and also my favorite of the evening. Much more modern dance than ballet, the piece had a wonderful aesthetic reminiscent of mid-80’s German experimental theater. Movements were sharp and distinct, the dancers were dressed in all black, and the set consisted of a series of large boards of various rectangular shapes on casters that were white on one side and covered in blackboard paint on the other. A few par cans were hung on flies and raised and lowered throughout the piece as needed, with the light generally being dark and with heavy shadows. The whole thing gave the impression of adults remembering some events from their youth and realizing that there was something more to it, something darker behind what they were doing. There was a sort of indistinctness to the aesthetic that seemed much like a memory play: dancers who weren’t the main target of attention tended to stand behind the boards, entering and exiting in smooth, uncanny movements, almost implying a memory that the person was there but not knowing what they were doing. There was no real detail to the boards, except when they were written on with chalk, and there was a black drop behind the set, like the interpretation of a memory in which the only information in the memory was the bits pertinent to the story being told. It was performed well and the mise en scene worked incredibly well. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out that this will have been my favorite piece from the season.
The final piece was Home in 7 by Amy Seiwert, set to poetry read from the stage by Marc Bamuthi Joseph accompanied by music on electric violins composed and performed live by Daniel Bernard Roumain. I had seen the premiere of this back in 2011 and enjoyed it then. I recall that Gina Patterson’s Walking Quietly was on the program, and that I enjoyed it a bit more than the Seiwart piece. There was and also something flashy and obnoxious called Flux by a choreographer whose name I can’t remember. This is a flashy, catchy piece and was fairly well performed by all involved. The original commission was for a piece about Atlanta, a place that was foreign to Seiwert, so she recruited Bamuthi Joseph, who is a Morehouse man. What he put together is kind of odd: I’m honestly not sure that most people would really expect an entire segment devoted to the Atlanta Child Murders, for instance. The poetry feels kind of disjointed at times, as though he just threw anything Atlanta related that happened to pop into his head, although it is well structured and its reading provides a good framework for the dancing. Honestly it feels a little like pandering to have a bunch of people who aren’t from Atlanta put together such a personal piece about the city for a local audience, not unlike the annoying songs that they used to sing on A Prairie Home Companion where the tune was always the same but they’d list a bunch of points of interest local to whatever city they were in at the time. It’s not that it’s bad so much as that, taken as a whole, it lacks a certain authenticity. I can’t imagine some artistic director in another city who is originally from Atlanta wanting to stage this as a tribute to their hometown. For that matter, there probably weren’t that many people in the audience this evening who have been in Atlanta even as long as McFall and Welker have — it being such a small audience probably due the fact that their mixed repertoire shows generally bring in a younger audience and the competition from the St Patrick’s Day festivities — so I kind of don’t think that it made that much sense to program it again.
This second time around, I really focused more on Seiwert’s choreography and let the poetry be more of a rapped accompaniment. In fact, I think that the part that I enjoyed the most was a duet by Alessa Rogers and Christian Clark entitled Loss that was just music and dancing without the poetry. That may reflect the fact that I go to a dance concert for the dance more than anything else, but it was really beautiful and very well performed. The only thing that I’d change is the low contrast from Rogers’ red costume on a red background: that always bugs me. I think that twice is enough of this piece for me, but I’d really love to see something else by Seiwert that comes more from her and less from the dictates of the commission. I could say the same of Bamuthi Joseph.
Overall, I left feeling that it was a good show. The weaknesses in the first performance left me struggling to try to avoid being extra critical of the remaining two pieces, but despite that I enjoyed myself. The nice thing about a program full of pieces choreographed on a company is that you can have a lot more confidence that they’ll be able to perform them reasonably well. Hopefully the May performances will be as good.