The evening began with a rather mediocre performance of Balanchine’s “Allegro Brillante.” The staging itself, I think, also detracted from the piece: I think that it would have looked better on a smaller stage or, perhaps, keeping the dancers closer to center. As it was, the stage often seemed to swallow the pastel and light-gray dancers. Had it been perfectly staged and performed, though, I’d still have found it dull. Like most people who enjoy ballet, I like a lot of Balanchine’s work but I also dislike a lot of Balanchine’s work. I suspect that there isn’t a perfect overlap between what interests a dancer about his work and what interests the audience and, with a large repertoire developed in near total absence of local competition, the disjunction between the two points of view leaves a lot of opportunity for audience disappointment.
Jiří Kylián’s “Petit Mort” was next. Taken as a whole, I’ve always really liked this piece and was happy to see it programmed this season. It is full of truly beautiful dancing as well as some delightful humor. However, it starts off a bit slow and I find the boys toying with their swords at the beginning a bit dull – I frequently fast forward through that bit when I watch it on video. This made it hard for me to get into partially because of a dour mood that replaced a bit of the blues I’ve been feeling all week and partially because I was put off by the Balanchine that preceded it. The performance was mostly good, with the exception of one male dancer whom I also blame for his partner being slightly off, and if I didn’t enjoy it as much as I normally would then it’s really not the company’s fault.
Concluding the show was the program’s eponymous piece, “Firebird,” by Yuri Possokhov, who appears to be the de facto choreographer in residence. Possokhov’s choreography was solidly traditional but, if it broke no new ground, it was incredibly effective and engrossing. The costuming and set design weren’t overdone but not really simplistic. There was an otherworldly sense to it that grew as the main conflict occurred. And Possokhov’s expression of the narrative was easy to follow without sacrificing a richness of dance. His choreography was very much aligned with the music – which would be hard to avoid with a Stravinsky ballet as the score – but he gave the characters a lot of definition and managed to fit in a good bit of playfulness.
All of the principles were excellent. I loved Tan as Kaschei, as I always do when I see him given a good role: I feel that he has been horribly underutilized in this company even when there were good parts for a short dancer. Clark as Ivan and Rogers as the Princess were both very charming. Nash, performing as the Firebird, looked amazing and gave a performance that was doubly so: she definitely deserved every bit of her ovation during the curtain call.
I don’t really like Helen Pickett’s work, so this will be the last time that I will see Clark and Rogers perform with Atlanta Ballet. I’ll also greatly miss Lee and I find it regrettable that Fielder will be leaving, as well. It’s a shame that Nedvigin failed to retain them. Hopefully this rocky transition is not the result of poor management on his part: he has done a lot to improve skill level of this company in a very short time but if he turns out to be too poor of a manager to retain the dancers with the most mature talent then I hope that those who have a say in such things will remember that he, too, is replaceable. After all, Atlanta Ballet, Inc. invests a great deal into training its dancers and getting them to work well together just to have them walk away. You have to give McFall credit for that: he created a company where dancers who really could have done better stuck around longer than they might have otherwise.