Atlanta Ballet: Gennadi’s Choice

Gennadi’s first choice for the evening was Marius Petipa’s “Paquita” with some tweaks for this particular staging. The costuming and stage design were both traditional, with tutus, tight pants, and a backdrop of a staircase in a grand ballroom. This is a piece that really lays bare the capabilities of a company: the legs and feet of the dancers are very exposed and there is a lot of coordinated ensemble work that makes any missteps pretty visible to the audience even if they aren’t familiar with the piece. There was some muddiness from the corps, with a dancer here and there being slightly off and one particular dancer seeming to be permanently a fraction of a beat behind the rest. The principles and demi-soloists, however, were all excellent, making the overall performance beautiful and enjoyable. Rachel Van Buskirk, in particular, handled the technical demands of the titular role most impressively. Unfortunately, the tech crew began fading the lights and lowering the curtain just before the final pose, so we only had a brief glimpse of the ending image.

Up next was the world premiere of Gemma Bond’s “Denouement.” I thought that this was merely nearly good. It had a minimalist aesthetic reminiscent of West German modernist theater, with five panels made of a sheer fabric staggered so that the gaps of the three in front were backed by two behind. It also had live accompaniment by Charae Kreuger and Shirley Irek giving a decent performance of Britten’s cello sonata. Bond stated that this piece was about what could have been had different choices been made but that never came across to me through the choreography. It was clear that there was a lot of symbolist in the movements, but it wasn’t clear what exactly was being signified. Perhaps it was too personal or perhaps too much of it came from a book that I hadn’t read: there were some brief moments where I thought that I understood what she was trying to say but they were quickly interrupted by shifts in the framework that completely threw any budding interpretation that was starting to develop in my mind. There was definitely some interesting stuff in it, though I found that it did drag a bit at times. I think that if it had been allowed to be more of a show piece with less attempts at meaning then I’d have enjoyed it more. I might have also appreciated it more if the symbolism was more clear to me or if it had a stronger, tighter narrative framework. As it was, it wasn’t awful by any means and I certainly wouldn’t avoid seeing something else by Bond, but it just didn’t appeal to me.

The evening concluded with Liam Scarlett’s “Vespertine” which is among the most beautiful works of concert dance that I have ever seen. The stage was generally dark, with naked bulbs on strings hanging like chandeliers in several clusters giving a dim, amber light high above the dancers. The rest of the lighting design was either blue, mostly from directly above, or amber, mostly from the sides. Sometimes both colors were used and sometimes only one or the other. The stage design and lighting made parts of the work seem like memory plays, other parts seemed like Midsummer Night’s moonlit fantasies, and others came across as somewhat seedy. On occasion, the shadows were a bit too inky and would break up the lines of the dancers too much, but the designer, Michael Hulls, mostly pulled it off. The costuming was modular, with everyone in two-piece burgundy outfits. The women had dresses that appeared modest but had slits up the front of the skirts that only showed when the dancers pulled the cloth to the sides and the tops and long sleeves were detachable, such that the shoulders and arms could be bared. The men had knee-breeches and jackets with tails. Both the men and the women had nude suits: the men in a pair of tight shorts and women in leotards.

The choreography was as interesting as it was beautiful. There were times where the shapes of the bodies seemed influenced by classical Greek statues and others where there seemed to be an influence from Pre-Raphaelite art. Some brief occasions gave the impression of Baroque era court dancing without actually including any choreography of that style. The music was all baroque, with the exception of the beginning piece, which was by the contemporary composer Bjarte Eike. All of this was used to create a series of scenes that seemed to explore a wide variety of night-time activities that one might imagine in the a time that spanned the English baroque. Some of these activities were rather tame and might have been acceptable in the Cromwell commonwealth period while some were rather lurid, as though from the restoration period. All of it, though, was absolutely gorgeous and the dancers performed it very well. This is a piece that I’d love to see again and again.

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