Atlanta Ballet: Heart/Beat

I was disappointed by the poor turnout for Atlanta Ballet’s Heart/Beat program last night. I think that Atlanta Ballet has tended to stage narrative pieces for their February program in the past to maximize ticket sales with the St. Valentines Day boost but this year they went with a mixed repertoire show featuring one piece from each of the three decades of the millennium so far.1 I’m sure turnout will be higher next weekend with V-Day being on the day of the Friday performance but I normally don’t go to the V-Day weekend performances2 and the earlier showings have usually had better turnout. Hopefully next weekend will make up for it.

The first piece on the program was Lar Lubovitch’s Elemental Brubeck, a blending of jazz dance and mid-20th century social dance set to Brubeck’s album Time Changes. This was the album where Brubeck tried out scoring his music for full-orchestra and, for me, it’s his least interesting album from the period. Still, it’s not as uninteresting to me as the choreography Lubovitch set to it. Although I like his theatrical work, Lubovitch’s concert pieces generally fail to connect with me in any way. For me, Elemental Brubeck has all the appeal of a summer-stock musical revue geared towards retirees and small-town tourists. The most interesting thing about this particular performance was how badly one dancer – Jacob Bush, I think – performed. And I don’t mean just that he was bad that was interesting, but the manner in which he was bad was interesting to me. He was off from everyone else with any repetitive movements but still somehow hit transitions into the next segments perfectly. It seemed like he had no trouble following the music or counting the rhythm in his head but just couldn’t do it with his body. And it was really just his upper-body: the lower half seemed to work well enough with the rest of the dancers. On the other end of the spectrum was Jackie Nash, who was the only one on stage who took to the movements with a sense of naturalness and ease: everyone else looked like people trying to dance jazz with a neoclassical ballet stiffness, which is actually what Lubovitch intended based on what I’ve seen of his company performing the work online, so although I enjoyed watching Nash more than anything else about this staging, she probably wasn’t quite taking Lubovitch’s direction to heart with her technique (for which I’m grateful).

Alexander Ekman’s Tuplet made up for my boredom with the first piece. As with Cacti – another of Ekman’s works previously staged by Atlanta Ballet – this was clever, funny, and fairly interesting to watch. Costuming consisted of dark blue slacks and and black vests. The stage was kept mostly dark and black except for white squares, first as a giant lit backdrop and then as squares or rectangles of marley that were alternately lit as they were activated by the dancers. As with the other works on the program, Ekman’s work responded to the sound design to which it was set, in this case created by Mikael Karlsson, which featured a variety of music, sounds, and spoken words. In particular, Ekman and Karlsson seemed to be playing around with notions of rhythm and, in fact, there was even a spoken word dialog discussing the definition of rhythm at one point. The piece began with the house lights up and everyone slowly filtering on stage and grooving to a rhythm created by pair of mouth sounds. Although there was one solo towards the beginning, most of the rest of the work had dancers working in lines or in pairs performing sharp, well defined, and energetic choreography in response to the sounds being played. Mostly, as I said, it was clever and funny, with gimmicks for each section such as each dancer being assigned a full name and a movement corresponding to each part of the name such that when a part of the name was said the movement was repeated or a duet expressing what was being said in a semi-serious dialog about the definition of rhythm in a modestly clownish manner. It was a fun piece to watch.

Closing the show was the world premier of Dwight Rhoden’s Sunrise Divine. The only work on the program to feature live musical accompaniment, this was a contemporary ballet set to gospel music and spirituals along with some original music arranged and composed by Dr. Kevin P. Johnson. This was sung by the Golden Gate Singers and the Spelman College Glee Club with a band made up of piano, keyboards, percussion, guitar, and bass. It’s hard not to think of Ailey’s Revelations when presented with concert dance piece set to spirituals but, although there were flashes in the piece where it felt like Rhoden was acknowledging Ailey, it was very much its own thing. And it was an exciting and fresh thing, at that, full of engaging, high energy choreography that accompanied the music as much as the music accompanied it. Unfortunately, the performance wasn’t up to the quality of its composition. The ensemble work and adherence to blocking was McFall-era bad. This honestly has me a little concerned because there was weakness in this regard in their September program, too. Given that Nedvigin has replaced all of McFall’s ballet mistresses as of this season, he has to own any regression in quality and I’m honestly not liking what I’m seeing so far this season in that regard. While I’m being horribly negative and pointing fingers, the sound quality was awful, too, and if it sounded similarly in the orchestra level seating as it did where I was in the mezzanine then the sound tech for the show really needs to find something else to do for a living. They amplified everyone – which I think was likely unnecessary and a mistake in itself given that this is the same stage that the Atlanta Opera performs on without amplification – and the highs were harsh and overpowered the lows and it often seemed that nearly every voice and instrument had their gain set to nearly the same level. Hopefully they’ll revisit this piece sometime in the future and give it the performance it deserves.

1. To anyone that wants to correct me to say that the first decade of the 20’s begins next year, let me point out that the Gregorian calendar is not an absolute scale and the name and arrangement of dates within it are pretty arbitrary so I really don’t see a reason for me to confuse things by not using a zero index. When people care enough about the calendar to rename September, October, November, and December or at least restore them to being the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th months of the year, respectively, then I might take an argument that we’re still in the 2010’s seriously.[back]

2. This is because I’m a sad, lonely, little man who is generally unable to get a date to the ballet and so I end up having to go alone. If you’re an artist and ever feel bad about something that I write about your work then you can at least take some solace from knowing you’re probably more loved than I am.[back]

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