For some inexplicable reason, I just could not pay attention to Liam Scarlett’s Vespertine, which was at the top Atlanta Ballet’s program for last night, Love Fear Loss. I don’t know if it was the contrast of the lights in the ushers’ alcoves on either side of the stage or the constant sniffling of the gent sitting beside me, but from the first moment my mind wandered and would not settle down. I heard the music more than I saw the performance. I’ve seen it before and liked it very much and there was nothing in this performance of it that turned me off. The best I could do was to focus on whatever single dancer held my eye best, which is usually something I only do to entertain myself while waiting for a lousy performance to end. The only thought relevant to the piece that I cam away with was that the heavy use of top-lighting doesn’t look as good from the mezzanine: instead of outlining the form of the dancer, it kind of just draws attention to the tops of their body parts and away from the bits that are doing the most interesting work. Plus there’s lower contrast since the form is often seen against a pool of light on the floor rather than against an unlit backdrop.
After the first intermission was Ricardo Amarante’s Love Fear Loss. This was inspired by the music of Édith Piaf and set to piano transcriptions of three of her songs, “Hymne a l’amour,” “Ne me quitte pas,” and “Mon Dieu,” which were performed live by pianist Shirley Irek. My attention span began to come back for this one, despite the sniffly gent to my left sneezing on my arm toward the beginning. It was pretty straight forward: three pairs of dancers performed duets to each of the songs. I felt it was a bit light and basic at first, but with each successive song the choreography seemed to become more rich. Although the big empty stage didn’t quite swallow the dancers, I felt that I’d have enjoyed the first two movements a lot more in a more intimate setting. In both of these, Amarante seemed to favor keeping the dancers towards the sides of the stage for some reason. I couldn’t tell, but I think that it’s possible that the most affordable sections to the right lost a good bit of the dance to behind the proscenium. The third movement was much more vital and engaging and took the dancers across much more of the stage. I enjoyed it overall, though I liked the piece of his that they performed last year, The Premier, a lot more.
Before I could wash the mucus and spittle from my arm during the second intermission, we were treated to a brief excerpt of Dwight Rhoden’s WOKE which, for me, was accompanied by the jostling of my seat by the arrhythmic kicking of the person sitting behind me. This – the ballet, not the kicking – was performed by members of Rhoden’s company, Complexions Contemporary Ballet. I’ve been wanting to see Complexions for a while but they only play out at the Gwinnett Infinite Energy Theater, which is too far OTP for me. The excerpt they performed featured strong and powerful dancing set to a mix of hip-hop(ish) songs addressing some of the more unpleasant social issues being addressed today. The choreography, solidly couched in neoclassical ballet technique, expressed the sentiments of the songs though left it to the songs themselves to express the details of the subject matter. It wasn’t a mere music video, though: rather than simply complement the music, the choreography synthesized the movements, music, and lyrics into something that I felt was more complete and effective. It was aesthetically gripping work and quite intense. Rhoden is choreographing a piece on the Atlanta Ballet Company to premier in February and, after this brief excerpt from WOKE, I’m very much looking forward to it.
When I came back from intermission I slipped into an open seat in front of the one for which I had a ticket. It put me in front of the Sneezing Sniffler, who I think may have been buzzing a bit by this point. He and his companion got wine from the lounge for donors who donate significantly more than I do at each of the intermissions and I suspect they may also have had a glass or two before the show started. I’m grateful that they subsidized my ticket, but I’m not so grateful for their noisy whispering as the final piece on the program began. Nor for Sneezer’s occasional kicking of my seat. I am grateful, however, that when he half-covers his mouth to sneeze, it prevents the sneeze from blowing forward because I really don’t like it when people sneeze in my hair. I would also be grateful if people would learn to properly cough and sneeze into the crooks of their arms: it’s important prophylaxis for everyone around you.
Setting aside the Sneezing Sniffler – and also the Freezing Fidgeter, whom I’m not going to discuss right now – Claudia Schreier’s First Impulse was a delightful way to end the program. The stage was all white with two arches, one green and one blue. The dancers were in leotards with the men also in dance pants. Each was white with curved lines and big dots colored differently for each dancer. The choreography was a big bunch of fun set on Eino Tamberg’s Concerto Grosso. Schreier’s neoclassical choreography responded directly to the music and was full of a lot of energy and humor. This was the largest ensemble piece of the evening and, for the most part, the company lived up to its demands well. There was at least one dancer whose movements were weak and overly deliberate and, though they wasn’t ever really featured, the nature of the blocking made it so that any one dancer not quite getting there stood out to me. That said, the dancer wasn’t that bad and it certainly wasn’t enough to prevent me from enjoying such a delightful end to the evening’s program.