Atlanta Ballet: Modern Choreographic Voices

I think that Atlanta Ballet slowed down the tempi of Scarlatti’s sonatas for Ratmansky’s “Seven Sonatas.” The pianist sounded a bit too Classical period for me last season but this season it was downright Romantic period. There was waaay too much sustain pedal for a baroque keyboard piece, but it may have been necessary to make some of the pieces work with a slower tempo. The choreography seemed almost awkward at that pace, but at least Mara was able to keep up this time. Last year she was slinging her limbs into place but this time she was much more graceful and, of course, managed not to look like she was losing her balance as she had the last time that I saw it. She’s a decent dancer when given a roll that suits her but I honestly feel that this was poor casting. Nguyen really seemed to inhabit his part in the piece, but that was mostly because his general slacker approach to dancing smoothed over the sharp edges that looked out of place in the slowed down version of the piece.  The real person to watch was Lee, whose clean, intentional movements seemed to convey what the piece could be if performed at the pace intended. I have no complaints about Van Buskirk’s performance — she was performing it exactly as it was choreographed — but she came across as awkward and jerky because, when slowed down, the choreography doesn’t make as much sense. It’s funny: I was wondering if perhaps the tempo thing was just me but during the intermission they had a clip of last year’s performance and it really was faster. I’ve actually written to Ratmansky care of ABT to ask after the reference recording of the sonatas to find out what the original tempo was that he had in mind. I wonder if I’ll get a response.

The second piece, Patterson’s “Quietly Walking,” was really engaging. I have to admit that I have a bias against choreography set to Richter’s music. I also have to admit that it’s really unfounded. About half the works that I’ve seen set to his music have been good, which is no better nor worse than any other composer’s music. I think that it may be just that I associate him with his work in electronica in the 90’s and it’s just too easy to fit him into a dance piece because he always has pretty straight-forward rhythms and his work is very atmospheric. I actually like a lot of his work, so I really don’t understand where this little bias came from.

Regardless, that bias was there when I first saw Patterson’s piece a few years ago and, despite the fact that I liked the piece then, I still started off having to make myself bypass the music to engage with the dancing. This is one of only two pieces by Patterson that I’ve seen and I have really liked both of them. However, they are very ensemble-oriented and Atlanta Ballet doesn’t really function that well together as a full ensemble. They have some good principals who can handle solos and duets very well and the folks whom they refuse to refer to as their corps de ballet are good enough for a complementary background of dance to support those principals. When it comes to pieces that are oriented more for ensemble work, though, the company’s weaknesses generally show through. They aren’t the best at accurately following blocking nor do they keep together rhythmically very well. While the piece was still enjoyable, I found myself being drawn out of it as I wondered whether the men were out of step because it was choreographed that way or if they were just not able to keep their pacing and follow their cues.

Nobody really stood out terribly in the piece, although one of the women in green seemed a bit stiff and out of place and, although I liked this about him in the Ratmansky, Nguyen came across as far too casual for my tastes. At first I tried to avoid watching Gill dance because I find his form to be weighted more toward strength than finesse and he so often has trouble keeping in step with the rest of the company, but he actually wasn’t bad in this piece. I’m not sure if it was because he was a better fit for this than he has been in other pieces or if it was because all of the other men were struggling to keep in sync with the rest of the company such that he didn’t stand out this time, but it made me feel a lot better about him as a dancer. I haven’t always disliked his dancing but of late there have been a string of pieces that have left me wishing that they would keep him more in the background. Perhaps my opinion of him will change over time.

As I said, Atlanta Ballet doesn’t do ensemble work very well, and that’s the key to Naharin’s work, “Minus 16.” In fact, it’s key to most of his work. After seeing the cluster-fuck that they made of his works during the last two seasons, I decided to give the final performance of the evening a pass and so I left during the second intermission. Honestly, I don’t feel that anything after the duet, “Mabul,” really holds up well to multiple viewings; I find that the novelty wears off pretty quickly on audience participation pieces. The Ratmansky and the Patterson made for a good evening of dance so I don’t really feel like I wasted money by going for only 2/3 of the program. Still, I really wish that McFall would be more mindful of his company’s capabilities when programming works. That said, I’m hopeful that I’ll enjoy MayHEM and finish the season on a high enough note that I’ll get season tickets again for next year.

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