I’m glad that Atlanta Ballet decided to restore their autumn program.1 It felt a little odd to have the entire season crammed into four months at the end of the arts season. By the time February would roll around, I often found myself almost surprised to see their dance concerts on my calendar. I must say their Return to Fall was quite the triumph, with good performances in an excellent program that was a perfect beginning to the new season.
The show began with Jiří Kylián’s Return to a Strange Land, which is for six dancers color coded into two groups, one in brown and the other in blue. The piece is in four parts, with each being set to a different piece of music by Janáček: the first movement of Piano Sonata 1.X.1905, a tribute to a worker who was bayoneted during a demonstration on 10/01/1905); An Overgrown Path;2 In the Mists; and the second movement of 1.X.1905.
Kylián choreographed this piece in honor of the untimely death of John Cranko. It is a somber and sublime work that deeply integrates Janáček’s piano pieces into the movement without ever seeming beholden to the music for its meaning or character no matter how much the dance may reflect the music in tone and tempo. The overall work kind of follows the the structure of a classical pas de deux, with trios on either end in lieu of duets bookending two duets in the place of solos. The theme of the piece seemed to be the melancholic beauty of life and death and the piece was both physically and emotionally intense. Particularly amazing and beautiful to me were the shapes the dancers would form with each other, making use of novel support poses, particularly in the final trio. Somehow the shapes and poses didn’t seem forced but, instead, developed organically from the general movement of the piece. It was gorgeous and very well performed.
The second and fourth pieces on the program were both traditional pas de deux. The first was the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux by Balanchine and the second was the third act pas de deux from Petipa’s Don Quixote. Both are challenging pieces that are enjoyable to watch and they were both very well performed. I felt that they served as a sort of palate cleanser between the three more interesting pieces on the program.
Guest artists from the Czech National Ballet performed the third piece on the program, Bigonzetti’s Vertigo. This was was a duet set to two pieces by Shostakovich: the second movement of Chamber Symphony no. 13 and the second movement of the Piano Concerto no. 1. Described in the program as a “contemplative meditation on relationships”, the movements were smooth, with a strong sense of control and potential energy. I often had the impression of the dancers being like coiled springs slowly letting the pent up energy out onto the stage.
The piece began with the two dancing in a single lit square upon the darkened stage, which had a second rectangle added to the side. The lighting then shifted to a strip of dark, night-blue light across the downstage span of the stage, and then ultimately brightened to a lighter blue, almost white light in the same area. Each of the changes in lighting seemed to signify a different stage in the relationship between the pair of dancers, who mostly stayed within the confines of the lit portions of the stage. In the beginning I couldn’t help but think of them as playing in the lighted square as though it were a very serious game of “the floor is lava,” keeping each other safe in the confines of the safe zone of the light. As the second rectangle of light was added to the square, the dancers seemed to keep to their own areas for the most part, occasionally coming back together again. As the light turned to a blue wash stretched across the span of the stage, I got the sense of a rather melodramatic adolescent love: so serious but also still immature. As the lights became brighter, the relationship between the two seemed to become more complex, with ups and downs and conflicts and resolutions. Overall, it engaged me more intellectually than emotionally, as is often the case with Bigonzetti’s work, but I still found it an absolute pleasure to watch.
The evening concluded with a world premier by Ricardo Amarante titled, conveniently, The Premiere. This was a fun and funny piece about a dance company preparing for opening night. It was set to three pieces by Saint-Saëns: Danse Macabre, Violin Concerto no. 3, and the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. Much like the music, the choreography was high energy with a lot of impressive bits to show off the performers’ skill. There was a lot of really funny physical comedy in it but it didn’t let the humor obscure the fact that it was technically challenging. Overall, it was very well put together and I’d love to see some more work by Amarante in the future.
I think that everyone can agree that this was definitely the best production Atlanta Ballet has put on so far this season. Hopefully we’ll be able to say the same of each of the remaining three shows.
1. Well, autumnish…the equinox isn’t until September 22nd. I suspect that this is a scheme to help hide the fact that they spend most of the real autumn performing the wintry Nutcracker. back
2. I think it was all of Book II, but ABC didn’t say which sonatas were included in the program and my memory is too hazy to figure it out now. back
3. For some reason the program notes only listed the tempo of the movement, which wasn’t helpful since both of the first two movements are marked moderato. back