Atlanta Ballet’s MAYhem: Kissed

Atlanta Ballet’s dancers really rose to all of the challenges of their spring concert, MAYhem: Kissed. A mixed repertoire show, the first two pieces were modern dance followed by some real ballet. It was a good mix of styles and I suspect that anyone who can appreciate dance created in the last 10 years could find something to enjoy in it.

The first piece, El Beso by Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, was a fun and funny, lively and athletic piece. With giant doilies that came in from the top or the side, the dancers performed some of the most athletically challenging kissing games that I’ve ever seen. They displayed some good ensemble work in this and were generally very together. Indeed, they’d likely have chipped a few teeth or taken it on the chin if they weren’t. I have to say that I was particularly impressed with a duet by Alexandre Barros and Brandon Nguyen. Nguyen surprised me in this piece and all of the subsequent ones — I normally think that he looks rather sloppy, as though he’s at a rehearsal that has gone on and on and he’s just tired of performing the piece. This evening he was sharp and his movements were clean and deliberate. My only complaint was the blocking: I don’t know if it was the choreography or the dancers (precedent favors the latter) but there were several moments where the dancers looked kind of clustered together when more distinct geometric patterns made more sense and there were a few times where it would have looked better if they were in lines.
Next was Andrea Miller’s Push. I’ve seen a few pieces by her live and quite a few video excerpts on top of that and I really like her work. I was honestly a little concerned about Atlanta Ballet commissioning a piece from her because the kind of work that she does plays a lot to their weaknesses — weaknesses that were generally not on display this evening, I should say. I was prepared to not like it, hoping that I’d be able to keep it from making me think less of her work, but also really hoping that it was something that I’d enjoy. I’m afraid that, in the end, I didn’t think much of it. Through the first parts of it, I kept thinking that it was more of a Wim Vandekeybus piece than a Miller piece. Specifically, I felt almost like I could map the various segments from it to segments from In Spite of Wishing and Wanting. As it progressed, though, I kept seeing things that looked vaguely familiar. After a while, I realized that I was seeing an amalgamation of, not quite quotations or extracts, but movement concepts that were recycled from her other pieces. None of her pieces that I’ve seen have really looked like they were reusing bits from the others, so it was very strange. It was almost like someone took a framework by Vandekeybus and filled it with distorted snippets of Miller’s work.
Although the piece had a lot of very clever stuff in it, I thought that it was completely soulless. It also dragged somewhat in the middle. The little underwear party at the end felt like she’d just given up and threw something together to be a conclusion. I don’t know if I’d like it more or less if I’d never seen anything else by her, but I was glad once it was over.
It’s worth mentioning that the sound design for the piece was done by Jordan T. Chiolis and consisted of a variety of recorded songs coupled with electronic music, presumably composed by him, along with him playing a pretty standard drum kit. I found it rather dull and uninspiring, much like the dance piece. I have no idea if he can do something more interesting, but it was pretty standard vapid music for modern dance.
The penultimate piece was Yuri Possokhov’s Classical Symphony, set to the eponymous piece by Prokofiev and performed live by the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra with Ari Pelto conducting. I really loved this piece last season and, again, was a little worried about it being programmed this season. Atlanta Ballet often slacks off when they reprise a piece and I’ve noticed Jackie Nash, who dances the largest and most impressive part of the piece, in particular being a little sloppy when reprising her roles in previous pieces both on the main stage and in Wabi Sabi. Fortunately, my worries were completely unfounded and they did an excellent job. Nash deserves a great deal of respect for pulling off another amazing performance. The piece is a high-pace, neoclassical ballet with a lot of very showy leaps and turns and everything that is exciting about ballet. The whole cast, really, did an excellent job and even the blocking was generally spot on. The fact that Gennadi Nedvigin, the incoming artistic director, was the repetiteur for the piece bodes well for Atlanta Ballet’s future after McFall’s departure.
Speaking of McFall’s departure, after Classical Symphony there was a very touching tribute film dedicated to him followed by a short, very sweet piece choreographed by Tara Lee set to something by Faure — his Elegie, maybe? There was a lot to distract me afterward. Afterward, John Welker delivered a touching speech and then everyone who works with him (and his family, wearing McFall costumes) laid roses at the outgoing artistic director’s feet. It was all very touching.

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