Saturday, May 14, 2011

Atlanta Ballet's Ignition revs up at the Alliance

Posted By on Sat, May 14, 2011 at 10:48 AM

Gina Pattersons Quietly Walking is one of the pieces in the Atlanta Ballets mixed program Ignition on stage at the Alliance this weekend.
  • Charlie McCullers
  • Gina Patterson's "Quietly Walking" is one of the pieces in the Atlanta Ballet's mixed program "Ignition" on stage at the Alliance this weekend.
If there's still any doubt as to whether or not the Atlanta Ballet is a company willing to take risks, Ignition, the mixed program of three new works by young choreographers playing this weekend at the Alliance Theater, should put those doubts to rest once and for all. The Atlanta Ballet is not a company that stands at the side of the pool and dips in its toe; they take a “run at top speed and dive right in” sort of approach to innovative new work.

The evening opens with Bennyroyce Royon's “Flux,” and it starts with a stunning, quiet, dramatic moment: A handful of the male dancers wander onto the eerily-lit Alliance stage in silence, in street clothes. A ripple of energy seems to wash over them, and it transfers through each one in a powerful wave, as it bends their spines and activates their limbs and joints. It's a stunning opening—unexpected and heart-stoppingly dramatic. The choreographer has a facility with quickly-changing tableaux and the arrangement of dancers, though the drama and coherence of the opening moment proved difficult for Royon to sustain throughout. I loved the defiantly non-balletic elements of the movement: the use of undulating spine, non-frontality and bent torso, but the longtime ballet patron next to me seemed to be very unhappy with the bright lights and unusual score.

The next piece did more to impress both me and my neighbor. “Quietly Walking” was Gina Patterson's lovely and understated contemplation of the human relationship to the natural world. Patterson worked well with the entire company, and the movement seemed more comfortably situated in the traditions of classical ballet. It was surprising to see—in the middle of the piece in the middle of a non-traditional program—how effective the use of dancers en pointe can still be. It's one of ballet's oldest and most familiar effects. The ghostly, weightless, elevated, fluttering female dancer, but there it was: smartly and effectively deployed. Patterson seemed unafraid to use the traditions of ballet to make something beautiful, to root it in a rock-solid foundation of classical movement with smaller exploratory forays into more contemporary moves. A lovely and restrained piece, it felt like the quiet walk suggested by the title, an opportunity for Zenlike mental stillness and contemplation of beauty.

Home in 7 features the dancers of the Atlanta Ballet and words by poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph.
  • Charlie McCullers
  • "Home in 7" features the dancers of the Atlanta Ballet and words by poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph.
In the end, the evening truly belonged to “Home in 7,” the final piece on the program. “Home” represents a collaboration between poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph, who stood on stage and performed his work, violinist DBR who provided the score, and choreographer Amy Seiwert who choreographed the movement on the company. Joseph has a great stage presence: voluble, earthy, compact, talkative, direct, he seems to suggest the opposite of ballet. This incongruity was just one of the tensions that really ignited the piece. Joseph's voice can vault effortlessly from the intimate and confessional to the intense and dramatic in a single moment: he's an amazing artist who paints with his words. Like a great dancer, he is present and alive in each moment on stage, so it's thrilling to see the poet accompanied on stage, literally, by great dancers. It's a must-see for Atlantans. Given the nature of the work—it's a world-premiere piece created for this program—it seems unlikely to be recreated again here or elsewhere. I won't waste a lot of time describing all the details, I'll just cut to the chase and say: get a ticket and go. (On Sunday night, tickets are just $20 for those under 25. The show will be followed by an after-party being thrown by HBO which is open to all with free cocktails and food. Good deal.)

The Ballet's willingness to try new things (and in new venues) is a reminder of what a great company we have. It would be the easiest thing in the world for our company to build an old-fashioned ballet fortress and pull the drawbridge up, providing the usual round of expected safe easy evenings of traditional ballet. But the Atlanta Ballet chooses another path: they've built a new house and invited everyone over to have a look. It's a wonderful match of company to city, and the audiences here clearly appreciate and understand how special that match is.

Ignition: New Choreographic Voices plays at the Alliance Theatre on Saturday, May 14 at 2 and 8 pm and Sunday, May 15 at 2 and 7 pm. Audience members under 25 can take advantage of $20 tickets to the Sunday evening performance of Ignition. For more information, call the Box Office 404.892.3303.

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