Review of "Gennadi's Choice"
March 17th, 2017
Freeform Review: by Catherine Manne
On March 17-19, Atlanta audiences had a chance to see the direction that the Atlanta Ballet’s new Artistic Director, Gennadi Nedvigin, is taking the company. It is an exciting time for the company and for Atlanta audience members who are hoping to see this Bolshoi-trained dancer bring some of the 19th-century classics as well as 20th century classics back to the repertoire of this company. Opening night was a rousing success with standing ovations for every piece on the program.
The program of three works that was presented at the Cobb Energy Center for the Performing Arts included selections from “Paquita,” a new commission by Gemma Bond entitled “Denouement,” and the North American premiere of Liam Scarlett’s “Vespertine.”
The Atlanta Ballet has not performed a 19th-century classical work other than “Nutcracker” in several years and it was almost a shock to have the curtain open on “Paquita” and see lines of female dancers in tutus dancing in unison and making classical formations. The two lead dancers in the March 17th opening-night performance, Rachel Van Buskirk and Christian Clark, were superb. Both Clark and the other male dancer in the piece, Miguel Montoya, excelled in their jumps. Several of the corps members, however, and even two of the soloists did not have the technical proficiency needed to properly execute their roles.
Gemma Bond’s “Denouement” was a masterful piece of choreography set to a difficult score, a Benjamin Britten duet for piano and cello. What sets this piece apart from many contemporary ballets, to my mind, is that the dancing so perfectly illustrates the music. Ms. Bond’s craftsmanship in this way reminded me of George Balanchine.The choreographer says of the work that it is supposed to be about “paths not taken.” The feel of the piece with its dark, blue-tinted lighting is contemplative. Multiple rectangular scrims are in the background and dancers occasionally recede behind the scrims and reappear. One thing that makes the piece powerful is that it seems to be about connection. The dancers gaze at each other and dance truly with each other. The choreography likewise has a clear connection to the music. It is a superb work that is a great addition to Atlanta Ballet’s repertoire and the six dancers on which it is set dance it beautifully.
The final piece of the evening was Liam Scarlett’s “Vespertine.” It is a visual feast set to baroque music with exquisite costuming and lighting. Like Ms. Bond’s piece, the lighting is low and the piece opens with six couples onstage with ten chandeliers hanging above them. The female dancers start out in burgundy flowing dresses reminiscent of Martha Graham’s iconic white costume. Much of the movement vocabulary for the women at the start of the piece is also reminiscent of Graham. A lone male dancer emerges from the darkness in nude-colored tights with no shirt. The juxtaposition of his relative nakedness to his female counterpart’s long-sleeved, to-the-floor dress is rather startling. As it turns out, the costuming becomes an integral part of the piece. The women come out later in strapless dresses and the men come out in 17th-century-style breeches and tailcoats over bare chests. Towards the end of the piece, all the dancers, in what is a complete surprise, disrobe and appear in nude, long-sleeved unitards. The formality of movement and dress from the Baroque period appears to be juxtaposed against the body unstripped. The piece is a moving piece of choreography that, with its Baroque organ and harpsichord music and very low lighting, often times feels sacred.
It was a wonderful evening of dance, and Atlanta can be proud of its company. It is a priority of Nedvigin’s to make the company as proficient at dancing classical ballets as it is in dancing more contemporary pieces. As a former professional dancer friend remarked on opening night, " A ballet dancer who does not like dancing the 19th-century classics likely has inadequate technique to dance them."
Nedvigin may have some housekeeping to do to get a company of dancers who both want to dance the classics and have the technique to meet his high technical and artistic standards, but I have no doubt that it will come. This company and this director are to be watched with great enthusiasm and high expectations.