By Michael Reid
Starting with the perennial holiday favorite “The Nutcracker Suite,” the Atlanta Ballet’s 2012-2013 season has ranged from the classics – “Cinderella,” “Carmina Burana” – to the modern – Michael Pink’s stunning “Dracula.” The dance company brings the season to a triumphant close with “Love Stories,” a quartet of dances that’s a mixture of both.
The performance starts in the abstract and avant-garde, with noted Belgian/Columbian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Requiem for a Rose,” a meditation on romance and death. The piece opens with a single dancer, long hair unbound and a rose in her mouth, moving to the rhythm of a single heartbeat. She is joined by 12 dancers in flowing crimson skirts, portraying a bouquet of roses, who twist and whirl to the passionate adagio from Franz Schubert’s “String Quintet in C.”
“I wanted to investigate my romantic side,” Lopez Ochoa said of the work, and the involuted and unrestrained movements of the dancers bring to mind both the intricate whorls of roses and the tempestuous emotions they represent.
In contrast to the abstract symbolism of “Requiem for a Rose,” the “Wedding Night” pas de deux from Giacomo Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” is grounded firmly in the dramatic and figurative. The final scene of Act I of Puccini’s opera depicts the American naval officer, Lt. Pinkerton, and his young Japanese bride, Cio Cio, preparing for their first night together. The newlyweds, danced by Atlanta Ballet veterans Tara Lee and Jonah Hooper, perform a tender pas de deux that conveys the excitement, shyness, hesitancy and desire of a wedding night. The two young lovers gently, hesitatingly, approach and retreat, touch and separate, as nervous unfamiliarity slowly gives way to passion. Choreographer Stanton Welch’s piece is as much theater as dance; Pinkerton gulps down whiskey to calm his nerves, and Cio Cio shares a giggle with her maid as she dresses for her new husband – small moments that describe and define the characters.
Guest artists Domenico Luciano and Dominic Walsh of the Dominic Walsh Dance Theatre perform the next piece, a marriage of the classic and the avant-garde – The “White Swan” pas de deux from Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” By casting a male in the traditionally female role of the White Swan, choreographer Matthew Bourne is able to use the vocabulary of male dancers – lift and spins that are not customarily performed by female dancers – to subvert the clichés of this famous duet. The swan is powerful and capricious, an actor rather than reactor. Though costumed in the white feathers and white makeup appropriate to the role, the swan wears a small black feather on his head, not-so-subtly implying that he shares something of the sensual malice of the antagonist Black Swan.
“Love Stories” ends with “Prayer of Touch,” an original choreography by the Atlanta Ballet’s own Helen Pickett. A rollicking and often comic romp, this piece for nine dancers, set to the music of Felix Mendelssohn, is an engaging mélange of romance, rejection, posturing and even some high-schoolesque showing off.
From the serious to the silly, the four “Love Stories” are united by passion, romance and moving dance – a description not inappropriate to the whole of the Atlanta Ballet’s 2012-2103 season.
Top photo of "Requiem" by Tony Spielberg; center photo of "Swan Lake" by Bill Cooper; bottom photo of "Prayer" by Charlie McCullers. All photos courtesy of the Atlanta Ballet.
ACVB guest blogger Michael Reid is a tour guide for Atlanta Culinary Tours..