In a final tribute to John McFall’s 21-year legacy as Atlanta Ballet’s artistic director, the company’s 2015-16 season closed with MAYhem: Kissed, a triple bill that proved as eclectic and eccentric as the man himself. The program — a quirky contemporary ballet, an experimental world premiere and a new classic performed over the weekend at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre — encapsulated McFall’s long history and vision for the company’s future. Even the words on his T-shirt, which he wore under a pearlescent white blazer on opening night, summed up the adventurous spirit he has cultivated: “In Art We Trust.”
“Nowness” is the way dancer Tara Lee describes the spirit of innovation that’s filled Atlanta Ballet studios under John McFall’s artistic leadership. That heightened sense of being in the moment is a natural theme for MAYhem: Kissed, the company’s closing production of McFall’s 21st and final season. It will be a breathtaking farewell, expressed through three works spanning from Gustavo Ramírez Sansano’s lush and playfully resonant El Beso (The Kiss) to Andrea Miller’s world premiere of Push to a repeat performance of Yuri Possokhov’s Classical Symphony, a fast-paced tribute to the danse d’ecole.
The Chicago press often praised Mr. Sansano for his audacious work, and justifiably so, if this propulsive piece is a representative sample. “El Beso,” which toys with variations on the kiss — romantic, platonic, relished, relinquished, dodged — has its share of cute, gimmicky fun. But it is also full of bold, astute, unexpected choices, from the absurdity of its bombastic music (a medley of circa 1900 Spanish composers, including Amadeo Vives and Tomás Bretón) to the velocity, variety and intricacy of Mr. Sansano’s movement. Even when you can see the punch line coming, the delivery makes it worth waiting for.
Indeed, MAYhem’s varied works offered different kinds of levity, from rising ether to soaring leaps to laughter.
“Classical Symphony” is sometimes lovely, usually driving, frequently unexpected, and always incredibly demanding. From the breathtaking side-lighting on the dancers in tableau when the curtain opens to the final notes of the music, the ballet will captivate you. It is busy, filled with counterpoint, built around chaotic moments that suddenly evolve into unanticipated, inspired designs. The dancers are dancing on the edge, accelerating, braking, sliding, and only their technical expertise holds them there, keeping them from tumbling over the precipice. They are visibly elated by their success at mastering the difficulties of the choreography.
The performance will contain three works by different choreographers, demonstrating the range of styles incorporated into what is known as contemporary ballet. The energetic company really shines in new works, and you can always tell when dancers are especially excited to strut in roles that are wholly their own.
It may be the country's oldest regional ballet company, but the dancers at Atlanta Ballet have a vibrant, youthful energy. You won't find the egos or soap opera antics of reality television's "Breaking Pointe" or the film Center Stage in this hard-working company. One strategy that sets the company apart is that there is no prima ballerina, no official star structure. Each member of the company has equal status, and when roles are being created, it's up to the choreographer to choose which dancers he or she wishes to feature.
Alexander Ekman's Cacti is a powerful piece of choreography that challenges contemporary dance with its unconventional use of space, movement and humor. The work featured dancers who intermittently act as percussionists throughout the ballet. Ekman is not only one of the brightest rising stars in contemporary dance today, but his comedic sensibility is fantastically brilliant.
For Nash, the piece is not only her first starring role for Atlanta Ballet, but a physically demanding challenge as a dancer. It was first performed by Maria Kochetkova of the San Francisco Ballet.
“She has all that Russian technique and the flexibility and the body; it’s a pretty big role to fill,” says Nash. “But I love the piece. It’s tough, and Yuri admits it.”
The 2010 dance features grandiose narration that reveals the performers’ and choreographer’s deepest (but not deep) thoughts, immediately cluing audiences in on the work’s absurd tone. Its mind-bending lines include, “The genderless, anonymous, parallel bodies on the horizontal plain represent the absolute principles of heaven, man and earth.”
In addition to an orchestral score, a string quartet plays onstage, strolling amid the barefoot dancers, whose movement is energetic but sometimes intentionally something other than lyrical.
Adding to the thorny proceedings, the symbolic cacti of the title indeed appear on stage.
But while the work may be upbeat, it’s hardly laid back.
“‘Cacti,’ which is very modern, is one of the most visually amazing pieces I’ve seen,” said Gamino, 32. “The work consists of 16 dancers – eight men and eight women – who are all on and interacting with these large boxes/platforms throughout the piece. It’s unlike anything we’ve done before. There are four string players performing live onstage during the show, but the dancers also contribute to the sound. We actually create the rhythm with our breathing and bodies, hitting and slapping our arms and the boxes. I know speaking with Ana Marie (Lucaciu), who’s staging the ballet, that ‘Cacti’ is very popular in Europe; everyone has seen it. It’s just hitting the U.S. but that’s what makes getting a chance to rehearse it and perform that much more special.”
Gamino said he is both nervous and excited for Atlanta Ballet’s “MAYhem.”
“(I’m) very excited because it’s a wonderful program,” he said. “I’m also very nervous because this will be my final run. I’ll be retiring after this program after 20 years of doing ballet, but it’s very nice show to finish off with.”
Gamino said the show demonstrates the versatility of Atlanta Ballet and its dancers, and audiences will see that.
There is electricity in the air in one of Atlanta Ballet’s West-side studios as Helen Pickett, in her second year as choreographer in residence, rehearses “The Exiled” with a handful of dancers. The sparks are firing because these
artists are working with the choreographer to build a ballet unlike anything they’ve danced before. Pickett, whose works are increasingly being presented by international companies, is choreographing her first
narrative ballet. It’s a piece of significant dramatic heft and a departure from more lyrical works. And in another first, and perhaps most courageous, Pickett has developed a script...
MAYhem, beyond a clever play on the month, is a fitting description for last weekend’s Atlanta Ballet season closer. The title calls to mind a kind of lawlessness that could be fertile ground for risky, innovative ideas. And indeed the three works on the bill — John McFall’s “Three,” Helen Pickett’s “The Exiled,” and Jorma Elo’s “1st Flash” — are ambitious. But the word also evokes chaos and disorder, the results of an experiment gone off track. - See more at: http://www.artsatl.com/2014/05/review-atlanta-ballet-dances-high-wire-season-mayhem/#sthash.DSnSvVzx.dpuf
Andrea Miller is the founder, artistic director, and choreographer of New York-based company Gallim Dance. Through a plural body of work that explores the relationships of movement with other forms of expression including theater, visual arts, music, and politics, Miller has developed a recognizable artistic language of extreme physicality and unprejudiced emotionality. In 2014, Miller received the honor of being named a Guggenheim Fellow by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, for demonstrating exceptional creative ability. New York Magazine writes, “Her viscerally physical movement wrings every inch of life from her dancers — and you’ll be holding your breath, too.”
Miller is the recipient of multiple awards and honors, including Sadler’s Wells Jerwood Fellowships (2012 and 2013), Princess Grace Foundation Special Projects Awards (2012 and 2013), New York City Center Choreography Fellowship (2011-2012), Joyce Theater Artist in Residence (2011-2012), Youth America Grand Prix Award for Emerging Choreographers (2011), Wesleyan University’s Mariam McGlone Emerging Choreographer Award (2011), Princess Grace Foundation Works in Progress Award (2010), Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch (2009), and Princess Grace Foundation Fellowship in Choreography (2009).
Miller’s choreography for Gallim Dance has been commissioned and performed nationally and internationally, including by Peak Performances at Montclair State University (NJ), and Dancers’ Workshop — Jackson Hole. Gallim has performed worldwide in premier venues, including Guggenheim Works & Process, New York City Center, the Joyce Theater, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, the TANZ Bremen Festival in Germany, Madrid en Danza in Spain, and the Théâtre National de Chaillot in Paris. Commissioned works for Miller include In Medias Res (2012) for the Nederlands Dans Theater 2; Howl (2010) presented at the Royal Opera House of London by Ballet Bern; For Play (2012) for Ballet Bern; and choreography for Phantom Limb’s production 69° South for BAM’s Next Wave (2011). Two of her most critically acclaimed pieces, Blush (2009) and Wonderland (2010) were presented in 2013 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Théâtre National de Chaillot, respectively. Her commercial and art direction work includes an installation for Hermès, Paris, movement work for VOGUE Diaries, choreography for the film The Life and Death of Mick Rock with original music by The Flaming Lips, and an installation for Faberge. Miller has also served as Associate Artistic Director of Noord Nederlands Dans from 2010-2011.
Miller is devoted to dance education for dancers and non-dancers and has developed programs for Gallim Dance’s home studio in Brooklyn, as well as commissions for academic institutions such as Harvard University, the Juilliard School, Barnard College at Columbia University, New York University, University of Utah, Montclair State University, The University of Michigan, Mount Holyoke, and Wesleyan University. She is a founding collaborator of Movement Invention Project and resident choreographer at Dancewave. Visit www.gallimdance.com/andrea-miller for more information. (Photo courtesy of gallimdance.com.)
Choreographer, Classical Symphony
Yuri Possokhov received his training under Pyotr Pestov at the Choreographic Ballet Academy in Moscow. Upon graduating in 1982, he joined the Bolshoi Ballet. During his ten years with the company, he worked primarily with Ballet Master Yuri Grigorovich and was quickly promoted to become one of the premier dancers in the company, partnering Natalia Bessmertnova, Ludmila Semenyaka, Nadezhda Pavlova, and Galina Stepanenko. During his time with The Bolshoi, Possokhov performed the leading roles in almost all of the classical and contemporary ballets in the repertoire at that time. He danced the lead role in the Bolshoi’s premiere of The Prodigal Son, the company’s first performance of a work by George Balanchine.
While performing, Possokhov studied choreography and the teaching of ballet at the State College of Theatrical Arts, completing the five-year course under Evgeny Valukin in 1990. In addition to participating in the Bolshoi’s frequent international tours, Possokhov was often invited to perform as a guest artist in Europe, Asia and Latin America. He also performed with Bolshoi ballerina Nina Ananiashvili’s own company, Ananiashvili and Friends, in numerous performances and galas worldwide.
In 1992, at the invitation of Ballet Master Frank Andersen, Possokhov joined the Royal Danish Ballet as a principal dancer. Performing many leading roles on the stage of The Royal Danish Theater, Possokhov’s repertory diversified with works by John Neumeier, Anna Laerkesen, George Balanchine, and John Cranko. Possokhov was also cast in the role of Prince Desiré in the Royal Danish Ballet premiere of Helgi Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty. The following year, he was invited to dance a guest performance at San Francisco Ballet’s opening night gala, after which Helgi Tomasson invited him to join the company as a principal dancer.
Possokhov spent the following 12 years dancing with San Francisco Ballet, performing leading roles with the company both in San Francisco and abroad, and partnering many of the company’s ballerinas, including Yuan Yuan Tan, Joanna Berman and Lucia Lacarra. During this period, he began choreographing. In 1997, he completed three separate works – Songs of Spain and A Duet for Two set on fellow San Francisco Ballet principal dancers Muriel Maffre and Joanna Berman; and Impromptu Scriabin for San Francisco Ballet soloist Felipe Diaz. He also organized a program titled Ballet Beyond Borders, with sixteen dancers from San Francisco Ballet, which performed in five cities throughout Russia. The success of the tour led to additional performances with San Francisco Ballet dancers in Japan, China, and Denmark in the following years.
In 1998, Possokhov premiered in the title role of Lar Lubovitch’s Othello — a co-production of the San Francisco Ballet and American Ballet Theatre (ABT) — and reprised the role as a guest artist with ABT in New York City the same year.
In 2000, Yuri Possokhov created Magrittomania, a work commissioned for San Francisco Ballet’s Discovery Program and inspired by the paintings of René Magritte. The ballet won an Isadora Duncan Dance Award for outstanding choreography the following year. In 2002, Possokhov premiered Damned, a work based on Euripides’ play Medea. The piece was performed during the season and was taken on tour to New York City with the company that fall. Damned was subsequently re-staged and performed under the name Medea at The Perm Opera and Ballet Theater (Russia) in 2009. In 2003, he co-choreographed a full-length production of Don Quixote with San Francisco Ballet Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson, which the company subsequently performed in Los Angeles and Paris. Study in Motion, set to the music of Alexander Scriabin, was Possokhov’s piece for San Francisco Ballet in 2004, which was performed in London the same year and reprised in San Francisco the following season. The same year, he was invited by Oregon Ballet Theater (OBT) to create a new production of Firebird, which was so successful that he was invited back the following year to create La Valse.
For San Francisco Ballet’s 2005 repertory season, Possokhov created Reflections, a piece set to the music of Felix Mendelssohn. In early 2006, he was invited by the Bolshoi Ballet to create a full-length Cinderella, which premiered to critical acclaim and was performed by the company in Moscow, at the Royal Opera House in London, and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. As part of San Francisco’s earthquake centennial in 2006, Possokhov created Ballet Mori, which was performed by SFB principal dancer Muriel Maffre. After the 2006 repertory season, Yuri Possokhov retired from the stage as a principal dancer; his last performance was during the company’s tour to New York’s Lincoln Center that summer.
Following his retirement, he joined the artistic staff at San Francisco Ballet as a choreographer in residence, where he continually choreographs new works for the company and dances principal character roles. In 2006, he created Once More, a ballet performed at the New Century Chamber Orchestra Gala by Joanna Berman and principal dancer Damian Smith. The following year, he premiered his Firebird with San Francisco Ballet, adapted from his previous work for Oregon Ballet Theater. In 2007, The Georgia State Ballet commissioned Sagalobeli, a one-act work that the company presented on its first-ever American tour in 2008.
In the following years, Yuri Possokhov has continued to create new works for each of San Francisco Ballet’s repertory seasons, including Fusion, Diving Into the Lilacs, Classical Symphony, RAkU, and Francesca da Rimini. Both Classical Symphony, originally premiered in 2010, and RAkU in 2011, have been presented on the company’s national and international tours, including an engagement at London’s Sadler’s Wells Theater. Yuri Possokhov is a frequent guest at Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet, having staged both Bells and a new full-length Don Quixote for the company in 2011. In 2012, Possokhov returned to Copenhagen and created Narcisum, commissioned by the Royal Danish Ballet. His latest work for San Francisco Ballet was Rite of Spring, choreographed in 2013 to mark the centennial year of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. Go to yuripossokhov.com for a full list of Mr. Possokhov's dance roles. (Photo by Chris Hardy.)
Gustavo Ramírez Sansano
Choreographer, El Beso
Gustavo Ramírez Sansano was appointed artistic director of Luna Negra Dance Theater in 2009, after directing TITOYAYA Dance Project in Valencia, Spain for the last four years. Sansano has been the recipient of numerous awards for his choreography, including first prizes at the Ricard Moragas competition in Barcelona, the Dom Perignon choreographic competition in Hamburg, and Las Artes Escénicas de la Comunidad Valenciana. His work has been featured at “Les Etoiles de Ballet” in Cannes, and the IX International Festival of Ballet in Miami. He has been commissioned to create works for Compania Nacional de Danza, the Hamburg Ballet, Budapest Dance Theater, Ballet Junior de Genève, and Nederlands Dans Theater II, among others. As a dancer, Sansano performed works by Jacopo Godani, Hans Van Manen, Jiří Kylián, Ohad Naharin, Johan Inger, Paul Lightfoot, Victor Ullate, and many more, working for the Ballet Joven de Alicante, Ballet Contemporaneo de Barcelona, Ballet de la Comunidad de Madrid, Nederlands Dans Theater II, and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. (Photo by Chris Walker/The Chicago Tribune.)
Ari Pelto (Conductor, Classical Symphony)
With performances that have been called poetic, earthy, vigorous and highly individual, Ari Pelto is in demand in opera houses and with symphony orchestras throughout the United States. He made a highly-praised debut in 2004 at New York City Opera with La Traviata, and became their regular guest conductor returning for Madama Butterfly, La Bohème, Carmen, as well as the world premiere of Jennifer Griffith’s Dream President at VOX, NYCO’s Contemporary American Opera Lab.
This year, Ari was appointed music director designate at Opera Colorado following an acclaimed debut conducting Don Giovanni for the company. Future productions in Denver include Aida and the world premiere of Lori Laitman’s long-awaited work, The Scarlett Letter. Additionally this season, he conducts Aida at Utah Symphony and Opera and makes return appearances at Atlanta Ballet and at Opera Memphis; he conducts a variety of symphonic programs with orchestras in the US, including Omaha Symphony, Lamont Symphony, and the NYU Symphony.
Recent highlights include La Rondine in Cortona (Italy), A Streetcar Named Desire and Salome at Virginia Opera for which he won outstanding reviews, The Rake’s Progress at Portland Opera, Rigoletto, Don Pasquale, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and Don Giovanni at Opera Memphis where he serves as principal guest conductor; La Bohème at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, The Cunning Little Vixen at Chautauqua, Rusalka and La Bohème at Boston Lyric Opera, Romeo et Juliette at Minnesota Opera, The Magic Flute, Le Nozze di Figaro at Portland Opera and Hansel und Gretel at Utah Opera.
Ari Pelto conducts on main stages world-wide and recently premiered new productions of Le Nozze di Figaro and Falstaff at New National Theatre of Tokyo and Faust at the Teatro Nacional Sucre in Quito, Ecuador. A frequent guest with the Florida Orchestra and the Toledo Symphony, he was assistant conductor of the Florida West Coast Symphony (now Sarasota Orchestra) from 2002-2002 during which time he conducted over 30 concert performances as well as lead tours of Western Opera Theatre (the touring company of San Francisco Opera), conducting La Bohème and Cosi fan tutti in over 20 states.
For San Francisco Opera’s Merola showcase last season, he conducted Cosi fan tutte and The Rape of Lucretia, in which he “evoked superb vigor and stylish beauty of playing” according to The San Francisco Classical Voice. At Wolf Trap Opera, he inaugurated a new production of Le Nozze di Figaro and led Don Giovanni, “shaped and paced with consummate skill” said The Washington Post.
A masterful collaborator with dancers, Maestro Pelto has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with Atlanta Ballet. He recently conducted Jean-Christophe Maillot’s groundbreaking production of Roméo et Juliette with the Company, and in 2012, he partnered with Twyla Tharp, conducting the world premiere of her first story ballet, The Princess & the Goblin. Previously, he conducted Atlanta Ballet’s production of Prokofiev’s Cinderella, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote, “Under Ari Pelto’s baton, the orchestra has never sounded better, nor the chemistry between the pit and the stage been quite so palpable.”
After earning his B.M. in Violin Performance at Oberlin Conservatory, he studied conducting at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Rubin Academy in Jerusalem, and Indiana University.
Ari Pelto. Photo by Dario Acosta.