• May 15-17, 2015

    Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre

MAYhem — May 15-17, 2015

Featuring the premieres of Alexander Ekman’s Cacti
Yuri Possokhov's Classical Symphony &
John Heginbotham's Angels' Share

MAYhem is an explosive program that presents the future directions of dance propelled by the extraordinary talents and artistic vision of Atlanta Ballet.

Alexander Ekman is one of today's most surprising choreographers with his work, Cacti, serving up a large dose of humor and whimsy. The piece makes light of the sometimes absurd nature of the avant-garde.

Classical Symphony by Yuri Possokhov, former Bolshoi dancer and San Francisco Ballet resident choreographer, is a celebration of ballet. The New York Times described it as an "exhilarating and bold display of full-throttle academic pure dance with modern accentuations."

Fresh off winning the Jacob's Pillow Dance Award, John Heginbotham created Angels' Share for Atlanta Ballet's Wabi Sabi 2014 summer season. An ethereal and uplifting work, we are thrilled to premiere it on the Cobb Energy stage with live music.

Run time is approximately 2 hours and 3 minutes, including two 20-minute intermissions.

Program subject to change.


*Top image: Artists of Boston Ballet perform Alexander Ekman's Cacti. Photo by Rosalie O'Conner.

Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre

The Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre is the first major performing arts facility built in metro Atlanta in four decades.

Location and Parking
The Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre is located in northwest Atlanta near the junction of I-75 and I-285, at the intersection of Cobb Galleria Parkway and Akers Mill Road.  Self parking is available on site for a $6 fee, and valet parking is available for select performances for a $10 fee. You can also pay for paking in advance online - click here for more information. Please do not park in the Toys"R"Us lot on Akers Mill Rd. This is not approved parking for the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, so your car may be booted or towed if left there.

Emergency Phone Number
(770) 916-2911 is the 24-hour public safety number for the Cobb Energy Centre.  Please leave your seat location with your babysitter or answering service so that the house manager may find you in case of an emergency.

Special Needs
The venue is ADA compliant.  Designated seats in various locations are available for guests with disabilities and those needing special assistance.  The venue is equipped with wheelchair accessible courtesy phones, elevators, plaza ramps, wheelchair accessible ticket windows, and wheelchair accessible drinking fountains.  For more information, please call (770) 916-2800.

Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre

Community and Corporate Group Tickets

It only takes 10 people to benefit from Atlanta Ballet's Group Sales program.  With our fast, friendly and convenient service, you can secure the best seats in the house in no time at all. Groups save up to 30% off regular prices!

Click here for details and to submit a request to Myredith Gonzales, Group Sales Manager.

Review: Atlanta Ballet’s season finale, MAYhem, a strong showcase of the troupe’s versatility

Indeed, MAYhem’s varied works offered different kinds of levity, from rising ether to soaring leaps to laughter.

“Mayhem” Delights with Mixed-Rep Program

“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.

Dance 'MAYhem' at the Atlanta Ballet

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.

Preview: Atlanta Ballet’s Jackie Nash steps out of the MAYhem and into a “Classical Symphony”

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.” 

At Atlanta Ballet, ‘Cacti’ sticks a thorn in side of pretentious dance

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.

‘MAYhem’ in motion: Atlanta Ballet’s season finale delivers artistry, athleticism, the avant-garde

“‘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.

Daring new work takes center stage

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...

Review: Atlanta Ballet takes a bold dance on the high wire with season ending “MAYhem”

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

Two Wonderful Performances

I absolutely loved Classical Symphony and thought that Cacti was just plain fun. For Classical Symphony, the precision/expressiveness of the dancers and the modernization of the classical ballet choreography was enjoyable. One of the pairings was so beautiful it almost brought me to tears. I would welcome the opportunity to see the ballet again. My favorite part of Cacti was the narrative about modern choreographed movements. So hilarious. The final ballet was ho-hum other than the dancing of Alexandre Barros who appears to be a young Welker in his precise and expressive movements.

Loved, loved the performance!

Loved, loved the performance! As a native San Franciscan and past attendee to both the New York City Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, I am so thrilled to see the Atlanta Ballet performing a variety of works. In the past I have passed on seeing the Atlanta Ballet because all they would perform were classic ballets such as "Swan Lake" or "Nutcracker". Having attended ballets in other cities I had gotten used to seeing a repertoire. I enjoyed "Angels' Share", but could not stop smiling when I watched "Classical Symphony". I felt like I was home again... watching the San Francisco Ballet or the ABT. "Cacti" was amazing. I loved the different styles and by the response from the audience...I was not alone. The Cobb Energy Performance Centre is a gem. I don't think that there are any bad seats! I will come watch the Atlanta Ballet again!


The dancers truly out did themselves and the creativity of the performance rates an A+. Equally high marks to the creator of the last event….good marks for the audience too.


Over all, it was a great performance. Especially, I liked the Classical Symphony because the movements of dance was very pretty. However, I did not like the female costume used for the Classical Symphony. The costume did not match with the dance. I wished they used traditional classical tutus.

It just gets better and better!

I'm so glad Atlanta Ballet is doing these edgier contemporary pieces; this is the future of ballet. Not only are they filling the theater, they are creating good dance audiences who know what they're seeing. (Helped by the pre-performance videos--a stellar idea).As for Mayhem 2015, although I felt Angels Share was a little ho-hum, Cacti was witty and fun. But Classical Symphony was my favorite: over the top exhilarating, with the combination of wonderful Prokofiev music and rigorous technique. I almost felt as if sparks were flying on the stage. i hope we see it again.

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  • MAYhem 2015

  • Alexander Ekman's Cacti

  • San Francisco Ballet's Yuri Possokhov Talks Classical Symphony

  • John Heginbotham's "Angels' Share"

Alexander Ekman

Choreographer, Cacti

Alexander Ekman is an internationally sought after choreographer producing entertaining works of artistic integrity within the contemporary and classical dance world. Ekman has created 35 works to date. His works are being performed worldwide by companies such as the Boston Ballet, Nederlands Dans Theater, Norwegian National Ballet, Sydney Dance Company, Dresden Semper Oper, Vienna Staatsballet, Sao Paulo City Ballet, Royal Swedish Ballet, and Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. Ekman's works are known for their clever ideas, fast-paced choreography, and abundance of humor. Besides holding the choreographic credit, he regularly designs the set/costumes and co-composes the music for his creations.

Ekman also creates unique performances in collaboration with different disciplines. His dance film 40 M UNDER (2009 Cullberg Ballet) formed part of a triple bill performance. In 2012 Ekman incorporated pop singer Alicia Keys into his choreographic work Tuplet for her annual Black Ball event in New York. This work was originally made for Cedar Lake Dance Company utilizing a score created with the dancers' own rhythmic impulses and employing their bodies as percussion instruments. In 2014 Ekman made his debut on the main stage of the Norwegian Opera House with a surrealist interpretation of the classic ballet Swan Lake, creating his own version for the Norwegian National Ballet. Together with top designer Hendrik Vibskov and with a new musical score by composer Mikael Karlsson, Ekman produced this groundbreaking performance in which he transformed the stage into an actual lake. In April 2015 Ekman premiered his version of A Midsummer Night's Dream with the Royal Swedish Ballet. Visit alexekman.com for more information on Mr. Ekman's work. (Photo by T.M.Rives.)

John Heginbotham

Choreographer, Angels' Share

John is the winner of the 2014 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award and is a two-time recipient of the Jerome Robbins Foundation New Essential Works (NEW) Fellowship Grant (2010, 2012). In addition to his work with Dance Heginbotham, John’s choreography has been seen at Dance Theater Workshop, The Museum of Modern Art, Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater, and the New York and Toronto Fringe Festivals, among other venues.  He has created work for the Cork Opera House (Cork, Ireland), Dartmouth College, The Juilliard School, Purchase College, Princeton University, Long Island University, The Wooden Floor (Santa Ana, CA), Big Apple Baroque, Oasis Theater (Minneapolis, MN), art/pop group Fischerspooner, and the cabaret artists Lady Rizo and the Assettes and Our Lady J.  A frequent collaborator with live music, John has worked with numerous composers and ensembles, including string quartet Brooklyn Rider, Alarm Will Sound, the Raymond Scott Orchestrette, Jesse Blumberg, Tyondai Braxton, Colin Jacobsen, Gabriel Kahane, and Shara Worden (also known as My Brightest Diamond).  In December 2013, he choreographed Isaac Mizrahi’s Peter and the Wolf at the Guggenheim Museum and collaborated with Mizrahi again in spring 2014 on The Magic Flute at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, John graduated from The Juilliard School in 1993 and was the recipient of the Martha Hill Prize for Outstanding Achievement and Leadership in Dance. He has danced in the works of Pam Tanowitz, John Jasperse, Rebecca Stenn, Janis Brenner, Allison Chase, David Neumann, Ben Munisteri, Stanley Love, Vanessa Walters, and Pilobolus Dance Theater (guest artist). From 1995–1998, he was a member of Susan Marshall and Company, originating roles in her evening-length works, The Most Dangerous Room in the House and the award-winning dance opera composed by Philip Glass, Les Enfants Terribles.  John was a member of the Mark Morris Dance Group from 1998–2012.  As a member of MMDG, he performed across the United States and internationally with artists including Mikhail Baryshnikov, Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, The Bad Plus, Zakir Hussain and with opera companies including The Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, and the English National Opera.

As a teacher, John offers dance master classes in the United States and abroad. He has taught at institutions including the University of California, Berkeley, George Mason University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Washington, and The Laban Centre in London. He is currently on faculty at Princeton University and the Mark Morris Dance Center, and he is a founding teacher of Dance for PD®, an ongoing collaboration between the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group. Visit danceheginbotham.org to learn more about Mr. Heginbotham's upcoming projects. (Photo by Amber Star Merkens.)

Yuri Possokhov

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.)

Angels' Share, choreography by John Heginbotham

In 2014, I was midway through creating a new work for Wabi Sabi when the phenomenon of the angels' share occurred to me. The angels' share is the portion of liquid which evaporates into the ether when wine or whisky is involved. I was working with a group of predominately self-selected dancers, members of a uniformly excellent company, and to me they represented the angels' share – an exquisite, intimate group. In preparation for the completed ballet for MAYhem, I was fortunate enough to revisit Atlanta Ballet and witness its full roster of incredible dancers. The good and sincere heart of this company, and the extraordinary abilities of its members indicate that the cask is, in fact, empty; all of the contents are rarified and heavenly. This is my first ballet, and I'm honored and proud of the work that was created here with Atlanta Ballet. 

Classical Symphony, choreography by Yuri Possokhov

In the 2010 Repertory Season’s Classical Symphony, resident choreographer Yuri Possokhov tapped into his reservoirs of emotion and memories of his boyhood in Moscow, as he did for his Diving into the Lilacs in 2009. But the result couldn’t be more different. Though he described it as “just dance” during rehearsals, this ballet bears a dedication to Peter Pestov, the most beloved and respected of Possokhov’s ballet teachers. Classical Symphony, the choreographer says, is a “dedication to my school, to my teacher, my background.” The strong emotions driving its creation in the studio have translated into what looks like joy on the stage.

The school was the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, where for the last three years of his training Possokhov worked with Pestov. A teacher at Stuttgart Ballet’s John Cranko School since 1996, Pestov has trained dozens of notable ballet dancers, including Alexei Ratmansky (former Bolshoi artistic director and current resident choreographer of American Ballet Theatre), Vladimir Malakhov (artistic director of Berlin State Opera Ballet and principal dancer at ABT), and Nikolais Tsiskaridze (principal dancer at the Bolshoi). Possokhov isn’t alone in holding his teacher in such high esteem: many of Pestov’s former students gathered in New York City in April 2009 to honor him (and celebrate his 80th birthday) with a gala called “Peter the Great: A Tribute to a Legendary Ballet Teacher.” Possokhov says, “Our teacher is not just a coach in the studio. For us, he is like father. He always fed us if we had nothing to eat; he always educated us; he brought us to museums. That’s why we love him—because it was a special time for us.”

Possokhov links Classical Symphony, his ninth piece (of 13 as of 2015) for San Francisco Ballet, to his school years and to Pestov in small, personal ways. He first heard the music, Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major “Classical Symphony,” when Pestov gave it to him. Years later, after he began choreographing, Possokhov thought he would create a ballet to this music “someday, somehow. It was on the shelf.” Then, five or six years ago, the idea took root. “It’s like I had to do this ballet to this music and dedicate it to my teacher,” the choreographer says. The time seemed right when Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson, after seeing Possokhov’s Raymonda Pas de Deux at the 2009 Repertory Season Gala, suggested that his next ballet be classical. “That’s kind of rare now on the contemporary stage,” Possokhov says, “so I liked the idea.” Immediately, he thought of Prokofiev’s first symphony.

Prokofiev, born in Russia in 1891 and considered one of the major composers of the 20th century, studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Bored by his training and critical of current practices, he began experimenting with dissonance and unusual time signatures, quickly earning a reputation as the music world’s enfant terrible. He modeled his “Classical Symphony” on the style of Franz Joseph Haydn (called “the father of the symphony” in the classical period of music), but with the idea to write it as Haydn might have, had he lived into the 20th century. (He died in 1809.) Writing for a classical orchestra (two each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, plus tympani and strings), Prokofiev paid homage to the classical form but added new ideas, making his symphony neoclassical in style. He began it in 1916, completed it the following year, during the Russian Revolution, and conducted its premiere in 1918 in Petrograd (as St. Petersburg was then called under the Bolsheviks’ regime). He was 26 at the time and would go on to compose hundreds of works, including operas, ballets, piano compositions, and chamber works. Among his best-known ballets are Prodigal Son, choreographed by George Balanchine for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and the full-length Romeo and Juliet.

Just as Prokofiev pushed the classical form in new directions, Possokhov edges into neoclassicism with Classical Symphony, particularly in the second musical movement. Traditional ballet steps don’t include torso undulations and floor work, but in Possokhov’s hands they seem as natural and organic as if a 19th-century choreographer had thought of them. And shades of the neoclassical influences of George Balanchine can be seen in Possokhov’s changeable patterns, flow of dancers on and off the stage, and use of space.

In his treatment of the third movement, a gavotte that Prokofiev used later in his Romeo and Juliet, Possokhov again moves in an unexpected direction. It’s precisely because of the gavotte’s familiarity to listeners that he chose to approach it in a way that might surprise. Planning it for the men only, he first thought of “a kind of medieval dance, like a sarabande—or because it’s a gavotte, maybe a kind of court dance.” Then, once again, memories of his childhood fueled his imagination. “I always liked to watch birds, swallows, I think,” the choreographer says. “Sometimes they are together, changing directions, plunging.” Drawing on the flight patterns of the swallows, he sends the men leaping and banking in distinctly birdlike fashion.

Pestov, Prokofiev’s music, the swallows—for Possokhov, all of these memories come into play in Classical Symphony. And there’s yet another connection to his boyhood. Near the end of his training, he and his classmates danced Leonid Lavrovsky’s ballet of the same name, also to this score. Drawing on that distant memory, he has incorporated the only three steps he remembers from it. “I didn’t put exactly the steps in my ballet, but if people know the old ballet, they will see that they came from Lavrovsky,” Possokhov says. And his black-and-mustard color scheme, too, is a nod to that long-ago school production.

All of these tributes boil down to one feeling: respect, not only for Pestov but also for classical ballet training. Possokhov wanted to give Classical Symphony a feeling of nobility, he says, because to him, those who are trained in classical ballet are “rare dancers. It’s like opera—many people sing, but opera singing is unique.” He laments the lack of “ballets that show the beauty of classical dancers,” saying that today’s choreographers don’t often use the extent of the dancers’ ability. Too often, he says, “you have to wait for a full-length ballet to see if [someone is a] good classical dancer. I love contemporary dancers, but dancing classical ballet is the hardest thing. It’s not just movement,” he adds, pointing out that to attain the proper shapes and line, dancers must hone their bodies over many years. “So this ballet is also a dedication to artists who should be seen in what they learned for many, many years.”

Along with its surprises for the audience, Classical Symphony held one for its creator. Whereas in the past Possokhov had often struggled to make an idea work even when it seemed destined not to, he found creative choices in Prokofiev’s music. “Sometimes I came to the studio with one idea and it was easy for me to change to another. It happened a lot; I was surprised,” he says. “After making this ballet, I thought that it won’t be my last ballet with a classical vision.”

Program notes by Cheryl A. Ossola

Cacti, choreography by Alexander Ekman

I created Cacti 5 years ago for the Netherlands Dance Theater II. Cacti is about how we observe art and how we often feel the need to analyze and "understand" art. Many of my friends told me that they didn't really understand modern art and started to feel that perhaps it was not for them. I believe that everyone can interpret art and experience it the way they want. Perhaps it’s just a feeling that you cannot explain or perhaps it’s very obvious what the message is. Cacti discusses art criticism, having been created during a period of my life when I was very upset every time someone would write about my work. I did not think it fair that one person would sit there and sort of decide for everyone what the work was about. Now I have stopped reading my reviews, but I still question this unfair system mankind has created. While creating Cacti, I had the chance to create with musicians in the studio, which was a new way of working for me. Together with the string quartet, we created a rhythmical game between dancers and musicians which became the score for the work. Cacti demands a high concentration both from dancers and musicians, which makes it very exciting to observe. I have always been fascinated by human capability during high concentration and our way of acting in a state of emergency. Having created about 40 pieces to date, Cacti is definitely one of those works which I will always feel a certain love for. It is extremely hard to create a piece that feels complete and finished from beginning to end. I think with Cacti we somehow managed to arrange the pieces of the puzzle in a way that it actually felt sort of "finished."