Sneaky, transgressive, nontraditional, boundary-stretching; the Atlanta Ballet keeps it fresh and keeps it fun.
Up next for the ballet is "Twyla Tharp’s The Princess & the Goblin,” a nontraditional, boundary-stretching work. This choreography is sly, hiding a transgressive story under the trappings of a classical narrative ballet, to the music of Franz Schubert. When the children of her town are kidnapped by goblins, the titular Princess Irene – no damsel in distress her ̵̶̶ must overcome the skepticism of the town's adults, her father included, and venture into danger to rescue the lost ones.
The 75-year-old Tharp, a living legend of American dance, wanted to bring to the stage a princess who is neither a victim to be rescued nor a prize to be won.
“You can base a ballet on a great male dancer who’s the hero of the adventure, but I thought it was time to give a woman center stage, especially in the world of the ballet where women in point shoes have been held up and supported or allowed to be very fragile and vulnerable, and this has been a portion of their appeal,” she told the New York Times in 2012.
“Twyla Tharp's The Princess & the Goblin” runs April 15 – 17 at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.
This past February, the dancers of the Atlanta Ballet gave us a painter’s duel/dance-off and flashed their knickers in a French can-can, in Jorden Morris’ “Moulin Rouge.” (That is, the female dancers did; the men kept their trousers on. They’d have to wait a month or so to show us their undies. More on that anon.)
Clearly John McFall is not afraid to use his last season as the Atlanta Ballet’s artistic director to explore choreographies that stretch the ballet envelope far beyond tutus and tights. This was evident again with the recent staging of “20|20 Visionary,” a ballet in three parts:
“Home in 7”
So a spoken-word/live music/dance collaboration should not seem too outré for the free spirits at America’s longest continuously operating ballet company. But a ballet that name-checks Terry Pendleton, Tom Glavine, Dale Murphy and others out of Atlanta Braves’ history? A ballet that celebrates the split-second beauty of a nasty slider, exploding out of the whirl of arms and legs and sweating concentration on a Turner Field pitcher’s mound?
“Home of the Braves” is one of seven poems-slash-dances from “Home In 7,” a collaboration between choreographer Amy Seiwert; composer and musician Daniel Bernard Roumain; and poet, actor and essayist Marc Bamuthi Joseph. The work is an homage to Atlanta, the city where Joseph, the young son of Haitian immigrants, “took root.” Other pieces reflect on the city’s history, on the Atlanta child murders, on the mystique of the Southern belle – “her shoulders open to the possibility there/might yet emerge wings” – and on the burden of race, history and culture: “Georgia red clay/ black people deep South.”
“Boiling Point,” by Daniel Grand Moultrie, another of the three dances that made up the Atlanta Ballet’s recently staged “20|20: Visionary,” was an intensely physical performance that forced the dancers to push their limits and show off their athleticism. (And the men to show off their BVDS, proving that the ballet is an equal-opportunity revealer of underwear.) Moultrie has choreographed for Tony Award-winning director Diane Paulus and for pop goddess Beyoncé, and with “Boiling Point” he shows off the power and passion that dwell at the very limits of the dancers’ physicality.
The first piece of the night was London-born choreographer Douglas Lee’s premier of “Playground,” his first piece written for the Atlanta Ballet. An evocation of the joys and terrors of childhood, the piece starts off with the spontaneous joy of a child dancing for her own sake, in the midst of the slow-moving conformity of a crowd of adults; but the piece takes a darker tone, as the child moves into the regimentation and rules of school. A white wall spins to become a blackboard bearing the chalked words, “Jackie must learn the steps;” the lights lower and the shadows become longer and darker. The piece ends on an ambiguous, crepuscular note.
If you haven’t been to a performance of the Atlanta Ballet recently, perhaps you will remedy that with “Twyla Tharp's The Princess & the Goblin,” opening soon.
Michael Reid lives, works and enjoys the arts in Atlanta.