Last night, Atlanta Ballet took the first step in a bold new direction with its premiere of Ignition at Alliance Theatre: offering original work from up-and-coming choreographers. It marked a step away from such tried-and-true fare as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, and although similar works will remain a part of each forthcoming season’s repertoire, I heave a sigh of relief knowing that finally our local ballet company is aspiring to join the ranks of San Francisco and New York, at least when it comes to commissioning daring productions. And as proclaimed in an opening statement at the evening’s performance, going forward, the ballet will end each of its seasons with a similar show presenting world premieres from various young choreographers. Finally.
The first two pieces of the evening, “Flux” and “Quietly Walking,” counterpointed one another well. Set to ambient house music, “Flux” featured dancers in street clothes moving throughout the modern world in a seeming constant state of ennui. Even in the pas de deux, the dancers in Juliard grad Bennyroyce Royon’s piece were disconnected from one another, rarely ever even touching unless absolutely necessary to progress a movement. The only stretches of dance in which the members connect with one another is when they act not as humans, but as some sort of machine, responding in jolts to rhythmic bursts. Royon’s work gestures at underlying connectivity in the world—music, lights, the rhythm of life—but clarifies that humanity has strayed away from its kinetic flux. In contrast, Gina Patterson’s “Quietly Walking” makes nature her focal point, ruminating both on its inherent purity and the problems of deforestation. Wood nymphs and trees take center stage in her piece, and a sense of organic life comes through her movements. The number also involved the most intimate pas de deux of the night in which the dancers rarely untangled themselves from one another. Although both pieces came to the same conclusion—mankind has strayed from some natural underlying truth—they each did so through different methods, Royon’s elaborated on humanity’s current stasis, while Patterson’s illustrated the world we’ve left behind.
“Home in 7” was a different story altogether. Inspired by Atlanta’s complicated history, the piece was choreographed by Amy Seiwert and set to spoken-word poetry by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and violin music by Daniel Bernard Roumain. Through seven vignettes, the piece ruminated on everything Atlanta, from the Braves and Southern belles to red clay and the missing and murdered children case from the late seventies. Of all the pieces, this one was the best example of what the ballet should strive do more of in its coming seasons: works with local themes that help to give the proverbial voice to our city without aestheticizing the truth out of it. It’s something that San Francisco and New York certainly can never do. If the dining scene has the farm-to-table movement, an area in which the South excels because we have an analogous history to back us up, then this should be the dance world’s equivalent.
The show runs through tomorrow evening.
Photographs by Charlie McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet