Sunday, March 25, 2012

Not uniformly successful.....

The Atlanta Ballet presented a program including;
Moments of Dis, with choreography by Juel D. Lane and Music by Quentin Johnson
The Man in Black, with choreography by James Kudelka and music by Johnny Cash
1st Flash, with choreography by Jorma Elo and music by Jean Sibelius

The performance was at the Cobb Energy Center.  The music for the performance was recorded and the sound system at Cobb was superb.

The Lane piece is explained on the website thusly:
     (Lane)…brings his own personal experiences to “Moments Of Dis” and says “I was really fascinated with the prefix dis and how we use it in our lives and not realize that we are using it in expressions such as dis-combobulated, dis-ciplined or dis-illusioned. I wanted to bring these expressions to dance in a non-literal way.”     “Moments of Dis” will speak to the soul and is accompanied by music from composer Quentin “EQ” Johnson, who Juel recognizes as a great talent and friend.

This inspiration was also described in a short film that was presented prior to the performance.  That was a nice touch, but it would have also been helpful to have it in the program guide, which is, to put it kindly, sparse.  The piece consisted of about four sections each with its own differing mood based on Johnson’s music.  The dancers were fine, but a few lines were ragged and disorganized.  Health Gil, however, was a particular standout.  He is a strong dancer with long extensions and sharp and incisive moves.   I am not sure what all of it had to do with the use of the prefix “dis” but I take the choreographer’s word that it does. 

The Man in Black piece is “… a celebration of American working-class grit and of the man whose gravelly voice embodied it so movingly…” according to the program notes.  The piece consisted for Cash singing covers of the music of others, including the Beatles, Gordon Lightfoot, Trent Reznor, and Ian Tyson.  AMC was  not sure why Cash’s own music was not incorporated into the piece. The staging was simple with four dancers dressed in dark colors against a black background.  Granted the piece is about a man in black, but it would have been an asset to have some contrast to the backdrop in order to appreciate the dancer’s movements a bit better.  The dancers were dressed in western wear, including cowboy boots. 

At times, I actually saw some relationship between the dancing and the music, but not often.  The most effective piece for me was Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds.”  This is a beautiful song and one that Neil Young credits for piquing his interest in a music career.  Here, the dances tapped their boots on the floor in rhythm to the music.  This was very effective and in fact, one of the dancers had to do the tapping while walking backwards, which must have been very difficult.   At intermission, two patrons asked me if the next piece was going to be happier.  I said that I didn’t know, but asked if they liked the piece.  One said the dancers were great but that she didn’t understand how the choreography related to the music.  I had no explanation.  One also commented about how sad the piece was.  I could only agree.

The final piece was Jorma Elo’s choreography set to Sibelius’ violin concerto.  The set was again stark, but there was a hanging light that looked ever so much like one of the monoliths from “2001, A Space Odessey.”  There was also an arc of LED light at the back of the stage.  Sibelius’ music is always beautiful, but also bleak- it was inspired by the sometimes harsh and cold Finnish landscape.   I liked this work a lot.  It showed the dancer’s talent for constantly moving and stretching.  There did seem to be a match of the choreography to the intensity and feeling of the music.  My only criticism is that I think the lighting could have been used to greater effect.  The monolith only moved up and down and its lighting was fairly unfocused so that it did not add drama or excitement to any of the choreography.  It would have been even more effective if it could have moved about the stage, having different angles, and heights.  It could have provided great shadows and highlights, adding to the drama, and maybe even the anxiety of the piece.  But then, they didn’t ask me to do the staging.

This was a program that was variably successful.  One major drawback was that the intermissions were as long, or longer, than the pieces, which broke up the program a bit too much.  The pieces were variably successful.  I liked the Elo piece, but the others simply didn’t rise to anything other than adequate.  But the dancers were uniformly wonderful. 

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