Atlanta Ballet closes season with humor, exuberance and daring in two premieres

Credit: Kim Kenney

Credit: Kim Kenney

This story was originally published by ArtsATL.

Months ago, when Atlanta Ballet’s Artistic Director Gennadi Nedvigin programmed the company’s mixed bill “Significant Others,” he could not have imagined what would happen in a Midtown doctor’s office nine days before the first performance. But at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on Friday, the company’s close-to-two hours of exuberance, romance, humor and dazzling technique was an oh-so-welcome dive into joy.

The program featured two world premieres and one oldie but goodie. Aside from a couple of slightly awkward transitions that will surely smooth out as they get accustomed to the new ballets, the dancers were brilliant in all three.

Credit: Kim Kenney

Credit: Kim Kenney

Claudia Schreier’s new ballet “Carnivale” opened the program. It was inspired by commedia dell’arte themes and characters and revealed the choreographer-in-residence as a rambunctious kid — a side of her we haven’t seen before.

Set to Joaquín Rodrigo’s 1949 “Concierto in Modo Galante” for cello and orchestra, it began with the dancers in a line across the back of the stage, tipping from side to side like marionettes. Two men broke away and then they were all off and running, literally. Playful runs, with heels kicked up behind, were dominant throughout the work.

Abigail Dupree-Polston’s costumes featured swirls and diamond shapes (a nod to Harlequins’ traditional garb) in magenta and teal, orange and lime green. The scenic design by Schreier, Dupree-Polston and Dave Smith comprised colorful cut-outs that hung from the fly loft like a deconstructed and immobile Calder mobile.

Big and small groups entered, danced, and rushed off again. Several group sequences ended in a pyramid of bodies, the dancers’ hands splayed out in a “look-at-us” flourish. Wild, festive chaos mirrored the more atonal sections of the score. Dancers thumbed their noses at one another. Jordan Leeper was brilliant as the joker, showing off and tossing off multiple turns and mugging for the audience.

In their quieter, more intimate pas de deux, Mikaela Santos and Sergio Masero moved like silk, folding into and around each. He planted kisses up and down her left arm.

Schreier said in the pre-performance video that she wanted to mirror the “conversations” she heard between different instruments in the score. She succeeded. Unlike with her more cerebral “Pleiades Dances,” repeat viewings of “Carnivale” may not offer a lot to unpack and discover, but the sheer fun and silliness of it were a delight.

Atlanta Ballet last performed Ben Stevenson’s 1969 “Three Preludes” in 2010. The pas de deux is set to three Rachmaninoff preludes which were tenderly played live onstage Friday by Western Li-Summerton. It opens in an imaginary dance studio where two dancers are separated by a ballet barre. Friday’s cast was the lovely Airi Igarashi and Erik Kim, an elegant and generous partner.

Credit: Kim Kenney

Credit: Kim Kenney

Simple port de bras and low swings of the legs led to loving embraces, slow, delicate lifts, even a Swan Queen-like flutter of the arms for Igarashi. In the second and third preludes, the barre was gone and their love took flight, literally. Intimate gestures alternated with bolder and bigger sustained lifts, until he held her high above his head and walked off stage. We felt the romance.

The world premiere of “Significant Others” closed the program. In the movement vocabulary itself, this big ballet didn’t fulfill the promise of choreographer Remi Wörtmeyer’s initial concept — to shine a light on talented women creatives in history who were overshadowed by their talented and famous male family members.

The idea played out beautifully, however, in the music — the robust Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor composed by Felix Mendelssohn’s sister Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel — and sets and costumes that Wörtmeyer designed based on paintings by French artist Sonia Delaunay, wife of the better-known Robert Delaunay.

It’s unusual for a choreographer to design sets and costumes and Wörtmeyer wasn’t shy in his choices. Huge, flat circles in different colors hung at the rear of the stage, dominating the space — overwhelming it at times. They slid up and down to create different geometric shapes and color combinations: pink and blue for Fuki Takahashi and Sergio Masero’s gorgeous pas de deux, for example, and black and white for a men-only section.

All the dancers were on stage to start, the women in short white tunics, the men in white tops and pants, all with designs mirroring the set. After “Three Preludes’” soft lighting that seemed to caress the dancers, “Significant Others’” crisp, white light was like a thrilling blast of cold air on a hot day.

Wörtmeyer took full advantage of the dancers’ technical strength and daring. Dynamic blocks of unison movement filled the space. A flurry of arms and hands close to the chest, before opening out into expansive port de bras and arabesque lines, was a repeated theme. There were lifts and more lifts, many sustained as the men carried their partners on and off the stage. In one instance, a woman held her legs in full split before her partner flipped her upside down, holding the same position.

In one section, Emily Carrico was carried in and emerged through the set’s large, glowing yellow circle like an ancient goddess. She and the always noble Denys Nedak demonstrated a deep maturity and texture in their pas de deux. Carrico is a ballerina with such depth that you can’t take your eyes off her. Even in a simple move like holding her leg in a low front extension as Nedak turned her, she was riveting.

The alternate casts on Saturday afternoon were more restrained and less daring overall, but Jessica Assef (partnered by Nedak) seemed liberated by the relative simplicity of “Three Preludes” and gave an emotional, free-as-a-bird performance.

Atlanta Ballet has made a remarkable, post-pandemic comeback this season. It was worth the wait.


Gillian Anne Renault has been an ArtsATL contributor since 2012 and Senior Editor for Art+Design and Dance since 2021. She has covered dance for the Los Angeles Daily News, Herald Examiner and Ballet News, and on radio stations such as KCRW, the NPR affiliate in Santa Monica, California. Many years ago, she was awarded an NEA Fellowship to attend American Dance Festival’s Dance Criticism program.


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