Atlanta Ballet’s Sergio Masero puts the men first in his new work ‘Schubertiada’

Emily Carrico  and Sergio Masero during an interview at Atlanta Ballet's Michael C. Carlos Dance Centre in Atlanta in December 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Combined ShapeCaption
Emily Carrico and Sergio Masero during an interview at Atlanta Ballet's Michael C. Carlos Dance Centre in Atlanta in December 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

For “Strike Your Fancy,” Atlanta Ballet’s season closer May 13-15 at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 27-year-old dancer-choreographer Sergio Masero was charged with a deceptively simple task.

Artistic Director Gennadi Nedvigin asked him to “balance” the mostly female cast of Marius Petipa’s 1846 classic “Paquita” by creating a new ballet that showcased the male company members. For his upcoming world premiere “Schubertiada,” Masero cast every male company member except for himself — 12 in total — and one woman, striving to buck the codified structure and conventional gender roles present in historic works like “Paquita.”

“Schubertiada” will appear on the “Strike Your Fancy” mixed bill alongside “Paquita” and resident choreographer Claudia Schreier’s 2021 “Pleiades Dances.”

Classical ballets tend to utilize the corps de ballet, a group of usually female dancers, as a beautiful but homogenous human backdrop for principals and soloists. The women, though highly skilled, often execute simple movements and/or shift through a series of poses designed to support and embody the mood without distracting from the soloists. Masero wanted to challenge this notion and offer a different take.

“I wanted my corps de ballet to do a lot. To move. To dance. [The dancers] weren’t going to be just holding a pose,” Masero says, adding that he was interested in changing certain “facts” about what the corps should and should not do. “The idea comes from who I am as choreographer and translates to who I am as a dancer,” he says. “I enjoy taking up space and moving big, which is usually not what the corps de ballet does. I thought — why not?”

As artistic director, Nedvigin believes in programming balance, befitting his former career as a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet. The old and the new, the known and the unknown, the established and the emerging.

The pandemic lockdown made it impossible, however, for visiting choreographers to set new work on the company. As a result, Nedvigin commissioned eight Atlanta Ballet dancers to create original works for the company’s “Silver Linings” concerts last year, creating a balance between bringing in established dance makers and cultivating talent within the company. Masero was one of the eight and made his choreographic debut with “Teneo Integrum.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Sergio Masero rehearses his ballet “Teneo Integrum” with Juliana Missano for the “Silver Linings” performances. (Photo by Kim Kenney)

Credit: Kim Kenney

Sergio Masero rehearses his ballet “Teneo Integrum” with Juliana Missano for the “Silver Linings” performances. (Photo by Kim Kenney)

Credit: Kim Kenney

Combined ShapeCaption
Sergio Masero rehearses his ballet “Teneo Integrum” with Juliana Missano for the “Silver Linings” performances. (Photo by Kim Kenney)

Credit: Kim Kenney

Credit: Kim Kenney

Nedvigin’s commitment to this in-house choreographic mentorship offers a unique opportunity for company dancers like Masero to creatively respond to their experiences and to explore the legacy of the historic works they perform.

Inspired by ballet’s 200-year-old tradition, Masero wanted his new work to turn the purpose of the corps upside down. “In ‘Paquita’ you have all women and one man, and the man walks around like he’s the special one. And I think that a woman deserves the opportunity to be the special one,” says Masero. In fact, he decided to cast three “special” women in the singular role: Mikaela Santos, Airi Igarashi, and Jessica Assef. To triple-cast a role for a four-performance run is unusual, but Masero fought for it, knowing each dancer brought something different and important.

Classical ballets have long upheld rigid gender stereotypes: Men perform feats of strength and power and lift the women, seemingly effortlessly; women showcase flexibility and quick lightness.

Masero acknowledges that standards have relaxed over time and technical capabilities are no longer restricted to one gender. When asked why he insisted on including one woman in the cast he says: “Working with a male and a female is totally different, and they both bring something unique.” With “Schubertiada,” he wanted to also honor womanhood. Coincidentally (or not), Masero’s wife and fellow Atlanta Ballet dancer Emily Carrico gave birth to their daughter three months ago.

Combined ShapeCaption
Emily Carrico and Sergio Masero.

Credit: Kim Kenney

Emily Carrico and Sergio Masero.

Credit: Kim Kenney

Combined ShapeCaption
Emily Carrico and Sergio Masero.

Credit: Kim Kenney

Credit: Kim Kenney

Even the title “Schubertiada” is a nod to Masero’s belief in the corps de ballet as “a group of individual soloists,” a place where everyone gets their moment to shine.

A self-proclaimed classical music fanatic, Masero found inspiration in the narrative structure and tonal diversity of Franz Schubert’s Piano Trio in E Flat.

He also found, when researching the iconic composer, that Schubert was something of a house-party DJ in his day, serenading salons at the piano. Beginning in the 1820s and continuing long after his death, Schubert fans gathered to listen to and celebrate his music; the parties were dubbed Schubertiads. A native of Madrid, Spain, Masero titled his ballet using the Spanish translation “Schubertiada” to honor the collective spirit of those gatherings and Schubert’s masterful music.

As a choreographer, Masero wants to celebrate individuality, not hide it to serve convention or technical exactness. He offered the female soloists in “Schubertiada” freedom to be their full selves and to make artistic choices in the details. “I told them: These are the steps, this is the musicality, but I really want to see you in the role. I don’t want to see myself through your body.”

Petipa, rehearsing “Paquita” 175 years ago, couldn’t have imagined this scenario in his wildest dreams. Ballet has come a long way.

DANCE PREVIEW

Atlanta Ballet: “Strike Your Fancy”

8 p.m. May 13; 2 and 8 p.m. May 14; 2 p.m. May 15. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 404-892-3303, www.atlantaballet.com.

Kathleen Wessel is a movement artist, choreographer, educator and writer who has been covering dance for ArtsATLsince 2012. She is on faculty in the Department of Dance Performance & Choreography at Spelman College.


Combined ShapeCaption
ArtsATL logo

Credit: ArtsATL

ArtsATL logo

Credit: ArtsATL

Combined ShapeCaption
ArtsATL logo

Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL

MEET OUR PARTNER

ArtsATL (www.artsatl.org), is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.

If you have any questions about this partnership or others, please contact Senior Manager of Partnerships Nicole Williams at nicole.williams@ajc.com.