The first premiere on the program, the work-in-progress “Devotion & Dreams,” introduced Atlanta to American-born and Belgium-based choreographer Shane Urton, and three new “Terminators”: company members Georgia Dalton and Elizabeth Labovitz, and protégé Amalie Chase.
In a small company, dancing in close proximity to the audience — at times they were just steps away from the front row — every dancer gets a chance to shine. Each of them was, in their own unique way, brilliant.
An exploration of the potential and limits of ballet as a creative vocabulary and of Urton’s project to, as the program notes said, dissolve the “form to make room for something else,” “Devotion & Dreams” began with the three women and veteran company member and co-founder Christian Clark moving mechanically through classical positions. Their lines were polished and their articulation precise, but they deliberately kept their faces and gestures free of emotion.
The spare costumes — black leotards and athletic shorts on the women, fitted black T-shirt and pants on Clark — hid nothing. As the movement became more natural — less mechanical but still neoclassically orthodox — Dalton, Labovitz and Chase showed themselves to be lovely technicians. When Urton’s choreography took a turn toward “something else,” however, their hips and torsos loosened. Their facial expressions and épaulements acquired personality and panache. They became extraordinary.
Dalton, with her hair swept back into a flawless French twist, projected sophistication and sultry elegance. Labovitz, her fiery red hair pulled into a demure low bun, was seraphic, at once otherworldly and powerful. Chase, who wore her hair in a low Balanchine-esque twisted figure-eight bun, danced with a fey, athletic grace and confidence to match that of the company members with whom she shared the stage.
Inspired by a quote from philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, “Devotion & Dreams” is shaping up to be a satisfyingly concrete embodiment of complex abstract concepts.
Sequences such as the one where Chase, a haunted expression on her face, struggled to remove an invisible substance that clung to her body and restricted her movement, offered visceral images of how medium and materials can limit expression.
Atlanta Ballet dancer Darian Kane’s “The Adoption of Faith” was second on the program. In this narrative work, Kane and her partner, composer and history lover Alec Zais, took on the ambitious project of telling the story of Romani persecution by the Nazis during World War II.
Watching was an emotionally profound experience, and the ballet was at its strongest when Kane trusted her skill at imbuing contemporary vocabulary with expressive meaning, letting the capable dancers tell the tragic story of a family — and a people — devastated by war and genocide.
A visibly pregnant Rachel Van Buskirk was incandescent as an expectant mother of three. In her solos, Kane’s choreography supported the dancer’s revelation of motherhood as powerful, capable and resilient in the face of violent threats, upheaval and displacement.
The slinking, slithering movement Kane created for John Welker as the sinister, almost reptilian Nazi officer was hypnotically, disturbingly attractive. It was impossible to look away from the evil he represented.
The final violent confrontation among Welker, on one side, and mother and father (Van Buskirk and Clark) and their daughters, danced by Chase, Dalton and Terminus Ballet School student Collins Anderson, on the other, was as precisely choreographed, skillfully executed and riveting as a cinematic fight scene.
At times Kane departed from what is becoming her distinctive style, drawing instead upon the traditional forms of classical story ballets in order to develop the characters and advance the plot. The effect was similar to reading a novel that occasionally switched from the style of Virginia Woolf to that of Charles Dickens. Both of them offer effective ways to tell a story, but the result of Kane’s combining two different styles in this piece created rough transitions between, and even within, some scenes.
Zais’ score and Kane’s choreography presumably drew upon Romani art and traditions. Without acknowledgements of source material in the program, however, it is difficult to know for sure. In a work dedicated to ensuring remembrance of a culture and its history, it was surprising not to see any Romani influences or artists credited in the notes.
The program closed with Van Buskirk’s short but perfectly sublime contribution, “Secrets,” which included a fabulous performance from guest artist Darvensky Louis and a lush, cascading score from Andy Kurtz. Complementing Devotions & Dreams, Secrets explored the unexpressed and inexpressible aspects of human experience. Balancing “The Adoption of Faith” narrative on a historical scale, “Secrets” told smaller but still important stories of everyday life.
Jordan Carrier’s understated but effective costume design painted the evening’s final act with the warm glow of autumn. The dancers wore fitted, comfortable street wear in russet tones. Their forms were radiant against the white walls and floor.
Like the costumes, Van Buskirk’s choreography was well-matched to the intimate setting. In ballet slippers, the dancers moved almost soundlessly through the space. Frequently, while their larger gestures and steps told one story, their facial expressions, sidelong glances or small deviations in tension or posture told another. For example, in one section, Clark and Dalton performed the roles of a happy couple, but their pasted-on smiles and the way they looked through or past one another suggested emotional distance in spite of their physical proximity.
“Out of the Box” is a well-rounded program that offers aesthetic variety without compromising thematic continuity and clearly demonstrates that Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre is flush with new and returning talent. “Out of the Box” will be performed again Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. However, the company’s website states that those shows are already sold out.
Robin Wharton studied dance at the School of American Ballet and the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. As an undergraduate at Tulane University in New Orleans, she was a member of the Newcomb Dance Company. In addition to a bachelor of arts in English from Tulane, Robin holds a law degree and a Ph.D. in English, both from the University of Georgia.
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