Reviews

Atlanta Ballet’s ‘Black Swan’ shows a company on the cusp of a new generation

Jessica Assef and Nikolas Gaifullin, with Keith Reeves in Atlanta Ballet's 'Swan Lake'. Photo by Gene Schiavone.
Jessica Assef and Nikolas Gaifullin, with Keith Reeves in Atlanta Ballet's 'Swan Lake'. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, Atlanta, Georgia.
March 16, 2018.

Jessica Assef and Nikolas Gaifullin in Atlanta Ballet's 'Swan Lake'. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

Jessica Assef and Nikolas Gaifullin in Atlanta Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake’. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

Atlanta Ballet, under director Gennadi Nedvigin, continues to reinforce its commitment to traditional, classical ballet repertoire by opening its March performances with Swan Lake’s Act III. The company has gone through significant changes over the past two years; therefore, fresh young faces took on the notoriously devilish Petipa/ Ivanov choreography. This new generation of Atlanta Ballet has lovely technique, exquisite lines and tremendous potential, but they have yet to discover how to bring fire and excitement to Swan Lake’s famous Act III.  

Jessica Assef as Odile and Nikolas Gaifullin as Prince Siegfried tackled the pas de deux and tricky variations with technical security and strength. The Black Swan pas de deux, however, isn’t really about great fouettés or nailing the perfect double tour to arabesque, which they did; it’s about delicious deception, passion and drama, which were unfortunately lacking at Friday’s show. No doubt as these dancers become more confident and fearless, they will be a force in this new Atlanta Ballet. Because of the somewhat tepid overall feeling in the opening piece, it made veteran dancers Jackie Nash and Jacob Bush stand out even more with their elegantly crisp Czardas and Francesca Loi’s fire in Spanish exciting to experience.

Jessica Assef and Nikolas Gaifullin in Atlanta Ballet's 'Swan Lake'. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

Jessica Assef and Nikolas Gaifullin in Atlanta Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake’. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

Keith Reeves’s commanding performance of Von Rothbart was notable, securing his position as one to watch as he continues to mature into more leading and character roles. Swan Lake Act III was beautifully together and clearly well rehearsed in spite of sometimes feeling stilted and overly formal. Certainly over time, with developing artistic fearlessness, we will see Atlanta Ballet’s dancers use technique simply as a tool to emotionally capture audiences and remind us why traditional ballets like Swan Lake are still relevant today.

Atlanta Ballet in Craig Davidson’s 'Remembrance:Hereafter'. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

Atlanta Ballet in Craig Davidson’s ‘Remembrance:Hereafter’. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

The second piece of the evening, Craig Davidson’s Remembrance/Hereafter was a breath of fresh air and felt explosive, exciting and freeing from the moment the curtain opened on a visually impactful set that resembled a hanging garden. Right away, my eye was drawn to the warm but dynamic qualities that dancer Nadia Mara brought to the opening section. She makes us remember why we love to watch live dance. The long, flowing dresses were a perfect choice to complement Davidson’s razor quick choreography. The choreographer describes this piece as an “invitation to remember those who have passed, those we may soon leave behind and the anticipation of our ultimate reunion.” It felt like a celebration of life and the beauty that ballet can bring as an artform.

Olivia Yoch in Craig Davidson’s 'Remembrance:Hereafter'. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

Olivia Yoch in Craig Davidson’s ‘Remembrance:Hereafter’. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

Olivia Yoch was a standout and seemed to literally dive into this ballet with the fearlessness that we were longing for in the previous piece of the evening. The women were stunning, but this was also an opportunity to see the men break out and really move. There were many moments of expert and daring partnering from the men, but they weren’t just there to create some fun “ta-da” partnering moments. There were standout individual performances from Bush, Leier and Tan. A beautiful string quartet brought Schubert’s music alive, reminding us that great art can sometimes come from deep personal pain. The moving score could not have been more perfect to reflect the deeper meanings behind Remembrance/Hereafter, and the dancers pulled out all the stops to remind us that life is short and should be embraced even through loss and sadness.

Jacob Bush, Jessica He and Keaton Leier in Craig Davidson’s 'Remembrance:Hereafter'. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

Jacob Bush, Jessica He and Keaton Leier in Craig Davidson’s ‘Remembrance:Hereafter’. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

Overall, it’s exciting to see a bright future for Atlanta Ballet’s young, talented dancers as they hopefully get the nourishment they need from artistic staff and veteran company dancers in developing as risk takers and artists who can move audiences the way that only ballet can. Thankfully, there are still those dynamic veteran artists to anchor the company and lead the way in its rebirth.  

By Emily Harrison of Dance Informa.

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