Atlanta Ballet has a line item in its budget called the “innovation fund.” Judging by its announcement today of its 2013-14 season and “very ambitious” five-year strategic plan, that line item will see plenty of activity this year and beyond.
At a luncheon for trustees, donors and media at the Four Seasons Hotel in Midtown, Executive Director Arthur Jacobus, Artistic Director John McFall and Allen W. Nelson, chairman of the board of trustees, talked about the transformation of the 83-year-old company into a world-class troupe.
Part of that transformation includes plans to tour nationally and internationally, possibly to New York, London and China. The ballet has performed occasionally outside its hometown, but any significant touring would mean a major shift in its outlook and budget requirements. According to Jacobus and McFall, they are ready. The company is launching a capital campaign, which will no doubt help it take that next step. With dynamic new repertoire and dancers who are becoming ever more technically fluent, it clearly has an opportunity to gain a national and international reputation.
The five-year plan also calls for building a distinctive repertoire through acquisitions and commissions, already well under way; identifying a music director; and fully embracing the company’s Wabi Sabi initiative. Wabi Sabi, created by veteran company member John Welker in 2011, features free world-premiere events at various venues, most notably the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
Atlanta Ballet’s transformation has been evident during the past two seasons. It will continue in 2013-14 with premieres of classical and contemporary works from renowned choreographers Alexei Ratmansky and Ohad Naharin and three full-length, cutting-edge story ballets: the company premiere of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s “Roméo et Juliette,” the world premiere of resident choreographer Helen Pickett’s “Camino Real” and the return of Steven Mills’ emotionally charged “Hamlet.” A world premiere by Atlanta Ballet dancer and choreographer Tara Lee will also be featured, along with a one-hour family performance of “Pinocchio,” choreographed by McFall. The latter will be danced by the newly named Atlanta Ballet Fellowship Ensemble, a sort of “Atlanta Ballet II” company.
Ratmansky is artist-in-residence at American Ballet Theatre and one of the most sought-after choreographers in ballet today. His “Seven Sonatas,” described as “spellbinding” by The New York Times, will join Atlanta Ballet’s repertoire in March 2014 as one of three works on the “Modern Choreographic Voices” program (formerly known as “New Choreographic Voices”). Also on the program is the ballet’s premiere of Naharin’s “Secus”; it will be the second work in the troupe’s three-year, three-work agreement with the trend-setting Israeli choreographer. Rounding out the mixed bill will be a reprise of Jorma Elo’s “1st Flash,” a contemporary piece, set to music by Jean Sibelius, that joined the ballet’s repertoire in March 2012.
In spite of concerns that story ballets might be a thing of the past, several contemporary choreographers are reveling in the genre, and Atlanta Ballet is tracking them down one by one. This season it reprised Michael Pink’s thrilling “Dracula,” and next season McFall will bring in Maillot’s “Roméo et Juliette.” First performed in 1996 by Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, it received its American premiere 12 years later courtesy of the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Like choreographer Kenneth McMillan’s well-known production, it is set to Sergei Prokofiev’s dramatic score. Unlike the McMillan work, however, it is starkly modern, with many unusual takes on the original story. According to McFall, the Maillot “Roméo et Juliette” is “the most distinct version in the world.”
Staying with the Shakespearean theme will be Mills’ “Hamlet,” back on the Atlanta Ballet stage after a 10-year hiatus. Set to Philip Glass compositions and first performed by Ballet Austin, it’s a sleek and sophisticated take on the Bard’s tale of intrigue, revenge and power.
At the luncheon, McFall described Pickett’s “Camino Real” as “the first ballet ever inspired by” Tennessee Williams’ 1953 play. It is Pickett’s third work for the company and the first since she was named resident choreographer earlier this year.
The 2013-14 season will kick off in December with “Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker,” the Christmas classic that accounts for 60 percent of the company’s annual income from ticket sales. Illusionist Drew Thomas, who designed the magic tricks in the 2012 production, will be back with more illusions and will also dance the role of Drosselmeyer. After a two-year hiatus, “The Nutty Nutcracker” will return for one night only, on December 19.