Alexandre Proia, 51, was named artistic director of the Georgia Ballet four seasons of the year ago, in March 2013. So it seems fitting that he celebrates his first anniversary with the company with a new ballet titled The Four Seasons. The work premieres Friday at the Marietta Performing Arts Center and runs through April 6. Opening the program is “La Poire,” performed by guest artists Fly on the Wall Collective, and “Coalescence,” a solo for Stacey Slichter, formerly with the Sarasota Ballet of Florida.
Many choreographers have created Four Seasons ballets. Most are set to the familiar Vivaldi violin concertos; Kenneth McMillan and Jerome Robbins used the Verdi score. Proia himself performed in Robbins’ version during his 12 years dancing with New York City Ballet.
For the Georgia Ballet, Proia is using a new composition: a reimagining of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons created by postclassical composer Max Richter in 2012. Richter discards almost three quarters of the original in favor of ambient textures and rhythmic, flowing melodies that hint at or surround some of Vivaldi’s familiar themes.
“I love Max Richter,” says Proia one afternoon in the company’s large, high-ceilinged rehearsal studio. “I love the atmosphere he creates, the orchestration, the cinematic feel. Vivaldi’s score is gorgeous, but Richter gives it a softer, more ethereal edge and creates a conversation for the mind and the heart beat. He humanizes the music.”
Certain parts of the music, Proia feels, lend themselves to pointe work, others to dancing in soft ballet shoes. Some of the dancers will perform barefoot or in socks “so they can slide. If the wind blows, that is what happens to a leaf.” For the autumn section, Proia is adding a sound track of evocative whispers and the sound of the wind.
Proia’s The Four Seasons is about relationships. “They resemble the seasons,” he says. “We can accept the rain, or not. Get into the storm together or not. It’s about refusal, acceptance, tolerance.” He identifies spring with love, joy and aspiration; summer with drama and envy; fall with turmoil, fear and reconciliation; and winter with desolation and finally acceptance.
The ballet opens in spring with one young couple followed by nature and four central couples. The rest of the 18 dancers represent the elements.
Proia is fleshing out the ballet with additional choreography by Kristin D’Addario, formerly with Miami City Ballet, and with sets and video projection. “Between the music, the sets, the video and the movement, there are a multitude of layers and elements involved in this program that encourage thought, questioning and examination,” he says. “Like fine wine or a good meal, it will take time to digest.”
Film is uppermost on Proia’s mind these days. Keenly aware that Atlanta is a popular destination for movie shoots, he envisions using film more extensively in future ballets. “I want to use it to tell a story,” he says, for instance, “the story of Margaret Mitchell, or Picasso, or Coco Chanel and fashion.”
The Georgia Ballet was founded in 1960 and over the years has provided Cobb County with a strong community ensemble and a ballet school that Proia now directs, drawing on his training at the Paris Opera School of Ballet — he was born in France — and his experience as a dancer with Boston Ballet, New York City Ballet and the Martha Graham Dance Company. He has high standards for his students and company. “You don’t shape marble by blowing on it,” he says.
During Proia’s 12 months in Georgia, he has experienced good and bad weather emotionally. A few weeks after stepping into his new position, he demonstrated a lift and suffered a serious injury. “My bicep exploded,” he says with a wince. He was back at work the day after surgery but has several scars to show for it.
He dreams of taking the company to the next level. He wants to bring in more dancers, strengthen their techniques, invite guest choreographers, collaborate with local designers and theater companies and take the company on tour, but he knows it will take time and patience. Like many artistic directors, he feels the chill of limited resources and is acutely aware that Atlanta Ballet is much better known and better supported.
His favorite season, he says, is autumn because it’s a time to remember the past and acknowledge the passage of time. As for Atlanta’s spring, he is so immersed in preparing for next weekend’s performances he barely seems to notice it. “I am mostly indoors or a passenger in someone else’s car” going to and from the studio, he says.
All his energy is focused on The Four Seasons and his vision for what the company can become. “The challenges are multiple. The stress is immense. But I want to make the Georgia Ballet a jewel, a different and distinctive little company,” he says. “The dancers and I have been married for only a year, but we are learning from each other. They are starting to reimagine themselves. And I enjoy being creative with what we have. Art has power, and together we can empower ourselves to empower the audience.”
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