ArtsATL > Dance > Review: The Georgia Ballet shows new promise and direction with Proia and “The Four Seasons”

Review: The Georgia Ballet shows new promise and direction with Proia and “The Four Seasons”

Alexandre Proia, left, became artistic director a year ago.
Alexandre Proia, left, became artistic director a year ago.
Alexandre Proia, left, became artistic director a year ago.

Stronger, freer dancers and a fresh, inclusive vision are setting the tone for the Georgia Ballet’s next phase under Alexandre Proia’s direction. Proia’s choreography, however, could bear simplification: his work The Four Seasons appears to be a tangle of finely spun thread.

Proia, a former New York City Ballet principal dancer, took the company’s helm last spring. He succeeded Gina Hyatt-Mazon and Janusz Mazon, who returned to their former artistic home with the Hamburg Ballet.

Proia came in with a distinctly different vision and a wellspring of ideas, just as most of the company’s administrative staff and many teachers departed. But despite the upheaval, the Georgia Ballet’s dancers are looking stronger, more versatile and more spirited than ever.

Last Saturday evening’s performance of The Four Seasons at the warm and spacious Marietta Performing Arts Center showed Proia to be relatively green as a choreographer. He does, however, seem to possess an intangible ability to build dynamic dancers, to push them in new directions and to inspire them to push themselves. Their technique was clean and supple; the dancers were confident, genuine and authentic on stage. They danced as if liberated.

It also showed Proia to be interested in sharing the company’s platform with like-minded artists. The concert featured the debut of Fly on a Wall Collective, along with a solo by Lisa Lock, a recent addition to the dance community.

Former Atlanta Ballet dancers Kelly Tipton and Nathan Griswold left the city about three years ago for dance positions with Theater Augsburg in Germany. They have since returned to Atlanta and founded Fly on a Wall Collective. The artists’ group made its debut this weekend with Griswold’s sweet and poetic “La Poire.”

Two duets unfolded on a dark stage adorned only with a metal tree at one downstage corner and a kitchen table near the other. Actors Christopher Hall and Megan Jance engaged in a dialogue taken from Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil. The novel has stirred controversy, but this excerpt — detailed descriptions of the look, feel and smell of a pear — was innocent and inquisitive, with sensual undertones. To this poetry, Tipton and Nicole Johnson (a performer with gloATL) moved with focused curiosity and streamlined ease, as if tasting the lines and curves in the space around them for the first time. The combined effect was as simple, clear and absorbing as the narrative itself.

“Coalescence” showed Lock to be as much a visual artist as she is a choreographer. On a darkened stage, dancer Stacy Slichter appeared in profile, in a fin de sièclestyle skirt. Several long, slender feathers rose from her headband, half again her height, swaying gently as she walked. As her trailing skirt began to spread over the stage area, folds of black-tinted red taffeta seemed to pick up the texture and tone of soprano Sandrine Piau’s voice; Slichter’s arms spread as if her body were awash in the richly expressive sound. But the solo was over too soon; this character seems to have much more to say.

Proia’s The Four Seasons would have benefited from the kind of pared-down simplicity each of these openers possessed.

Set to Max Richter’s recomposition of Vivaldi’s famous concertos, the hour-long series of about a dozen short sections presented an array of moods and images associated with changing seasons — the love, aspiration and joy of spring; the appetite, freedom and envy of summer; the turmoil, fear and reconciliation of fall; and the desolation, isolation and acceptance of winter. Videography by Proia and Michael Carver helped set these scenes; a set piece, a white moveable house, gave dancers surprising entry and exit points, a roof to climb onto, a door and window to pass through and white walls for projected images.

Such devices worked beautifully, but movement patterns often compressed too many disparate ideas together. It was as if Proia were trying to come to terms with three distinct styles: Balanchine’s neoclassicism; a fluid and expressive modern dance idiom; and a painterly dance-theater style. Often, these threads appeared tangled up, and it was difficult to sort them out.

Simple moments were most successful, such as the pastoral opening, where two dancers, dressed as fawns, perched on the windowsill of a white house. Richter’s music burst with pulsing new life. Images of growing grass appeared on the house as a playful game of give and take ensued.

A subsequent vignette featured some of the evening’s finest dancing. A pair of couples appeared, each revolving around a single chair. Often, the person in the chair seemed to hold the relationship’s power. These, too, were give-and-take pairings. They traded places through myriad inventive ways, flowing in and out of the chairs, revolving around them and gliding over them. They exchanged supports as in a constant dance of dynamic relationships.

Images appeared on film: a bacchanalian feast, a passing secret, a kiss. Summer brought images of rain, as four dancers moved with quick direction changes, sweeping turns and rolling lifts to the music’s lush texture and lilting drive.

In the season of fall, dancers began speaking and laughing out loud, and this added one element too many. But there were also beautiful moments. At one point, the house rolled slowly across the rear stage. In its threshold, Abby McDowell walked slowly on pointe and glided through bourrées, as the frame brought her sculpted, long-limbed form into focus.

In a women’s quartet, clean-lined lunges, reaches and pulls recalled Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments; later, dancers swirled, fell and rolled like leaves blowing in wind. Kristin D’Addario, who contributed choreography, performed a trompe l’oeil solo, dancing with her own projected image.

Six women, as the elements, appeared in clear plastic pannier skirts, giving a crisp suggestion of winter. But, as was often the case, this idea was quickly abandoned for another. Still, Proia gave a satisfying recap: each couple walked slowly through a doorframe, recalling past events as snow fell around them.

With moments of classical clarity combined with complicated juxtapositions, Proia’s vision is alternately beautiful and jumbled. His dancers are markedly improved, and it looks as though they will continue to get better. But in his choreography, Proia seems eager to explore too many threads and voices. Perhaps it would be beneficial to sort them out and explore one at a time. Or perhaps to take cues from predecessors George Balanchine and Martha Graham, whose works offer sound advice: less is more.

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