ArtsATL > Dance > Review: Georgia Ballet masterful with Balanchine’s “Serenade,” Janusz Mazon’s “Firebird”

Review: Georgia Ballet masterful with Balanchine’s “Serenade,” Janusz Mazon’s “Firebird”

The Georgia Ballet's Amanda Farris as Elena. (Photo by Janusz Mazon)
The Georgia Ballet's Amanda Farris as Elena in "The Firebird." (Photo by Janusz Mazon)

There was a tragic and beautiful moment near the end of George Balanchine’s “Serenade,” performed over the weekend at the Cobb Civic Center in Marietta. The Dark Angel leads a man on a path of destiny, leaving his partner, the Waltz Girl, alone. She slowly crosses to her mother figure,  embraces her, then turns to be carried up the diagonal, arching and widening her arms toward the heavens as if her heart has burst open with grief.

The scene held large symbolism for the Georgia Ballet’s 53rd season. “Serenade,” an abstract work with hints of story, shared the bill with “The Firebird,” a captivating narrative work with a European sensibility, by Janusz Mazon, the company’s ballet master and choreographer. And it was the Georgia Ballet’s final mixed repertory concert under Artistic Director Gina Hyatt-Mazon. After 15 years with the Georgia Ballet, the couple will return to their artistic home, the Hamburg Ballet. After “The Nutcracker” in December, Hyatt-Mazon will become a member of the artistic staff in Hamburg; Mazon will join his wife in Germany at the end of the academic year.

The concert was one of the season’s most outstanding locally produced dance performances, showing Mazon to be a masterful storyteller with dancers at the top of their game.

The concert repertory challenged the dancers and heightened their strengths. It was a pinnacle example of the Mazons’ devoted work ethic and caring approach to their art. They have made dance accessible to all ages without compromising artistic integrity; they’ve pushed dancers to higher technical levels while nurturing their artistry.

Balanchine created “Serenade” in 1934 to give his first American students practice in stage techniques. The Russian choreographer re-assembled bits of history, with romantic softness and classical clarity, then set it to Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade in C Major for String Orchestra.”

In soft blue romantic tutus, against a simple, glowing blue backdrop, the dancers embodied the music’s buoyant swells, creating intricate geometric patterns with lilting lines and heartfelt momentum.

In the opening section of the Waltz Girl’s late entrance — Elizabeth Chapman performed the calm, well-known opening sequence — she raised her palm against the light, then broke the wrist. Her arm encircled her face, then crossed her chest and lowered. She began to open to first position — signifying the beginning of class, of American ballet. And with the corps just whisked away, perhaps it was also an ode to the end of girlish innocence and the beginning of young love. Later, in a brisk pas de deux, Chapman and her partner whirled through a series of turns and jumps and perches en pointe; then she unfurled her leg high to the side and halted as if suspending time.

Abby Hyatt was a bright flame, leading a group of women down the diagonal with billowy skips as fluid as silk. And Ashleyanne Hensley brought a mature, luxuriant sense of breath and dark power in her upper body as she hovered over Chapman and Raul Peinado.

From the back of the corps shone young Emily Mazon, who will leave Georgia with her mother. With seemingly natural, inborn technique, she danced with a sense of abandon, innate power and poise beyond her 17 years. Her youthful lyricism matched the music’s scurrying pulse as she circled her partner, pivoted, and puffed into an arabesque so exquisite it could bring tears to the eyes.

Janusz Mazon’s “The Firebird,” restaged after its 2007 premiere, demonstrated his gift for dance narrative. The story is a pared-down adaptation of Mikhail Fokine’s 1910 libretto, based on traditional Russian fables.

The story is of a young girl who, sent to “time out” for a faulty decision, instead journeys into a fantasy world where she faces a series of choices involving a magical Firebird (Chapman), a prince (Beau Foister) and a Tsarevna, or princess (Hyatt). A black-cloaked Brandon Funk played the Immortal Kostchei, a sorcerer who, disguised as a peddler, entices the girl, Elena, to give up a family treasure. In her daydream, it becomes her task to break his spell and return the glittering, elongated egg-shaped talisman.

Mazon’s choreography brought out the magic and color of Stravinsky’s music. Stripped of affectation, the through-line was sustained. Every turn, step, lift and change of support seemed part of an evolving relationship that furthered the story with spare and meaningful gestures, musical attunement and spatial acuity.

Mazon’s set design recalled Russian Constructivist sets, in the simple, modern-day reality of the home, and included a background and costumes of black, red and grey and ivory. In Elena’s daydream, the set was flush with vivid pastel and rich woodland colors for a wintry landscape. Moveable platforms bore trees with curved sheet-metal branches that shimmered and wavered as if the trees had a life of their own.

Amanda Farris played Elena with unaffected sincerity. She daydreamed, circling her upper body from an open stance. This circling expanded into a series of wafting suspensions and turns that were hypnotic.

Chapman danced passionately as the Firebird, thrusting her long limbs into broad extensions, then diving fearlessly into inverted and spinning lifts in a pas de deux with Foister as the prince.

Hyatt as the Tsarevna led a pastoral divertissement, hands prayer-wise as her attendants (students from the Georgia Ballet School) whirled in pastel chiffon against a background of enchanted princesses in deep, opaque shades of red, brown and forest green.

The influence of Hamburg Ballet Artistic Director John Neumeier was apparent in Hyatt’s duet with the prince. In breathless, swirling lifts, it seemed as if she were being lifted not in body but in spirit.

Mazon’s “Firebird” could appeal to any age, from child to dance aficionado. Its seamless storyline and unadorned simplicity revealed a deeper, human beauty that was rare, beautiful and fleet.

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