Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
March 25–27, 2011
Reviewed by Astrida Woods
Tara Lee and Jacob Bush in Hampson’s
The Rite of Spring. Photo by Charlie McCullers, courtesy Atlanta Ballet.
Atlanta Ballet’s artistic director John McFall thrives on stirring up audiences with unconventional programming. He took a giant leap of faith when he entrusted British choreographer Christopher Hampson with reinventing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring—the ballet that incited a riot when it premiered in Paris in 1913.
Hampson trained at the Royal Ballet School (Christopher Wheeldon was his classmate) and made his reputation as a freelance choreographer in England and Europe, where his finely crafted ballets won prizes and commissions. He created the sparkling Sinfonietta Giocosa for Atlanta Ballet in 2005.
Using only three dancers—two men and a woman—Hampson departs from Rite’s traditional cast of “thousands” and skillfully distills the drama to its essence.
The curtain opens on a stark, white, circular 9-foot wall that surrounds the two sleeping brothers on the floor, their heads on each other’s shoulders—an image that stays with you as their relationship disintegrates.
Christian Clark, in a chilling portrayal of the Older Brother, an alpha male, dominates Jacob Bush, the meek and naïve Younger Brother who endures harsh treatment from his sibling. With inexhaustible energy, Bush delivers an astonishingly emotional, profoundly focused performance. And Tara Lee, in the roles of Faith in Part I and Death in Part II stalks them on pointe along the rim. She alternately soothes and menaces them from above but comes into her own in a series of complex pas de deux, particularly during the protracted death duet with Bush.
The combative contemporary choreography works well on the two bare-chested men, who lunge and dispense body blows that send each other racing up and down the ramped walls. Paddle turns fan out their long Japanese Hakama skirts, turning them into swirling black tornadoes.
Part II resorts to shock value. A glaring spotlight relentlessly beams down on the prisoner—the Younger Brother. The military guard (Clark), in camouflage and combat boots, kicks and blinds the prisoner, then pulls an executioner’s black hood over his head. Death (Lee) appears and beckons the condemned man promising salvation, at which point Bush launches into an agonizingly long death dance.
Hampson’s theatrical compass guides him toward building tension and sustaining suspense. Adroit pacing and the characters’ moods ebb and flow with intensity, keeping the audience in suspense. With tighter editing and a clearer narrative, particularly in Part II, Rite could be a hit.
Helen Pickett’s Petal perfumed the spring air with her effervescent choreography to Philip Glass and Thomas Newman’s terrific music. It was the perfect opener for Atlanta’s fleet-footed and engaging dancers.
Fusing African rhythms with Bach melodies, Lambarena by Val Caniporali, as the closing ballet, created a carnival atmosphere. The dancers savored the upbeat mood, their bodies undulating with gusto.