Oh how I miss live dance! Watching Claudia Schreier’s new ballet on YouTube during Atlanta Ballet’s livestream Friday evening was both wonderful and frustrating. Wonderful to experience her beautiful, complex, moving Pleiades Dances but frustrating to see it crammed into my laptop screen. It deserved space. It deserved dimension. It deserved a live audience. The dancers were on stage at the Rialto Center for the Arts. We were at home. I realize this is the best we can do right now, but it hurt.
Let’s get the technical stuff out of the way. This second Silver Linings program from Atlanta Ballet was scheduled to livestream on both Facebook and YouTube. The initial Silver Linings program that was livestreamed in February had significant issues, particularly the loss of music due to a Facebook algorithm that mutes copyrighted music whether you have the rights to use it or not.
For this program, I couldn’t even reach the performance through Facebook. A “sorry no video” slate came up soon after the program began, so I watched it on YouTube instead. There, the hourlong show was seamless and well-paced with unobtrusive camera work, and the good news is that the performance is still available to watch. The company thankfully did without the bows at the end of each piece (a disconcerting aspect of the first Silver Linings program).
Pleiades Dances was one of four works Friday. The first three, all premieres and all brief, were created by Atlanta Ballet dancers. They were set fully or in part to piano scores: Keaton Leier’s La Forme du Vent (Debussy), Carraig New’s I Know Where It Is (Liszt), Bret Coppa’s Rabten Numinous (George Ivanovich Gurdjieff and Thomas Hartmann) and Pleiades, set to excerpts from two impressionistic Takashi Yoshimatsu compositions.
Introducing his work, Leier said he was inspired by climate change and weather patterns. The three dancers — Erica Alvarado, Airi Igarashi and Saho Kumagai — moved like scudding clouds with delicate arabesques and soft, floating arms, often in a port de bras that mirrored the ethereal elegance of the 19th-century classic La Sylphide. Their long classical tutus floated along with them.
New created a pas de deux that expressed the ebullient romanticism of Liszt’s Lieberstraum No. 3. Adding to the mood, Anastasia Cheplyansky danced in soft ballet slippers and wore her hair loose. The dancers’ swooping torsos, turns and leaps stopped abruptly when they got close to one another and raised a hand in a no-further gesture. Perhaps a nod to the fact that the pandemic forbids close contact such as lifts and supported variations. Cheplyansky and Spencer Wetherington were technically strong, but the ending seemed abrupt, the dance unfinished.
Coppa’s choice of music for the opening of Rabten Numinous, Bach’s Flute Sonata in C Major arranged for mandolin and guitar, was as formal and sedate as the Liszt was exuberant. Reflecting that, his trio for María José Esquivel, Brock Fowler and Jessica He had an austere quality. Fowler and Esquivel wore long, heavy skirts, emphasizing the slow, purposeful and grounded vocabulary. In his introduction, Coppa said that the piece was about the spirit and soul of the artist and it certainly had an introspective quality.
Credit goes to artistic director Gennadi Nedvigin for giving these dancers an opportunity to choreograph — a creative pandemic strategy. It was clear, however, within the first few moments of Schreier’s Pleiades Dances, that the dancers are first-time dance makers. There was no comparison. Here was a supremely talented and experienced choreographer who delved deep into the mercurial flow of the score and moved 12 dancers around the space in complex, dynamic ways.
They flew on and off the stage in rushes of leaps and turns that matched or contradicted the music’s many changes in tempo, mood and meter. Quintets morphed into trios and solos or slowed into jazzy, off-center positions that leaned into one hip. One trio ended in a brief tableau worthy of a Greek frieze. Schreier created a lovely pas de deux for Sergio Masero and Emily Carrico, a couple who live together and don’t have to socially distance. It was a delight, an idiosyncratic, moving sculpture with innovative and playful lifts.
The finale was quiet and meditative, a striking departure from the busy, bombastic crescendo of many ballets. The dancers stood, placed one hand on the heart and one on the stomach, gently bowed and then sat on the floor, gazing upward as if looking at the stars. (The Pleiades are a group of hundreds of stars, also known as the Seven Sisters.) Schreier is Atlanta Ballet’s choreographer-in-residence and we are lucky to have her. In her introduction, she explained that the ballet was created almost exclusively online with her in Chattanooga and the dancers in Atlanta. It was a tour de force, for sure.
Nedvigin, it seems, has heard our heartfelt pleas to see live dance again. It was just announced that all nine of the Silver Linings works, including Pleiades, will be performed live and in person the weekends of April 30-May 2 and May 7-9 during the Georgia Tech Arts Skyline Series. I am counting the hours till then.