The Atlanta Ballet presents A WHOLE NEW ‘NUTCRACKER’

nutcracker

Atlanta Ballet’s first fresh holiday show in 2 decades

was 2 years in the making. Creators hint

that it will be brimming with surprises.


Atlanta Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” runs Dec. 8-24 at the Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE. Details, tickets HERE or at 404.892.3303. 

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CURTAIN UP on the glow and oh-so-pretty snow. It’s finally time to crack open a whole new Nutcracker because, as Atlanta Ballet Artistic Director Gennadi Nedvigin says, every generation deserves its own.

Choreographer Yuri Possokhov in rehearsal for the new “Nutcracker.” Atlanta Ballet Artistic Director Gennadi Nedvigin describes his friend as “a child in big-person pants” and calls his work “amazing.” Photo: Kim Kenney

Choreographer Yuri Possokhov in rehearsal for the new “Nutcracker.” Atlanta Ballet Artistic Director Gennadi Nedvigin describes his friend as “a child in big-person pants” and calls his work “amazing.” Photo: Kim Kenney

Nedvigin, a Bolshoi-trained artist, became the fourth artistic director in the company’s 89-year history two seasons ago. He last danced with San Francisco Ballet, and moved to Atlanta knowing he’d help oversee an all-new Nutcracker ballet.

Young people who grew up attending its predecessor, a storybook production staged for 23 seasons, are continuing the tradition. The old version was set against rich, jewel-toned backdrops that evoked 19th-century Russia. It blended clever comedic moments and ethereal classical ballet sequences with thrilling pas de deux.

Nedvigin’s new $3.7 million staging, choreographed by friend and Russian-born dancer Yuri Possokhov, returns to the original source material: German author E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 fantasy story, “Nutcracker and Mouse King.” It places the opening Christmas Eve party scene in a small German village.


A magical uncle

With dream-versus-reality notions, along with toy soldiers and snowflakes and such, The Nutcracker opens its imagination wide to artistic invention. But its central story line often remains: a magical uncle figure brings handmade toys to children at the party. Among them is a nutcracker, which is soon broken. A young girl named Marie checks on it in the middle of the night and discovers it has come to life. The nutcracker battles a mouse king, and then turns into a prince who carries Marie off to a fantasy kingdom inhabited by dolls.

A costume fitting with designer Sandra Woodall. Photo: Kim Kenney

A costume fitting with designer Sandra Woodall. Photo: Kim Kenney

Hoffmann’s tale contained bleak, even scary elements. As a leader in the German Romantic movement, he was accustomed to writing fantasy and Gothic horror, with tales full of inanimate objects coming to life. In 1844, French writer Alexandre Dumas toned down much of the darkness in Hoffmann’s story. An all-new Nutcracker, which premiered in 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia, paired the lighter Dumas telling with the familiar Tchaikovsky score.

The ballet was not an immediate hit, finding success gradually and chiefly after 1954, when George Balanchine created a version for New York City Ballet. Atlanta audiences have seen that version, too, and until now the one choreographed by Possokhov predecessor John McFall. Possokhov’s ballet is unlike either of those.

“Yuri is truly a child in big-person pants,” Nedvigin says. “He has such a great sense of creativeness inside him. The dancers can prove my words. He truly becomes a child and runs and plays when he is creating. It’s amazing to watch him. We’ll be having dinner, and you will see him just sort of float away. You discover he is making steps in the air.”

The ‘firepower’

Atlanta Ballet hints that its new  Nut “will rival a Broadway show in terms of production firepower.” A versatile team was assembled to help make that happen:

A costume rendering for Christmas Eve party guests by designer Sandra Woodall.

A costume rendering for Christmas Eve party guests by designer Sandra Woodall.

SCENIC DESIGNER TOM PYE sometimes designs costumes as well. He received a Tony nomination for the scenic design of Broadway’s 2004 Fiddler on the Roof revival.

COSTUME DESIGNER SANDRA WOODALL has done costumes and scenery for prominent ballet companies around the world. She designed costumes for Atlanta Ballet’s Helen Pickett-choreographed Camino Real (2017). A “costume can be absolutely stunning,” Pickett says, “but it cannot take away from what the body is doing … how the body describes the story … and Sandra understands that.”

LIGHTING DESIGNER DAVID FINN did lights and scenery for Camino Real. Next for him are world premieres of The Little Prince for the National Ballet of Canada and Frankenstein for London’s Royal Ballet.

PROJECTION DESIGNER FINN ROSS did scenery for Broadway’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Frozen and Mean Girls. He won London’s Olivier Award (2012) and Broadway’s Tony Award (2014) for the scenic design of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. He and his team spent nine months making the short, three-dimensional film shown during the overture.

And that’s not all. Robert Allsopp, known in  theater circles for his sculptural costumes, was hired to create mice costumes and some headpieces. His work is among more than 250 costumes this Nut uses, many hand-dyed and handcrafted in the United States and three other countries.

Friends & colleagues

Possokhov and Nedvigin have known each other for 18 years. Both were San Francisco Ballet principals near the ends of their performing careers, which also is when Possokhov’s choreographic reputation began growing.

“Oh, so many wonderful surprises,” promises artistic director Gennadi Nedvigin. “So much more is possible.” Photo: Hyosub Shin

“Oh, so many wonderful surprises,” promises artistic director Gennadi Nedvigin. “So much more is possible.” Photo: Hyosub Shin

The Nutcracker is rooted in Tchaikovsky’s music,” Possokhov says, and gives choreographers “much room for imagination.” Its magic is “its ability to bring people together — children, parents, grandparents, friends, people from all different backgrounds and various faiths.”

Atlanta Ballet calls the new production “a Nutcracker for our time,” without getting too specific. “You will lose your mind to it,” Nedvigin says, “and will forget what is outside the theater walls. You will be transported to a completely different world.”

Nedvigin and Possokhov want audiences to have a hard time discerning what is and isn’t real “but in a good way.” Almost whispering, Nedvigin says, “Oh, so many wonderful surprises. So much more is possible. One time will not be enough to see it or love it.”

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BATTLE ZONE

Alvin Ailey

FOR THIS VISIT,  ALVIN AILEY AMERICAN DANCE THEATER LEADER ROBERT BATTLE LOOKS TO THE PAST — 1960, THE 1980S, 2004 — TO ENTERTAIN, PROVOKE AND INFORM THE FUTURE.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs Feb. 14-18 at the Fox Theatre. Tickets HERE or at 855.285.8499. 

“ALMOST SPIRITUAL.” That’s how Robert Battle describes Atlanta’s passion for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

“The black experience,” says Ailey artistic director Robert Battle, “is not a one-note samba.” Photo: Andrew Eccles

“The black experience,” says Ailey artistic director Robert Battle, “is not a one-note samba.” Photo: Andrew Eccles

“The love and electricity we feel every time we’re there is the kind of excitement and commitment that’s usually reserved for pop culture — like for rock stars,” says Battle, artistic director of the nation’s pre-eminent modern dance company.

This visit the 32-member company — in which no one is a star but everyone dances like one — brings 13 pieces for six performances. You’d need to attend four of the six to see them all. What you can count on is plenty of powerful, athletic dance and Revelations as the finale. The spirit-rousing, visually stunning piece created by founder Alvin Ailey dates to 1960.

Revelations is a light in a dark place,” Battle says from New York. “As we look at this world and our country, Revelations gives us a sense that tomorrow the sun will shine.”

Battle, on the job since 2011, is the third artistic director in Ailey’s 60-year history. He was chosen by his predecessor, Judith Jamison, just as she was chosen by Ailey himself. Battle’s Mass, created in 2004 for the Juilliard School, is new this year to Ailey dancers.

He was inspired to create it after seeing a choral performance of Verdi’s Requiem at Carnegie Hall. “I found myself inspired by the sort of pageantry of a chorus of a hundred people, even how they entered in a somber way and the precise way they organized themselves on the risers, the juxtaposition of it all.

“When they sang,” he says, “the juxtaposition was their voice, like a passport to the world that could travel freely.” The choir leader “was almost like the preacher figure or chosen one born out of the mass. I found myself thinking about it all — the individual, the group or huddled mass, the chosen one freeing himself from the group.”

You never know where you’ll find inspiration, he says.

A scene from the Robert Battle-choreographed “Mass.” Top of page: “Twyla Tharp’s Golden Section.” Photos: Paul Kolnik

A scene from the Robert Battle-choreographed “Mass.” Top of page: “Twyla Tharp’s Golden Section.” Photos: Paul Kolnik

Battle’s choreography often features sharp, ritualistic movements and intricate patterns. He’s comfortable endorsing one phrase used to describe his style: rapid-fire movement. “My last name is Battle, and I think that says it all.”

As always, Ailey audiences can expect some social consciousness in the program. A highlight is likely to be Shelter, created in 1988 by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founder and artistic director of Urban Bush Women, the Brooklyn- dance troupe whose works often illuminate the disenfranchised.

Ailey dancers first performed the 22-minute Shelter, described as a hard-hitting interpretation on homelessness, 25 years ago. This is its first revival in 15 years.

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s “Shelter.” Photo: Paul Kolnik

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s “Shelter.” Photo: Paul Kolnik

One day in New York, Zollar says, she found herself stepping over a homeless person. “When it became normal and didn’t have any impact —when I stopped seeing it — that is when I thought we were losing portions of our humanity.”

Since the piece premiered, New York’s homeless population has tripled to 63,000, according to a recent NBC News estimate. Georgia has about 14,000 homeless people.

Battle sees Shelter’s relevance expanding. “I think we’re having to think about shelter and protection in larger ways. There’s a real fear out there of needing shelter from the very laws that are supposed to protect you.”

At least two other pieces in the lineup date to the 1980s, as well:

TWYLA THARP’S THE GOLDEN SECTION (1983). This 16-minute piece, set to a New Wave score by David Byrne, was the finale to Tharp’s The Catherine Wheel, an acclaimed 1981 project. Two years later, it became a stand-alone piece “celebrated for its expression of blissful joy.” In 2006, The New Yorker described Ailey’s re-staging as “daring, driving choreography with breathtaking leaps.”

STACK-UP  by Talley Beatty (1982). Beatty’s piece examines “an urban landscape and all the things that can happen within that context,” says Battle. More plot-driven than most Ailey pieces, it’s a colorful, energetic number of physical pyrotechnics done to a disco vibe from the Fearless Four, Grover Washington Jr. and Earth, Wind & Fire.

An Ailey performance promises a wide range of themes, moods and emotions. “The black experience,” Battle says, “is not a one-note samba.”

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The Fox Theatre pushes back Marquee Club opening

The completed rooftop will look much like this and overlook the Fox Theatre marquee. Photo: Fox Theatre

The completed rooftop will look much like this and overlook the Fox Theatre marquee. Photo: Fox Theatre

Almost exactly a year ago, the Fox Theatre announced plans for a 10,000-ft. expansion featuring a rooftop terrace and generous event space. Word then was that the space — named the Marquee Club — would open this fall.

Photo: Michael Portman

Photo: Michael Portman

This week, that grand opening was pushed back to early 2018. The reason: Surprises encountered when design and construction crews began digging into an 88-year-old building.

“We anticipated challenges once we began construction,” Fox president and CEO Allan C. Vella said in a news release. Fox officials hope to be able to set a firm 2018 opening date soon.

The theater will reach out to anyone who has purchased a Marquee membership (annual, corporate or individual) and offer exclusive previews in the months before it opens, the statement said. Memberships are still available at 404.881.2127. Prices, which were set for 2017 and may change, are:

  • Corporate annual: $12,000.
  • Noncorporate annual: $3,000.
  • Broadway in Atlanta subscriber annual: $500 for six shows. The rate may go up or down depending on the number of shows booked.

The Marquee also plans to offer limited per-event access based on availability.

The main level of the Marquis Club (clockwise, from left); another view of the outdoor terrace; and the mezzanine level of the club. Photos: Fox Theatre

The main level of the Marquis Club (clockwise, from left); another view of the outdoor terrace; and the mezzanine level of the club. Photos: Fox Theatre

The members-only club will include a 4,000-sq. ft. rooftop terrace under the night sky and overlooking Peachtree Street, plus some 6,000 square feet of indoor event space. All of this, the most significant expansion in the theater’s history, will continue the venue’s Moroccan-style decor.

The rooftop terrace will feature a combination of indoor, solarium and outdoor spaces for climate-controlled, cooled or fully outdoor spaces. Each will have its own bar. Members will be able to use the lounge/terrace before and after events and during intermission. Other perks include:

  • The ability to buy tickets before the general public.
  • A dedicated ticketing concierge.
  • Self-parking in a dedicated lot.
  • Private entry 90 minutes before show time.
  • Complimentary nonalcoholic beverages and hors d’oeuvres.
  • Access to five bars.
  • Private restrooms.
  • The ability to pre-order drinks, desserts and coffee for intermission.

Lord Aeck Sargent, an award-winning Atlanta architectural firm that specializes in conserving and preserving historic venues, is leading the renovation. Its previous projects include Language Hall at Oxford College of Emory University in Oxford, the Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center in Buford, the mixed-use Berkshire Terminus in Buckhead and Parkmobile Corporate Headquarters in Midtown.

The 4,665-seat Fox, which hosts some 250 performances a year, is home to the Broadway in Atlanta series of touring theater productions, Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker and the Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival. It’s a regular stop for dance companies, children’s shows, comedians — Louis CK, Mike Epps, George Lopez — and such musicians as Ringo Starr, John Prine and Widespread Panic. These events attract more than 500,000 patrons a each year.

The Fox also is a popular site for wedding receptions, trade shows, corporate meetings and association functions.

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