By Manning Harris

Did you know that Atlanta Ballet is the nation’s longest continuously performing ballet company?  It was born in 1929 (the same year the Fox Theatre opened) as the Dorothy Alexander Concert Group; in the 1940’s it became the Atlanta Civic Ballet; and in 1967 the Company gained professional status as Atlanta Ballet.  They must be doing something right; the Company is perhaps the preeminent professional performing organization in Atlanta.  It is also the State Ballet of Georgia.

At the end of October, Atlanta Ballet presented “Moulin Rouge: The Ballet” at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.  The work was choreographed by Jorden Morris of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and his production had its world premiere in 2009 in Minneapolis and has since toured Canada.

This is a stunningly beautiful ballet, filled with turn-of-the-Century Parisian ambience.  Its setting, of course, is the Moulin Rouge, the most famous cabaret in history, which opened in Belle Epoque 1889, and made even more famous by the paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec, a character in the ballet.

Matthew (John Welker) is a young painter newly arrived in Paris; he meets the lovely Nathalie (Christine Winkler), a laundress who secretly yearns to be a dancer.  Even though Matthew and Nathalie are each quite taken with the other, it is the disreputable Zidler (Jonah Hooper), owner of the Moulin Rouge, who can make her a star in his famous cabaret; and Zidler instantly fancies Nathalie.  Into this brew pops Toulouse-Lautrec (Brian Wallenberg), who sees Matthew’s art and becomes a mentor to the young man.

These are the main characters, but the real star of the evening is the Moulin Rouge itself, with all its bawdy art, intense theatricality, and dazzling light, color, and sound.  Not to mention the dances—the can-can, quadrille, and unique balletic moves tailored for the most sophisticated of nightclubs.  Mr. Morris has chosen from a wide range of composers to provide the music—Debussey, Ravel, Offenbach, Massenet, Shostakovich, and others.  And the music is glorious, even though recorded (in state-of-the-art super sound, I might add). Naturally a full live orchestra is preferable—and lamentably expensive; I’m sure the Ballet would love to add you to the Dorothy Alexander Circle of super-donors, should you feel strongly about the subject.

The moonlight pas de deux that Matthew and Nathalie dance to Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” is heavenly; it’s moments like this that make ballet fans out of people who think they don’t like ballet.  The aforementioned four principals are all excellent.  “Moulin Rouge:  The Ballet” is a triumph.

Earlier I said the star of the evening was the Moulin Rouge itself and the dances.  But you don’t have dances without dancers, and Atlanta Ballet is a great company, employing 20 professional dancers and six apprentices.  They richly deserve mention, and here they are:  Jacob Bush, Peng-Yu Chen, Christian Clark, Pedro Gamino, Deonte Hansel, Anne Tyler Harshbarger, Jonah Hooper, Yoomi Kim, Tara Lee, Nadia Mara, Kristine Necessary Loveless, Tommy Panto, Alessa Rogers, Abigail Tan, Jared Tan, Jesse Tyler, Rachel Van Buskirk, Brian Wallenberg, John Welker, and Christine Winkler.  The apprentices are Cortney Funk, Heath Gill, Drew Grant, Yoko Kanomata, and Jackie Nash.

The Artistic Director of Atlanta Ballet is John McFall.  Please check the Ballet’s website to check their season and support this superb company. www.atlantaballet.com. To contact Manning Harris: fmanningh@gmail.com

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.