The noun “fancy,” the Oxford Dictionary tells us, is a “feeling of liking or attraction, typically one that is superficial or transient.”

It was an apt descriptor for Atlanta Ballet’s season closer last weekend at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. Audiences in the half-full theater Friday witnessed an evening chock full of confections that included works either of the art form’s past, or grounded in the past while in varying degrees of the moment. Schubertiada, a world premiere by Sergio Masero showed the fifth-year company member to be a choreographer of considerable talent.

We live in a forward-looking era where people tend to value progress and innovation. But classical ballet is built on tradition, and this is good enough reason to preserve 19th-century lightweights like Marius Petipa’s Paquita. Set to a score by Petipa’s house composer Ludwig Minkus, Paquita lacks the musical depth of Petipa works set to Tchaikovsky scores, but it does uphold classical ballet’s technical standards as well as the aesthetic values — whether or not you like or agree with them — of the Romanov court that funded Russian ballet of that era.

Jessica Assef demonstrated strong technique in “Paquita” on Friday, supported by an equally strong corps de ballet.

In a spare but elegant stage framed by gauzy white curtains and adorned with crystal chandeliers, eight women in gold tutus appeared against a mauve-hued cyclorama. With similarly proportioned bodies, they stood evenly spaced across the stage like pawns set for a game of chess. Courtly, well mannered and in perfect unison, they executed clean legwork and precise pointe work, their uniformly rounded arms framing subtly spiraling upper bodies.

The tall and long-limbed dancers Jessica Assef and Denys Nedak made a well-matched principal couple. Nedak’s refined partnering skill seemed a lift to Assef’s confidence as she rose into elongated leg extensions and dove fearlessly into deep, forward-leaning arabesques. In solo work, Assef has the ability to gesture toward the audience while seeming to look inward, to a disconcerting effect. But her technical prowess is undeniable – particularly in the way she nailed 32 whip turns almost perfectly. Nedak’s roundabout turning leaps circled the stage with breathtaking expansiveness.

Of the three featured soloists, Fuki Takahashi sparkled as she flashed her eyes at audience a at the top of a tour jeté, then whipped off a series of tight turns down a diagonal, capping the phrase with another charming glance as she perched in an attitude on pointe.

Before joining Atlanta Ballet, Guilherme Maciel, seen here in “Schubertiada,” had an extensive career as a choreographer and dancer in his native Brazil.

In the classical ballet tradition, both men and women are required to adhere to strict gender norms. But Masero’s innately musical Schubertiada gave 12 men and one woman relative freedom from those strictures, and the result was a refreshingly buoyant piece set to Franz Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 1, Opus 100.

Three men in exposed-shoulder costumes reminiscent of Balanchine’s Apollo appeared on stage, and were later played against a larger corps of men in solid tones of jade, amethyst and cobalt blue, their draping sleeves emphasizing the sweep of their arm movements.

Moving from a mostly upright posture, the men’s bounding jumps and intricate leg beats harked back to ballet of Schubert’s era. Dancers devoured space with a vigorous sense of joy, breathing through the music’s swells and eddies, as strong and free as the music’s rolling momentum.

Partnered by Nedak, Mikaela Santos was pure energy, her leg lines brisk, her arms fleet as she skimmed across the floor like a hummingbird. Schubertiada liberated dancers to enjoy themselves as their individual voices added texture to the whole, like timbres of instruments in an orchestra.

Music and momentum drove the evening toward its conclusion with Claudia Schreier’s Pleiades Dances, reprised after its premiere last year. Schreier’s piece is named after and set to Takashi Yoshimatsu’s series of solo piano pieces, which Western-Li Summerton performed Friday evening with a fluid dynamism that paired well with Schreier’s richly varied stream of ideas.

Schreier’s attention to layering and detail gave her piece depth and texture. In pale unitards with bands of navy blue and bursting rays of grey and cerulean, dancers wound in and out of ever-surprising configurations. They coursed through whirling-vortex turns on pointe, then formed sculpted body shapes recalling Paul Taylor’s Aureole, which Schreier performed while a student at Harvard.

Juliana Missano (center) in Schreier’s compelling “Pleiades Dances.”

Dancers whipped their arms overhead like windmills, and then curved their upper bodies forward over deep, open stances. They leaped with legs tucked and arms opening to a V-shape. They moved through tilted suspensions and pitch-turns, carving figure-eight pathways through space. Dancers’ hip-swivels and torso-ripples allowed for quicksilver transitions to Yoshimatsu’s meandering melodic lines.

It all seemed driven by a restlessness, an effervescence, an ongoing stream of ideas, with images of whirligigs spinning, galaxies rotating and cosmic energies bursting.

Since our culture tends to value innovation, developing dance-makers often want to skip the formal steps in their craft and push straight to the cutting edge. At Atlanta Ballet, choreographers are apparently working within a framework that values aesthetic beauty over emotional weight as part of a vision that’s clearly, and delightfully, giving flight to fancy.


Cynthia Bond Perry has covered dance for ArtsATL since the website was founded in 2009. One of the most respected dance writers in the Southeast, she also contributes to Dance Magazine, Dance International and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She has an M.F.A. in narrative media writing from the University of Georgia.

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