Speakeast with - John McFall

The swans come home to roost when the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra returns to perform live accompaniment for Swan Lake, the Atlanta Ballet's first show of the 2008-2009 season at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on Oct. 23. The Atlanta Ballet had switched to prerecorded music in 2006 over budgetary disputes with the orchestra, but donors recently stepped in to ensure that the 48-piece orchestra plays for most of the new season. Artistic director and Swan Lake choreographer John McFall discusses the musicians' welcome return and the contemporary relevance of Tchaikovsky's ballet.

It was announced just a month ago that the orchestra would return to play the music for Swan Lake. Does that give you a time crunch?

It's real tight. It's very tight indeed. A donor stepped forward and when we had the money on the table, we could do it. We presented a rep program at the Cobb Energy Centre last spring, so we've been there once before. It's certainly a confluence of wonderful ingredients. It's great hearing our colleagues play the Tchaikovsky score. It's more immediate; it puts more oxygen into the performance and gives the dancers more opportunity to interpret.

Swan Lake is such a famous ballet, do you think audiences have misconceptions or preconceived notions about it?

I think our culture, meaning the people in this country, have a sense of Swan Lake because Tchaikovsky is a global icon. People have a sense of the story, and that it has to do with swans but when we capture them in a theater, we really take them on a journey. Tchaikovsky offered commentary for his time, but the story translates well to our modern day. Power and money? Look at Tyco, look at WorldCom. There are human characteristics that endure and remain pretty constant.

In retrospect, how did you think big, the Atlanta Ballet's collaboration with OutKast's Antwan "Big Boi" Patton, turned out?

I think big was about the process. It wasn't a hip-hop concert and it wasn't a ballet, it was collaboration. It was exciting working with everyone involved, and I think the audience adored it. People were on up on their feet for 15 minutes at a time every night. It also brought people in who normally don't come to the ballet, and created a real sense of community.

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