HIS DANCERS HAIL from around the world: France, Belgium, Serbia, Brazil, Colombia, Australia and Japan. "But," says Mauro Bigonzetti in thickly accented English, "the energy inside the company I think is Italian energy."
The energy in question is that of Aterballetto, Italy's premiere contemporary ballet troupe and its only major ballet company not affiliated with an opera house. The corps of 20 dancers, led by Artistic Director Bigonzetti, is embarking on its first U.S. tour, which includes a stop at George Mason University's Center for the Arts on Saturday.
The lingua franca in the studio seesaws between Italian and English, with of course the language of ballet and contemporary dance taking precedence. "My job," Bigonzetti says, "is to give every dancer something special. . . . It's very nice to have many different cultures, but sometimes it can be difficult to work with everybody together [to find] the same idea, the same energy."
Aterballetto's work pulses with vigor and versatility, its dancers moving with ease between classical ballet and contemporary styles. The repertory is equally diverse, including pieces by noteworthy Italian choreographers and works by Alvin Ailey, George Balanchine, William Forsythe and Maurice Bejart.
Saturday's program features a pair of Bigonzetti pieces that update two of Igor Stravinsky's revolutionary compositions -- the primitive marriage rite "Les Noces," excerpts of which will be danced here, and "Petrouchka," the dark fable of infatuation and love set in a carnivalesque world turned sinister. Bigonzetti, 45, himself a dancer at Rome's Opera Theater before landing at Aterballetto in 1997, observes that love and violence are central to both ballets.
"I look at 'Les Noces' as death, as death of freedom," he says of the 1923 work that here unfolds on a sleek monochrome set by designer Fabrizio Montecchi. "I think that the concept of the wedding is completely different now. . . . Everybody marries, but after one year, after six months, after three months, everybody splits." Today, as his "Les Noces" dramatizes, "there's always drama inside every situation," and a wedding can come to resemble a funeral in an instant.
Bigonzetti's "Petrouchka" plays out in a fashionable boutique rather than a 19th-century Russian village, and the peasants have become models, customers and clerks swathed in the latest Italian fashions. The Petrouchka character, the quintessential outsider, is a burglar, and the only constancy, for Bigonzetti, is Stravinsky's music.
"I love many different composers," he says, "but Stravinsky and dance are more or less the same thing for me. When I work with Stravinsky's music, it's natural. I feel [like I'm] inside the notes; I feel the dance. . . . I feel that I needed to do this ballet because something inside this music is a part of me. It's difficult to explain -- in Italian also."
ATERBALLETTO -- Saturday at 8. Center for the Arts, George Mason University, 4400 University Dr., Fairfax. 888-945-2468 or www.gmu.edu/cfa.