An American Ballet Theatre Marathon

At the theatre formerly known as the New York State Theater:

 

American Ballet Theatre dancers in Mark Morris' GONG (Photo: Gene Schiavone)

American Ballet Theatre dancers in Mark Morris’ GONG (Photo: Gene Schiavone)

Day One: Les Sylphides, The Moor’s Pavane and Gong

Ballet to the People had the pleasure of sitting next to a courtly gentleman who opened the conversation with “I saw Limón dance the Moor.”

Detonated by a stray white hanky, the cataclysm in Pavane unfolds like a Hitchcock thriller. Roman Zhurbin tears up the stage as Othello, the jealous, then conscience-stricken, Moor with an anger management problem. The creepy Cory Stearns wraps his leg around Roman Zhurbin in an erotic attitude devant. Veronika Part sweeps alluringly across the stage, trailing destruction along the hem of her heavy red velvet dress. The Zhurbin-Part-Stearns powerhouse overwhelmed the delicate Hee Seo, whose innocent Desdemona left too faint of an impression. Her death seemed preordained, yet we were still horrified at the sight of Zhurbin pummeling the defenseless Seo to the ground.

 

Cory Stearns and Veronika Part plot evil in Limón's THE MOOR'S PAVANE (Photo: Gene Schiavone)

Cory Stearns and Veronika Part plotting evil in Limón’s THE MOOR’S PAVANE (Photo: Gene Schiavone)

 

Pavane was the dark, provocative heart of the evening, which opened with a pitch-perfect Les Sylphides and closed with Gong, a messy ice cream sundae by Mark Morris.

Few productions get Sylphides right these days: it’s either horribly over-acted or stilted and drained of life, making it a prime target for parody by the inimitable drag artists of the Trockaderos – who portray the Poet as a stoner who can’t find his way through the woods, henpecked by a slightly mad ballerina who keeps shushing the nymphets of the corps because she thinks she hears voices talking to her.

We loved ABT’s revival of Michel Fokine’s bow to a bygone Romantic era, with the spunky but soulful Sarah Lane, the ethereal Hee Seo, and the vivacious Isabella Boylston.

 

Christine Shevchenko, Adrienne Schulte, Nicola Curry, Nicole Graniero and Gemma Bond in Mark Morris' GONG (Photo: Gene Schiavone)

Christine Shevchenko, Adrienne Schulte, Nicola Curry, Nicole Graniero and Gemma Bond on the starship Enterprise in Mark Morris’ GONG (Photo: Gene Schiavone)

 

We also found much to love in Morris’ response to the entrancing meditation on gamelan music by Colin McPhee. Though, after the tight structure of Sylphides and Moor’s Pavane, the looseness of Gong was slightly maddening. Dancers just come and go, willy-nilly, and there is an unwelcome air of improvisation or experimentation that goes against the grain of what is presented as a formal bow to ancient traditions of Indonesian dance.

Lighting designer Michael Chybowski did his heroic best to soften the impact of the glossy, sherbet colored onesies (for the men) and shrunken tutus (for the women) which, paired with golden belts and golden ankle cuffs, gave the cast the appearance of a junior Star Trek crew on a psychedelic mission.

ABT did what ABT does best and dispatched a S.W.A.T. team to try and make sense of all this. Stella Abrera, Marian Butler, Misty Copeland, Gillian Murphy and Xiomara Reyes faced off against Herman Cornejo, Sascha Radetsky, Arron Scott, James Whiteside and an admirable Grant DeLong filling in for an injured Marcelo Gomes.

 – Read our full review in the Huffington Post. –

 

Day Two: Theme and Variations, A Month in the Country, and Piano Concerto #1

 

Polina Semionova, Cory Stearns and dancers of American Ballet Theatre in Balanchine's THEME AND VARIATIONS (Photo: Marty Sohl)

Polina Semionova, Cory Stearns and dancers of American Ballet Theatre in Balanchine’s glorious THEME AND VARIATIONS (Photo: Marty Sohl)

Thursday night belonged to the corps de ballet.

With the ghost of George Balanchine watching from his customary spot in the downstage right wing at the theatre formerly known as the New York State Theater, his blissful Theme and Variations and Alexei Ratmansky’s wild, enigmatic Piano Concerto No. 1 gave them a daunting workout, showing off the corps at their technical and stylish best.

 

American Ballet Theatre dancers in Alexei Ratmansky's PIANO CONCERTO #1 (Photo: Rosalie O'Connor)

American Ballet Theatre dancers in Alexei Ratmansky’s PIANO CONCERTO #1 (Photo: Rosalie O’Connor)

Piano Concerto #1 featured electrifying debuts by Gillian Murphy, Skylar Brandt and Gabe Stone Shayer. A stunning Calvin Royal III partnered Murphy.

 

American Ballet Theatre dancers in Alexei Ratmansky's PIANO CONCERTO #1 (Photo: Marty Sohl)

American Ballet Theatre dancers in Alexei Ratmansky’s PIANO CONCERTO #1 (Photo: Marty Sohl)

 

Between these two monumental works, the Fabergé egg of Frederick Ashton’s A Month in the Country was illuminated by corps dancer Gemma Bond in the role of Vera, an impetuous young girl with an inappropriate romantic attachment. Julie Kent, Guillaume Côté, Daniil Simkin, Stella Abrera, Jared Matthews, Victor Barbee, and Sterling Baca rounded out the first-rate cast.

 

Julie Kent plays a bored Russian socialite looking to spice up her love life in Frederick Ashton's A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY (Photo: Marty Sohl)

Julie Kent plays a bored Russian socialite looking to spice up her love life in Frederick Ashton’s A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY (Photo: Marty Sohl)

 

 – Read more in our review on Bachtrack. –

 

Day Three: Clear, A Moor’s Pavane, and The Tempest

José Limón’s tightly structured, minimalist reverie on the theme of jealousy in Othello was somewhat overshadowed by the glittering spectacle of The Tempest, though Cory Stearns was a revelation, cast against type as the wicked Iago.

 

Marcelo Gomes as Prospero teaching Daniil Simkin as Ariel a lesson in Alexei Ratmansky's THE TEMPEST (Photo: Marty Sohl)

Marcelo Gomes as Prospero teaching Daniil Simkin as Ariel a lesson in Alexei Ratmansky’s THE TEMPEST (Photo: Marty Sohl)

Ratmansky’s ambitious and untidy Tempest felt like a work-in-progress, with dazzling and inventive moments alternating with placeholder choreography, nearly undone at times by the flimsy non-score by Sibelius.

Ratmansky’s characterisations are brilliantly realized by the entire Tempest cast, with strong assist from Santo Loquasto’s ingenious costuming. The shimmering Mohawk-style headpieces for Ariel and the Storm Spirits made of plastic cable ties in neon colors are particularly arresting.

The evening opened with Stanton Welch’s ebullient Clear, free of narrative and free of any deep thought. A luscious, bare-midriffed Paloma Herrera provides the romantic interest, drifting on stage at moments when the sight of seven buff, bare-chested men leaping and spinning and wiggling their heads starts to pale.

– Read more in our review on Bachtrack. –

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One thought on “An American Ballet Theatre Marathon

  1. From the photos at least I’m not sure why you are complaining about the costumes in Gong. They look fantastic. Mark Morris is a genius.

    Always enjoy your reviews. “Fair and balanced” with interesting historical and artistic context. You don’t talk down to readers, which so many critics do, and you don’t use a lot of unnecessary technical jargon. I regularly forward your reviews to my non-dance literate friends and some of them are now regular followers too. We like your sense of humor and the fact that you never seem to take yourself too seriously, but you are dead serious about the importance of dance.

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