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Flash Review 2, 10-30: "Dim Lustre"
New Luster for Tudor Classic from ABT
By Alicia Mosier
Copyright 2001 Alicia Mosier
NEW YORK -- American Ballet Theatre's
fall season at City Center is a time for unearthing small repertory jewels and
giving big opportunities to younger dancers. A little less than a week into the
season, the company is still adjusting to the space and to performing before its
hometown crowd after a long summer on tour. On Friday night, especially in a hurried
and somewhat brittle rendition of Balanchine's "Symphony in C," some insecurity
was in evidence. But the program opened with two exultant performances: Paul Taylor's
"Black Tuesday" and Antony Tudor's "Dim Lustre," the latter the unveiling of a
new production staged by David Richardson, with sets and costumes by Zack Brown
and lighting design by Natasha Katz.
American Ballet Theatre's Gillian Murphy in Paul Taylor's "Black
Tuesday." David Street photo courtesy ABT.
Tudor created "Dim Lustre" for ABT
in 1943; the ballet carries the unmistakable perfume of that era. It has the de-luxe
feel of "The Red Shoes" or the ballet in "An American in Paris" -- high melodrama,
dream-sequence lights, mysterious transitions. Brown sets the stage with huge
Dali-esque lamps, glowing weirdly and surrounded with vines; the women wear elegant
off-the-shoulder ballgowns in pinks and oranges, and the men tails. "Dim Lustre"
tells the story of a couple (The Lady with Him, The Gentleman with Her, danced
Friday by Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel) who dance together at a ball and, as they
dance, flash back to memories of other lovers. Each of them faces his or her reflection
(ingeniously staged so that the protagonist and the reflection dance the same
steps in two parallel shafts of light). Each meets old flames -- It Was Spring
(Joaquin de Luz, very fleet and Springy), Who Was She? (Xiomara Reyes), She Wore
a Perfume (Stella Abrera), He Wore a White Tie (Ethan Brown).
In Tudor ballets, with their dark
Jungian subtexts, suggestion is all. As the season continues, I hope the cast
gives a stronger sense of those dark undercurrents, of secret moments shared.
On Friday the drama was a bit too much on the surface. Only Kent and Stiefel approached
the Tudor tensions. Both in white, they looked at each other without really seeing;
they cast their eyes over each other's shoulders or down to the floor, as if they
were saying to each other: we both know there are things we know but cannot say.
Their dance was interrupted several times by flashbacks; after each one, the stage
went black and they picked up where they left off, so that the story of this couple
grew more and more complex as the ballet went on. After Stiefel remembered a stunning
woman in turquoise and black (the glinting Abrera), his dancing grew dark and
aggressive -- a color of passion missing from his current all-white romance. It's
a glorious ballet, a real gem from ABT's long history by its finest house choreographer.
Leslie Dunner led a robust orchestra in Richard Strauss's "Burleske in D for Piano
"Black Tuesday" is now, needless
to say, a very different ballet than the one that premiered in the spring. Another
Tuesday has immeasurably deepened the already deep strain of sorrow and survival-joy
in the piece. Beneath the street-lamp shadows and fragile structures of the set,
Taylor's ragamuffin social dances had a raw edge on Friday that they haven't had
before. The unvarnished glee of Ilona McHugh and Gennadi Saveliev in "Slummin'
on Park Avenue" was the glee of people who need to get their minds off their troubles,
people whose troubles make it urgent that they dance and drink and laugh and pretend.
In "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams," Gillian Murphy -- with her 1930s movie-star
looks -- gave an impassioned dance of desperation which left her so naked and
vulnerable that at the end, when Joaquin de Luz came to rescue her from the gang
of men who had been tormenting her, it looked as if she really did need his help
walking off the stage. And in "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?", De Luz was a revelation.
This bouncing boy transformed himself into a man with soul, fearlessly tumbling
through this solo's desperate, determined, death-defying movements. It was a time-stopping
performance, a huge advance for a promising but heretofore technique-bound young
dancer. He caught every nuance of the song -- the unapologetic anguish, the what-the-hell
jubilation, the cynical gleam of a young man in wartime, and that heartrending
lyric, "Once I built a tower, now it's done." These dancers, who bravely kept
touring in the immediate aftermath of September 11, have taken that day into their
bodies and spirits. "Black Tuesday" is now *their* story, as it is all of ours,
and their performance of it Friday was a triumph.
"Symphony in C" (1947) is a wonderful
ballet for ABT -- all classical purity and sparkle -- but at its second performance
of the season the dancers still had not quite made it their own. The performance
was rushed and addlepated; odd casting choices (like pairing Susan Jaffe -- who
was having an off night full of missed pirouettes and gooey arms -- with the very
young Carlos Molina in the second movement) exacerbated the feeling of thrown-together-ness.
At moments, though, the thing came together, giving hints of what this company
might do with the ballet in the days and years to come. Paloma Herrera was especially
tender and refined with Vladimir Malakhov in the first movement (though Malakhov
is getting more and more campy, with hands flailing and whatnot). Xiomara Reyes
continues to amaze me with her gumption: she joined De Luz for double saute de
basques in the third movement, and did them pretty well, too. The tall Michele
Wiles, paired with the over-rouged Ricardo Torres, had a bit of trouble getting
around amid the fourth movement's speedy activity. Throughout, the corps looked
delighted to be doing this ballet, as though they knew what a perfect opportunity
it was in their development. By the time they take it to the Metropolitan Opera
House in the spring, the company will have had ample time to look a little deeper
into this diamond's light.
ABT continues at City
Center through Sunday.
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