featured photo

The Kitchen

Brought to you by
Body Wrappers; New York Flash Review Sponsor
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.
Go back to Flash Reviews

Go Home

Flash Review 2, 5-2: Fresh Breezes at the Ballet
ABT Feels the Modern Winds of Change

By Alicia Mosier
Copyright 2001 Alicia Mosier

From "Swan Lake" and "Cinderella" (parts of which were featured in Monday night's American Ballet Theatre gala) to a premiere by Mark Morris (seen last night at the Metropolitan Opera House in a program of "Modern Masters") might seem a long way to go. Not for ABT, which continues to show itself more than assured as it welcomes fresh breezes from other dance-world shores.

Among those breezes are Twyla Tharp and Paul Taylor, the other two masters who graced last night's program. All three "moderns" have choreographed for ABT before; now as in the past, their quietly radical ways of moving bodies have challenged the company's dancers to expand on their "La Bayadere" vocabularies (a challenge currently not much offered to the Balanchine-speaking dancers across the Lincoln Center plaza). Tharp's "Brahms-Haydn Variations," first seen last season on ABT, is a beautifully composed ballet with more inside it than is initially apparent. Five couples dressed in Santo Loquasto's simple ochre tones do whoops-a-daisy lifts and skim across the floor in splits (all too timid in last night's performance). Fluid lines of ladies and gentlemen form an upstage chorus as the couples take turns in flutey pas de deux. Only towards the end of the ballet do its layers-upon-layers -- its built-in variations -- start to show themselves. Of the main couples (Susan Jaffe and Ethan Stiefel, Julie Kent and Angel Corella, Paloma Herrera and Giuseppe Picone, Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Belotserkovsky, Ashley Tuttle and Herman Cornejo), only Kent and Corella caught the spark and flow of the dance. (Stiefel was notably twitchy.) Their duet was the high point of the performance: a whirligig lift dissolved into a simple front tendu, after which Kent wrapped her leg around Corella with a luxuriant smile, and he carried her off on his shoulders.

I thought as highly of Taylor's "Black Tuesday" as PBI did at its New York premiere Monday. I'd say a whole ballet ought to be made on Sean Stewart alone, but that so much of his magic comes out in duets and ensembles. Stewart charges everyone around him with whatever nuclear fusion it is that's happening in his body. Karin Ellis-Wentz's plucky, earthy solo to "Sittin' on a Rubbish Can" once again brought down the house, and once again it was Erica Cornejo -- arching out and back, her movement a just-suppressed wail -- who has us all pitched forward in our seats. I do think that the trouble with Stiefel's rendition of the plaintive, meaty solo to "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" is mainly physical: it would be a lifelong challenge to bring those Taylor depths of movement into such an uber-classical technique. He's shown his ability to take in Tharp, though, for instance in the brilliant shadow-boxing solo in "Known By Heart." But when it comes to knotting movement to emotion, Tharp and Taylor are very different animals.

Mark Morris (on the third hand) found his inspiration for "Gong," as always with him, in the music. Colin McPhee is a Canadian composer steeped in the musical traditions of Bali; his "Tabuh-Tabuhan" is a score for two pianos and orchestra that incorporates Balinese gamelan tropes into a rolling rhythmic push. Morris has said he was thinking of varieties of formality for this piece: the formality of Asian art, the formality of classical dance. The marriage of those two "forms" seemed, sorry to say, like an arranged marriage for most of the ballet. The arms were often stylized (palms together above the head, or held in a rhomboid fifth position), the lower body off-balance, the staging ultra-frontal. Fifteen dancers formed little clusters or big moving patterns, sometimes spilling onto the stage en masse like tiny beads. (The jewel-colored costumes -- both clipped and normal-sized tutus for the women, and Star Trek uniforms for the men, all with unflattering gold cuffs at the ankle -- were by Isaac Mizrahi.) A trio for Corella, Jaffe, and Robert Hill, their shadows projected onto the scrim behind them, focused on one motif: a beat of one flexed foot against the ankle, or up and down in a quick battement, that was a visual echo of the sound of a bell.

But few of the ideas cohered until, a little way through, the stage went black and a hint of light came up on Amanda McKerrow and Sean Stewart, who in total silence finally got down to something honest. In a brief pas de deux (followed later by another, also in silence) one saw dangerous changes of speed and height, long moments of spinning, an attention to the breadth and depth of time and space that had been missing so far in the piece. Morris explored the intricacies of his music better in these small, potent duets -- from which the music was absent -- than in any other part of the ballet. An even smaller solo, much later, for McKerrow, dived into the same glinting water. At the end, all the dancers ran back to the scrim as the lights went down, scattered in silhouette, as if all the thousand pieces of a gamelan had come undone.

ABT's "Modern Masters" program repeats through this week. Please visit the American Ballet Theatre web site for more information.


Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home