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, 5-22: Is that all there is?
In Choreographic Purgatory with ABT in the 'HereAfter'

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2003 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- In "HereAfter," a season premiere from American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House, Natalie Weir choreographed the first act ("Heaven") to John Adams's "Harmonium," and Stanton Welch the second act ("Earth") to "Carmina Burana" by Carl Orff. The startling musical pairing was suggested in a concert a few years ago by the New York Choral Society, which sings both works. Seen May 16 and 17(matinee), the two parts were choreographed separately, but both involve the passage of two different men through, and from, life. Both halves might have been better off paired with less similar tales as there seemed to be a fair amount of deja vu. And mirroring the testosterone heaviness of the current company, the women were cast in thin, nearly dispensable roles.

"Heaven" is set in a sort of pre-industrial bleakness reminiscent of Odd Nerdrum's paintings, and contains some lovely moments. Santo Loquasto designed the set and costumes for both acts. The chorus, behind clear venetian slats in this act, is cleaved in half by a staircase which leads to a landing surrounded by ladders descending to a pit on the stage, evoking a coal mine. A circular sculpture descended carrying Ethan Stiefel as the Man. Stiefel made a strong impression as someone in the prime of his life not yet prepared for death, but in time acquiescing. In the same role, the dynamic Herman Cornejo performed with more urgency, desperate to battle his fate. Adams's music (conducted by Charles Barker) underscored the persistence of man's spirituality despite his corporal limits.

The entrance of the character Death made a particularly haunting impression, especially performed by Marcelo Gomes, who virtually slithered into the pit along the rails of the ladders, dropping silently and predatorily to the ground to stalk Stiefel like a disease throughout the act. In a duet, Stiefel repeatedly gives his weight to Gomes, who supports him at the nape of the neck. David Hallberg was not as smoothly powerful in the role of Death, but his pale skin gave him a phantom-like aura. Stella Abrera and Julie Kent collectively comprised His Memory. Stiefel and Kent performed the hands-on kind of partnering that Weir is noted for, permitting almost no separation in a sustained smooth, flowing section. Paloma Herrera and Xiomara Reyes performed the roles in the next cast, Herrera's sculpted legs and feet etching clearer shapes, and Reyes exuding a youthful verve. Stiefel (and Cornejo in the second cast) plunged into the arms of the crowd (Humanity) as if it were a mosh pit, eliciting gasps from the audience in a moment of surprise.

In "Earth," Welch closely patterned the choreography after Orff's score. The resulting movement tags along like a caboose during the course of the music, reacting to its ups and downs. Welch seemed to have been pursuing a naivete or fundamental reflexiveness in his choreography, which was at times playful and jaunty, and at other times silly and performed with a pall of embarrassment by the cast. The Man (Angel Corella), flanked by Fate and Fortune (Joaquin de Luz and Herman Cornejo in the May 16 performance), zips his hands in a cruciform pattern to the opening strains of Carmina Burana. As the chorus thundered to a crescendo, the three men breached like whales, and all hell broke loose onstage. This moment brought a power-chord, grand slam home run kind of satisfaction. Corella revelled in the role, looking utterly happy, unleashed and encouraged to soar and spin. With de Luz and Cornejo, this high energy trio tore up the stage.

In the May 17 matinee performance of "Earth," Julio Bocca replaced Corella with a loose-jointed, relaxed emotional depth, if slightly less intensity than Corella. Bocca danced in with Marcelo Gomes and Jose Manuel Carreno as Fate and Fortune; the three larger, powerful men nearly burst off the stage in the previously mentioned trio. Erica Cornejo, joining Herrera and Reyes in the second cast, danced with clarity and precision.

There is a certain basic satisfaction to the method Welch followed -- giving a kinetic guise to Orff's quirky musical punctuation with jutting elbows, jiggling heads, knocking knees, and skirts twirled to the music. But it so closely followed the musical cues that when "Carmina Burana" hit a lull or a kooky spot, as it does, so did the dance. The chorus of 120 formed the main visual element, standing in two banks on nine-foot high risers, allowing the dancers to be legible at all times. The effect was like the boughs of a tree, with the individual singers resembling leaves, shading the dancers. The costumes for "Earth" seemed inspired by the decadence of the Roman Empire, with helmets, straps, metal, metallic fabrics, and intricate headpieces. "Earth" reminded me in spots of Boris Eifman's heavy-handed (though at times oddly intriguing) mix of theatricality and bold physicality.

Neither "Heaven" nor "Earth" forges new turf ballet-wise. Weir and Welch work with a ballet vocabulary modified to be more casual and less technically stringent than classical ballet. It is pleasant enough to watch, but it raises a larger issue: Where is the next generation of ballet choreographers, and where is the programming lineage at ABT headed? Last year's George Harrison tribute, back in repertory this season, seems to have sticking power despite mixed reviews. It included pieces by these two Australians as well as Ann Reinking and David Parsons, who recouped some of his dignity from the dumps after his "Pied Piper" for ABT. Recent works by Lar Lubovitch (whose "Artemis" premieres this season at ABT), James Kudelka, and Mark Morris hold some promise, but there seems to be a dearth of major works to add to the story ballet core repertoire. You can almost feel the wonderful dancers at ABT impatiently awaiting choreography that will challenge them both physically and emotionally.

Note: my husband, Andrew Kettler, performed as a member of the New York Choral Society. Additional credits: lighting designed by Brian MacDevitt; "Carmina Burana" soloists were Troy Cook (baritone), Chad Freeburg (tenor), and Mary Ellen Callahan (soprano).

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home