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Review 2, 10-27: Themes & Variations
De Mille, Ashton, Forsythe, Duato Highlight ABT Opening Week
By Susan Yung
Copyright 2003 Susan Yung
NEW YORK -- American
Ballet Theatre's fall season at City Center, expanded to three weeks
from the usual two, offers the company a chance to perform smaller-scale
works and oddities that might not fit into the grander scheme of
its spring Met engagement. The season-opening gala last Wednesday
cherry-picked the lightest and most classical of this season's repertory,
exemplified in, respectively, a premiere of Christian Spuck's "Le
Grand Pas de Deux" and a revival of Balanchine's "Theme and Variations."
The evening opened with
Agnes de Mille's "Three Virgins and a Devil," to Respighi, in the
version choreographed for Ballet Theatre in 1941, staged here by
Dennis Nahat. Erica Fischbach, Adrienne Schulte, and Kelley Waddell,
as the virgins with varying degrees of piety, executed with detail
de Mille's mime-filled movement. Carlos Molina sauced up his portayal
of the devil with big grimaces, clutching his long tail or letting
it whip out centrifugally. Next came Frederick Ashton's "Symphonic
Variations," to Cesar Franck's score, created in 1946 on Margot
Fonteyn and Michael Somes of the Sadler's Wells (now Royal) Ballet
and premiered by them in this country 54 years ago this month. For
this staging, by Wendy Ellis Somes, Max Beloserkovsky and Ashley
Tuttle led the cast of six. The astringent yellow backdrop with
graphic black lines set the tone for the choreography, which featured
stiffly-held arms above and below a side-bent torso, flat-footed
arabesques, and lifts in which Tuttle skimmed inches off the floor.
"Theme and Variations,"
choreographed on ABT in 1947, featured Paloma Herrera and Marcelo
Gomes accompanied by 24 dancers in pastille-hued tutus and waistcoats.
Herrera and Gomes laid down the leitmotif of this fundamentals-at-heart
work: tendu, change directions one-quarter, repeat. It travels through
degages and ballones and more tendus, with slightly shifting epaulements
and arm combinations to give varying refined tones to each phrase.
Gomes effortlessly executed a tough sequence of eight alternating
tours en l'air and pirouettes. Herrera danced with her exemplary
technical prowess (if usual detachment, but more on that later),
particularly in a mesmerizing phrase in which she was "partnered"
in arabesque by 12 women bourree-ing through spiral shapes, shifting
minutely and incessantly, like a Swiss watch movement.
In Spuck's pas, from
1999, Vladimir Malakhov spoofed his image as an ice king; he paired
with the very game Xiomara Reyes as an adorable dork who sported
eyeglasses and carried a purse, at times between her teeth. A plastic
cow wearing a tutu and tiara sat upstage while the couple goosed
traditional partnering protocol, acting out feelings which no doubt
usually simmer behind saccharine smiles. Irina Dvorovenko and Angel
Corella, who both exude a sweet demeanor onstage, danced Balanchine's
"Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux." Dvorovenko -- all romantic fluidity and
lightness -- tenderly drew out each phrase. Corella beamed, looking
pleased to be back onstage, though he didn't completely control
the mixed blessing of unlimited adrenaline. Gillian Murphy and Jose
Manuel Carreno made for a most electric combination in Vaganova's
"Diana & Acteon" pas de deux and coda, in Rudolf Nureyev's staging.
Murphy seemed to reconcile opposites, her dancing clean, lush, strong,
and fragile all in one phrase. Carreno seems to keep getting better,
springing into arcing leaps, throwing Murphy into another atmosphere,
and finishing six turns by simply staying on releve.
On Saturday evening,
the company presented what it's calling its "innovative" program
(the season's other three programs are branded "master works," "contemporary,"
and "family friendly"), featuring works by Nacho Duato and William
Forsythe, both serious, major contributors to the contemporary repertory.
Both choreographers reward the sculptural, flexible ballet body,
and, particularly, shapely feet, found in abundance at ABT. Last
year's George Harrison tribute rounded out the bill.
"Without Words," created
in 1998 for ABT by Duato to music by Schubert, featured eight couples
costumed in beige, pin-tucked unitards and briefs. Black and white
still photographs of the dancers were projected onto the backdrop,
changing with each scene. Angel Corella, Sandra Brown, and Gennadi
Saveliev performed precision work, one's extended leg just sweeping
over another's lowered head. Brown, with a velvety movement style,
shines in soft, sculptural choreography such as this. Paloma Herrera
made for a wonderfully graphic figure, her pliant, soft-shoed feet
adding a striking finish to her bold lines.
Carlos Molina, Murphy,
Reyes, and Malakhov rounded out the cast. Each couple performed
unique, poetic duets toward the end, passing through the choreographer's
signature flexed-foot and -limb shapes. Duato implied intimacy through
subtle gestures and the use of music, rather than miming or playacting.
Molina and Malakhov seemed unable to completely shake off the danseur
noble cloak, at times automatically snapping into first position
at rest instead of parallel, and self-consciously correcting (uncorrecting?)
themselves. All those years of studying ballet so its unnatural
positions are reflexive proved a bit of a challenge to overcome.
That was so as well
in "workwithinwork" by Forsythe, to Berio violin music, premiered
by his company, Ballett Frankfurt, in 1998. In general, the ABT
dancers handled his difficult, distinctive style well; a few even
took to it impressively. Carlos Lopez, a soloist on the rise, danced
a darting, quicksilver solo like he was born to do it, although
his choreography departed from classical ballet more than the rest
of the piece. Herrera looked quite at home with the angular vocabulary,
jutting out her hip and finding added stretch in each position.
Herrera, a technician, often seems remote, and in this case it served
her extremely well. David Hallberg, Carmen Corella, and Eric Underwood
seemed at ease in the choreography.
Small but significant
differences exist between ABT's and Ballett Frankfurt's style in
Forsythe's choreography. When ABT's dancers look at one another
onstage, they establish an emotional connection, while Frankfurt's
as much observe one another as scientific research, and then look
as if they move in reaction to what they just saw. The Frankfurt
dancers hit their positions on time and then they find something
extra in the position while somehow staying on beat, as if physically
analyzing the position. The ABT company didn't seem entirely comfortable
pushing past the demanding movement to find the extra inch of extension,
or stretch of a joint. And, quite naturally, they haven't mastered
Forsythe's quirky hand positions, sometimes defaulting to ballet's
standard. Still, it's a measure of ABT's skill that Forsythe entrusted
the company with a challenging, rewarding work that is so distinctly
his own. (He even allowed the men to wear his signature socks over
their soft shoes.)
The program was completed
by the George Harrison tribute, "Within You Without You," previously
reviewed here. Notable additions to the cast included Marcelo
Gomes, who, in the title song, combined to good effect his slinky
cobra-like posture -- chest concave, head jutting forward -- with
his flair for the dramatic.
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