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Review 2, 11-14: Of Little Deaths and Big Assets
ABT Shows its Deep Pockets in Contemporary Repertory
By Susan Yung
Copyright 2003 Susan Yung
NEW YORK -- American
Ballet Theatre displayed its biggest asset -- its roster of dancers
-- in the company's last two weeks of wildly diverse repertory at
City Center in October and November. Highlights included Jiri Kylian's
"Petite Mort" and "Sechs Tanze," Antony Tudor's "Pillar of Fire,"
and Martha Graham's "Diversion of Angels." ABT also premiered Robert
Hill's "Dorian," which contains some indelible imagery despite its
Kylian's "Petite Mort"
and "Sechs Tanze," company premieres, worked particularly well --
for the scale of the stage and our distance from it, with the premium
that ABT places on finished lines, and for the choreographer's refined
yet light-hearted sense of theater. "Petite Mort," with a cast of
twelve, offered a chance for many of the company's principals to
dance in an ensemble. Kylian employed touches of the absurd -- women
entered in formal black hoop dresses which turned out to be freestanding
shells on wheels. In "Sechs Tanze," heavily powdered dancers emitted
puffs of talc as they bounced onstage, and a cascade of bubbles
wafted from the fly to end the piece.
For a classical company
like ABT, taking on Graham's "Diversion of Angels" would seem to
be a set up for disappointment. But the company largely handled
the demanding technique while depicting the different stages of
love. Sandra Brown looked solid in the staple side high extension
punctuated with a contraction, and Stella Abrera cleanly drew her
repeating low attitude pose. Herman Cornejo re-proved his knack
for looking completely at ease in the most difficult of moves; he
danced with his sister Erica, who seemed as irrepressibly joyous
as he did.
Retired ABT principal
Robert Hill choreographed "Dorian," based on the Oscar Wilde tale
of an eternally young man whose portrait shows the effects of aging
and wild living. David Hallberg danced the title role of this world
premiere; he wore a brunette hairpiece to better match the dark-haired
Marcelo Gomes, who posed regally in a gold frame as Dorian's portrait.
Naturally, they danced in mirror-image, one's elegant pose matching
the other's, and eventually Gomes partnered Hallberg in a duet with
an aggressive dynamic. Julie Kent, who portrayed the starlet who
at first was charmed, then fatally spurned by Dorian, as usual danced
with a delicate luminosity, perhaps abetted by her real-life pregnancy.
Gomes donned garments with increasing amounts of red to mark a decline
into debauchery, also conveyed through a scene sited in an opium
den, where young Danny Tidwell let loose multiple spins. Despite
some beautiful moments, Hill's ballet vocabulary was for the most
part unremarkable, showing little innovation or experimentation;
he also relied heavily on leaden mime to provide narrative. "Dorian,"
to Jon Magnussen's musical arrangement, is too long, and would be
better served shorter. Zack Brown designed the elegant costumes
and sets, which were moved on and offstage frequently and fussily.
Although Hallberg is
still technically a member of the corps, he has gained in prominence
rapidly, and for good reason -- tall for good partnering potential
and princely roles, long-limbed to match even Gomes's picture-perfect
lines, amazing ballon, and high-arched feet that end in a craftily
pointed finish. He can't yet match Gomes's dramatic depth or economical
emotional signals, but give him a few years. Also prominent in this
fall season were the dynamic soloists Carlos Molina, Carlos Lopez,
and Sandra Brown and corps dancer Craig Salstein. Lopez pairs well
with Herman Cornejo in allegro/grand allegro work.
Hill might gain advantage
by further examining Tudor. The latter's "Pillar of Fire," restaged
by Donald Mahler and set to music by Arnold Schoenberg, told of
a woman wronged who finds love and redemption in the end. Tudor
described characters with a remarkable economy, combining subtle
gestures or evoking the shorthand of familiar style. For example,
flamenco-flavored sequences performed by Gomes as The Young Man
from the House Opposite gave him an instant machismo which took
a cruel path instead of a chivalrous one. A brief, flickering surge
of movement, which began in his knees and moved through his pelvis,
spoke volumes. Hagar (Gillian Murphy) became the victim of his actions;
she eventually found happiness with The Friend (Carlos Molina),
who was a potential suitor for the Youngest Sister (Xiomara Reyes).
In the opening scene, Murphy moved about nervously, her fretting
foreshadowing the events to follow; she performed with dramatic
depth and a polished, solid technique. Reyes played her part a bit
heavily, seeming too young to be courted, but charming nonetheless.
Molina continues to excel in roles that show an emotional generosity,
whether he plays the devil or the guys next door. Robert Perdziola
designed the set and costumes, which contributed greatly to character
In light of Movado's
blatantly hostile transfer
of its sponsorship monies to New York City Ballet, ABT faces even
more operational hurdles than the many it has endured in the last
several years. The inclusion this season of some solid repertory
buttressed the company's wobbly contemporary artistic direction,
at least for the time being. If its administration can match its
dancers in talent and reliability, it would be a blessing.
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