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Review 1, 11-9: Ballet Moderns
Tudor, Morris, Tharp Give ABT a Workout
Copyright 2005 Gus Solomons jr
Photography by Marty Sohl
NEW YORK -- American
Ballet Theatre, completing the last of its three weeks of performances
at City Center, matched ballets by three interestingly different
modern choreographers on one program. Seen Thursday, "Gong," "Dark
Elegies," and "In the Upper Room," by Mark Morris, Antony Tudor,
and Twyla Tharp, respectively, clearly demonstrate three modern
styles, even though Tudor's piece premiered in 1937.
For his 2001 work, Morris
freely appropriates Balinese dance movement in two-dimensional silhouettes
and lateral locomotion for ten women and five men in acid-bright
hues by Isaac Mizrahi -- mushroom cap tutus in fuchsia, lime, and
goldenrod, with gold belts, wrist bands, and anklets. As usual,
Morris lets the music dictate the form -- here, Colin McPhee's Asian-influenced
orchestral score, "Tabuh-Tabuhan." The women wear toe shoes, and
throughout Morris comments on ballet convention, especially in two
riveting duets in silence that contrast the rich orchestral sound.
The movement is on toe, but it's hardly classical with dancers rocking
from side to side with bent legs like bells ringing, folding their
arms into angular halos, and sinking into a hip while rolling their
is Tudor's 68-year-old "Dark Elegies," a deeply felt but restrained
evocation of grief. Accompanied by Gustav Mahler's haunting "Kindertotenlieder"
("Songs for Dead Children"), the ballet references traditional folk
dance with circle patterns and flexed or turned in feet, torsos
and arms held in rigid geometric shapes above busily jumping legs,
and even Graham-esque skittering on the knees. But the unadorned
movement and emotion makes the ballet seem startlingly contemporary.
Rustic decor and costumes
by Nadia Benois reinforce the somber emotions. Painted backdrops
of farm land in Part One and water in Part Two are rendered in muted
tones. Benois clothes the women in loose-fitting peasant dresses
in drab gray, blue, and magenta and wraps their heads in bandanas;
the men wear simple shirts and pants.
In Thursday's performance,
Simone Messmer and Isaac Stappas seemed unduly studied in their
duet to the second of five songs in part one; and Jared Matthews
carried his still torso with wooden stiffness for his solo to the
third song. But Melissa Thomas danced the opening solo with delicate
sensitivity, Hee Seo danced the fourth song with ethereal grace
and utterly soundless jumps, and Jesus Pastor brought authority
and dignified presence to his solo.
Ballet Theatre in Twyla Tharp's "In the Upper Room." Marty
Sohl photo copyright 2005 Marty Sohl.
Tharp's 1986 "In the
Upper Room" -- set to Philip Glass's propulsive minimalist score
and costumed in sassy black, white, and red by Norma Kamali -- takes
the dancers through paces in both sneakers and toe shoes. The performers
fly through the space in a relentless marathon of Tharp's signature
bouncy, slangy motion, alternating with ballet spins, extensions,
and aerial foot beats.
Tharp never lets your
eyes repose; the action is non-stop. Kristi Boone and Michele Wiles
begin with a bouncy, vernacular duet, wearing black and white vertically
striped jumpsuits and track shoes. Periodically, throughout the
piece, Misty Copeland joins the two to dance sextets with the male
trio of Sascha Radetsky, Blaine Hoven, and Patrick Ogle. Yuriko
Kajiya and Luciana Paris in red toe shoes flit between sections
in brisk unison. Tiny Sarah Lane keeps up with another trio of men,
Aaron Scott, Gennadi Saveliev, and Carlos Lopez, that spells the
first three men, while they're doubtless panting in the wings. The
jumpsuits give way to kimono tops then red leotards for the women
and red pants with bare chests for the men.
Stage smoke adds drama
to Jennifer Tipton's stark, white lighting; dancers appear from
and vanish into the mist. But doing the highly aerobic movement
in such an oxygen-starved atmosphere takes its toll on the game
dancers, and by the finale their labored breathing shows. Still,
the dancers of ABT are hands down the most versatile, physically
gifted, and courageous around.