Does Plot Matter?

Christians battle Muslims in Russian ballet! (Anybody notice?); Eliot in drag downtown!

The program's low spot came from Dvorovenko and Beloserkovsky’s performing in Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. Lovely to look at, appealing, technically adroit, and slightly synthetic (she only), they rode roughshod over Tchaikovsky in ways that would have appalled Balanchine. Finishing part of a difficult solo early, Dvorovenko hurried to a corner of the stage and began the next passage well before the music meant to usher it in. This happened more than once.

The high point came with Balanchine’s last full ballet, the ravishing 1981 Mozartiana (set to Tchaikovsky’s Suite no.4, op. 61), sensitively staged by Maria Calegari with an ideal cast to bring out its complex beauties: Ashley Tuttle, Ethan Stiefel, and Herman Cornejo. Tuttle is wonderful in this in ways that suspend your breath; she lives the poignant questions of the opening "Preghiera," surrounded by her four touchingly miniature little-girl attendants. Every gesture seems so spontaneous that you wait to see how it will turn out, how she will shape its flow. And in the playful theme-and-variations section she and Stiefel share, they are both full of understated fun and lively interest in each other. The solos and duets created on Suzanne Farrell and Ib Andersen are among Balanchine's most complex—crammed with difficult, unexpected turns of phrase. Tuttle and Stiefel make them look like lovely games of sleight of body. Cornejo is equally splendid in the also tricky "Gigue." He, too, is a dancer able to convey not just virtuosic steps, but a sense of what a whole piece of choreography is about, and he plays nimbly and dashingly with the solo's springy twists and dartings. This is no court-jester role, and his seriousness is correct—in keeping with his sudden stillness as the four grown-up women in black surround him. Balanchine would surely have smiled watching this Mozartiana. Anyway, I did, and wept a little at its heart-deep beauty.


Ariane Anthony and Company: Eliotic
photo: Richard Termine
Ariane Anthony and Company: Eliotic

Details

American Ballet Theater
Metropolitan Opera House
Through July 3

Ariane Anthony and Company
Harry DeJur Playhouse
Henry Street Settlement
May 14 through 16

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Ariane Anthony has always approached text and narrative in thoughtful and unusual ways. Her latest and most ambitious piece, Do I Dare?, set to a very effective score by John Stone, riffs off T.S. Eliot's bitter and poignant poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," using a cast of seven and spare scenery by Roger Predmore that contrasts the stuffy coziness of a London flat (armchair, lamp, mirror) with the stairs the protagonist wearily ascends and descends, with windowpanes that float down and buildings that fly up to reveal sky.

The choreographer herself plays the Prufrock of Eliot's fears: wire-rimmed spectacles, drab suit, too-tight collar, bowler, furled umbrella. She's wonderful at conveying his timidity, slight prissiness, and attempted jauntiness. I had always envisioned the "you" of "Let us go then, you and I" as a lady of the streets. Anthony is accompanied by a slightly bolder self (Andrea Thome) who appears from behind the mirror, and who does "dare to eat a peach." At one point, the other cast members, in Prufrock attire and masks, invade the protagonist's lair—sit in his chair, open his book, try his pipe.

In Anthony's hands, the literal becomes strange, fey, revelatory. Eliot's images—the stairs, distant voices, tea and cakes, the coffee spoons with which Prufrock thinks he has measured out his life, the scuttling ragged claws of sea creatures—crop up manipulated or transformed.

Performers in black pants and T-shirts dance holding florid, ruffled red gowns (by Agata Oleksiak) against themselves. As the tempo and mood become more hectic, an orgy develops. You'd swear you were seeing partners tangling on the floor before Prufrock's shocked and concupiscent eyes.

Jody Sperling opened Anthony's Henry Street program with one of her imaginative contemporary evocations of Loïe Fuller's late-19th-century magic with fabric. In Night, Sperling emerges from a swirl of black silk (by Michelle Ferranti) that becomes a cloak, reveals an evening gown, and turns her into a winging black bird. Divested of it, she stands in black underwear and sunglasses, unknowable in a different way. Sperling’s strangely affectless performing notwithstanding, that's drama.

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