Tharp made Brahms-Haydn for ABT (it premiered in 2000 as Variations on a Theme by Haydn). It seems both familiar and fresh in this staging by Stacy Caddell, an alumna of NYCB as well as a former member of Twyla Tharp Dance. Tharp may have had some setbacks in her dogged pursuit of success on Broadway, but at her best, working with companies she reveres, she most often comes up with pieces that spin music and dancing together with a brilliance that few choreographers can match. Watching Brahms-Haydn, you don’t notice the mechanics of how she interweaves three principal couples, two secondary ones, and an ensemble of 16. The steps ride the music, play with it, delve into it and come up flying. Flurries of diverse, outrageously fast steps resolve into decorous unison. Symmetry appears, calms the stage down, and is then agreeably subverted. Dancers wearing Santo Loquasto’s subtly cut costumes in muted copper (the leading dancers) or pale blue (the corps) appear from nowhere and skim into Jennifer Tipton’s clear light. They’d seem to be drawn on and off the stage like moths in search of warmth if it weren’t for the integrity of the structure.

David Hallberg and Veronika Part establish the theme, with two flanking pairs slightly behind them, but almost immediately order is breached with comings and goings. Couples enter or pass through, the men bearing their partners aloft. They do this many times during the ballet, but the kind of lift keeps changing; once, the women are held in an inverted position that refers to its upright, grounded cousin: the arabesque. Anything Brahms wants to do with Haydn’s grandly assertive theme Tharp can match (but not copy exactly). And she keeps your eyes busy; interesting little adventures happen behind the main event, or even occlude it. Paloma Herrera and Marcelo Gomes are so deep in a lovely duet (Herrera’s sense of plastique is remarkable; she molds in and out of each new position with silky ease) that a brief appearance by Hallberg and Part in a corner does nothing to distract them. Although Brahms does tickle them with a new variation that makes them twitch a bit, while a bunch of women make a rabbity foray across the back. Herrera takes off, and Gomes is still trying to grab her as she exits.

This is a very good and very musical game that Tharp is playing. Movements get copied, travel through a group; duets for Julie Kent and Sascha Radetsky and for Gillian Murphy and Jose Manuel Carreño bubble up (when has a few triple-turn fouettés looked as offhand as Murphy makes them seem?). Every featured dancer has moments of prominence and gives them resonance: Yuriko Kajiya, Craig Salstein, Sarah Lane, Carlos Lopez, Luciana Paris, and Eric Tamm.

The New York City Ballet in Mauro Bigonzetti's "Luce Nascosta"
Paul Kolnik
The New York City Ballet in Mauro Bigonzetti's "Luce Nascosta"
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater men in Ronald K. Brown's "Dancing Spirit"
Paul Kolnik
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater men in Ronald K. Brown's "Dancing Spirit"

Details

New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
212-721-6500
April 27 through June 27

American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
Lincoln Center
212-362-6000
May 17 through July 3

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn
718-636-4100
June 10 through 20

The ABT dancers do extremely well by Taylor’s Company B, with its clever juxtaposition of the Andrews Sisters’ bubbly World War II songs and the silhouetted images of soldiers (some of the same men who’ve just been dancing boisterously) marching, shooting, falling. Salstein is terrific as the gleeful be-spectacled fellow of Oh Johnny, who has almost more admiring women than he can cope with, and Simone Messmer is poignant as the widowed girl of “There Will Never Be Another You” remembering her lover (a somewhat staid Grant DeLong). Maria Riccetto and Roddy Doble rollicked infectiously in “Pennsylvania Polka.” The matinee crowd adored Danil Simkin’s high jumps and higher spirits, although he pushed the jazziness a little.

Speaking of pushing, Ethan Stiefel gave a very strange performance as the shyest and gentlest of the three sailors in Robbins’s Fancy Free, another World War II ballet. In an excellent cast consisting of Herman Cornejo, Carreño, Stella Abrera, Murphy, and Leann Underwood, Stiefel stood out in ways both good and unfortunate. It was as if he had subjected his character to a bit too much actorly psychoanalysis. He overplayed innocence to the point of implying the kid is a fumbling yokel (just because his two buddies can keep tricking him into buying the drinks?). Gazing amorously at Murphy, he paused so long before beginning his show-off solo for the two women that conductor Charles Barker had to wait longer than usual to give the downbeat for the number. Once Stiefel and Murphy eased into dancing together, however, their tentative tenderness was both convincing and moving.

Fancy Free is an amazing little ballet—both for Robbins’s scenario and choreography and Leonard Bernstein’s tightly fitting, wonderfully ingenious score. Made during 1943 and 1944, when sailors by the thousand were shipping out to fight in World War II, you’d think its characters might seem dated, but they still ring true, and every step they do tells us something about them and the human impulses that are as familiar to us as the day before yesterday.

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Alvin Ailey’s Mary Lou’s Mass premiered in 1971, 11 years after his epochal Revelations. As the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company’s punctilious restaging by Masazumi Chaya for its BAM season reveals, the work is longer and larger in scale than the original small-cast Revelations. However, the movement vocabulary is, like Rev’s, more related to Ailey’s training in Lester Horton’s modern dance technique than to the ballet influences that later crept in. Hinged-at-the-knee, backward falls; big, sailing turns; and long, tilted balances with one leg held high—all these mingle with the strides and struts that align the dancing with composer-pianist Mary Lou Williams’s gorgeously variegated jazz-and-gospel Mass.

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