Welcome to the American Ballet Theatre's Bright Season
Antony Tudor knew much about love—how it can set your feet quivering, tip you off balance—and how unfulfilled longing can corset your body. He was part of ABT at its founding in 1940, and this season, the company celebrates his centennial by presenting five of his ballets. Because of lost or damaged sets and costumes, only the morning-after duet from his 1943 Romeo and Juliet (to music by Frederick Delius) could be performed, but what a heart-stopping glory it is. Tudor shows you how passion has loosened Juliet's limbs and the almost awkward impetuosity with which lovers press their bodies together. Catching Gillian Murphy at the window, David Hallberg slings her, arrow-straight, onto his hip and bends sideways to bring his face close to hers. Both are marvelous.
Hallberg also shines as the gentle "Friend" (Tudor's own role) in the choreographer's searing 1942 Pillar of Fire (finely staged by Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner), and Michele Wiles gives a beautifully nuanced portrayal of the repressed Hagar. In their final duet, her whole being gradually lightens and expands when she finally believes she is loved. Marcelo Gomes is appropriately cruel and raunchy as the stud across the street. Maria Bystrova, however, turns the prim elder sister into more of a steely stepmother.
Jirí Kylián intended his 1980 Overgrown Path (to Leos Janácek's music) as a tribute to Tudor. Like Tudor's finer, more succinct 1937 Dark Elegies, it's about loss. Overwhelmingly so. Often, the dancers stand in profile, as if caught in some ebb tide—unsure whether to move backward or forward. In the many beautiful, mournful passages, men support women made languishingly unstable by grief. Hee Seo is outstanding among a splendid cast.
ABT dancers are wonderfully versatile. Their carriage and port de bras in Balanchine classics are exemplary (if only they would eschew their unvarying smiles). Paloma Herrera, tormented in Overgrown Path, is the queenly leader of Balanchine's Theme and Variations, with a princely Gomes as her cavalier. Wiles aces the needle-sharp footwork of Balanchine's Ballo della Regina, and you'd never guess the power of her Hagar from the way she floats and swirls through Time, the happily dreamy, faintly Tudoresque solo that company soloist Craig Salstein choreographed for her to Robert Schumann's Traumerei. Murphy looks atypically—and charmingly—flyaway in Paul Taylor's Company B.
In the new, mysteriously titled Citizen by the interesting up-and-comer Lauri Stallings, Sarah Lane discards her perfect aplomb and the rock-steady pirouettes with which she stuns her virtuosic-beyond-wow young Russian partner, Daniil Simkin, in the flashy pas de deux from Vasily Vainonen's Flames of Paris. In Stallings's work—to striking music by Max Richter—she, Devon Teuscher, Melissa Thomas, Cory Stearns, and Sean Stewart ripple and twist their torsos, hips, and arms while flashing their legs about. Wearing eccentric, sparkling rags by April McCoy and hauntingly lit by Ryan O'Gara, they often look as if they've been in cold storage and are just thawing. Citizen is a strange, opaque little ballet (at one point, dancers from other works on the program crowd on and stare for a while at these strangers come to visit). Lane and Stearns are terrific, and Stallings certainly bears watching.
Herman Cornejo gives one of the season's most entrancing performances in Paul Taylor's Company B (reconstructed by Patrick Corbin). As the "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" the Andrews Sisters sing of, he gets under the skin of the movement. His down-and-dirty dug-in steps, lively hip action, and virtuosic explosions mimic the trumpet's riffs and flourishes until you could die of pleasure. The company tackles Taylor enthusiastically. Salstein, terrific in "Oh Johnny," could almost be a Taylor dancer. It's great, too, to see stars like Cornejo and Murphy as part of an ensemble—Murphy mingling with the lovesick girls and Cornejo crawling along with the other guys to grab for the enticing Misty Copeland's ankles in "Rum and Coca-Cola."
The dancers seem to love Twyla Tharp's repertory, too. In her Baker's Dozen (staged by Elain Kudo), they capture the elegantly rippling jazzy airiness of Willie "The Lion" Smith's piano music and that matching quality in Tharp's flood of ingeniously layered duets, trios, quartets, sextets, and ensembles. But the underlying earthiness of her style still evades them. And they get a little too cutely presentational at times, especially the talented Arron Scott.
Keith Roberts has done a bang-up job of reviving Tharp's beguiling Brief Fling. A decorous, faintly boring classical pair (Xiomara Reyes and Cornejo, both delicious) and a smart Scottish octet in Isaac Mizrahi tartans are gradually thrown off-kilter by the ruckus that composer Michael Colombier concocts from Percy Grainger's piano piece, "Country Gardens." And by the rough-and-tumble, barreling-through, body-slinging rebels—Copeland, Alexandre Hammoudi, Blaine Hoven, and Stearns. Tharp engineers a finale in which these and others mix in a haggis of jazzed-up, contrapuntal, balleto-celtic revelry. Tudor might have hated it.
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