“Baker’s Dozen,” “Sinatra Suite,” “The Leaves are Fading,” “From Here on Out”
American Ballet Theatre
New York, NY
November 3, 2007 matinee
by Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2007 by Leigh Witchel
American Ballet Theater’s fall season was comparatively short at only two weeks, but it managed a decent run of acquisitions and revivals in that time and put three of them on view on a Saturday matinee. The company paired Twlya Tharp’s “Baker’s Dozen,” new to ABT with her “Sinatra Suite.” They make sense together; both are what Tharp does best – glosses on popular culture and dance forms. Made for her own company in 1979 with cream costumes by Santo Loquasto, “Baker’s Dozen” seems to take place in some imaginary dance salon, but one with wings – the whole dance flirts with entrances and exits. With dancers appearing and sometimes immediately disappearing, the dancing itself is tearoom tangos that melt into shimmies and head bobbles.
I should have seen a second cast, but the entire first cast was substituted. Craig Salstein punches and sells the choreography, but that works for Tharp; the short, muscular joker is one of her archetypes. Tall and lean, Blaine Hoven is one of the finds of the season. His perfect axis and beautiful ballet technique are almost distracting here, but it looks like ABT may have a young prince on its hands. Tharp, especially early pre-ABT Tharp, never looks quite like Tharp on ballet dancers; there is more contrast of hard and soft and, as with Hoven, always that moment of “wow, look at that extension/split/turn” that is exciting but also distracting.
Both Tharp dances were staged by Elaine Kudo, who worked with both ABT and Tharp. She wasn’t in the original cast of “Baker’s Dozen,” but “Sinatra Suite” was made on her as a foil for Mikhail Baryshnikov. We moved from the tearoom to a star-lit ballroom, and from Santo Loquasto’s daywear to Oscar de le Renta’s tuxedo and cocktail dress, now worn by Herman Cornejo and Misty Copeland. Tharp looks at classic competition ballroom and at the same time Sinatra as a pop figure, freezing it all in a moment in time. What surprised me the most about what the song encapsulates was that if I hear “My Way” in my head, I don’t hear Sinatra singing. I hear Sid Vicious.
Cornejo has less impact in the role than Baryshnikov, but one of Misha’s gifts was an ability to tap into pop culture that made him and Tharp such a suitable artistic match. Copeland has a tough vulnerability that works well for the part. Immobilized in high heels rather than pointe shoes, her high arch still seemed almost prehensile. Yet the timing seemed off in Saturday’s performance. There’s a stunt where Cornejo should finish putting on his tuxedo jacket just in time to catch Copeland flying at him. She didn’t even start heading towards him until he had gotten his jacket fully on; there was no risk at all.
Antony Tudor’s “The Leaves are Fading” was brought back for a welcome revival. Despite the title, the ballet isn’t set in fall, but the spring in our minds looked at through the haze of autumn. The congruences in a performance are part of its pleasure. Ballets that have no relation to one another still have steps in common that magically appear – a front cabriole in “Baker’s Dozen” that shows up in the Tudor, or a shimmy you may not have thought you’d see anywhere but Tharp, yet there it is in “Leaves”.
In the main pas de deux, Marcelo Gomes and Julie Kent danced for each other and let us watch. It was a tenderly understated and musical performance; Gomes shone in the mazurka. At times Kent can take on the affected modesty of a senior ballerina, but then again, that’s also exactly what she is. In smaller parts, Maria Riccetto gave a fleet performance, and Stella Abrera continued to blossom in a duet filled with floating suspensions.
Yet, as in “Sinatra Suite,” there are things that are wrong with the timing and setting (this time by Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner) that you didn’t have to have seen the original to infer. The problem can be sensed at the outset when Karen Uphoff, who is wearing a long dress and heeled slippers, enters. As she walks around carefully placing her heel and then her toes and poses, one can’t help but ask, “Isn’t she just supposed to walk normally and look around?” Uphoff is tall and dark haired, as was the role’s originator, Kim Highton, but while Highton looked nothing like Gelsey Kirkland, Uphoff looks enough like Julie Kent to make one assume that she’s the walking, older, version of Kent as a dancer. It tied everything up in a fuzzy pretty bow of memory, but the work never needed that obvious correlation. Still, I’m happy to see the ballet even in a blurry revival.
The performance ended with a repeat of Millepied’s “From Here on Out” with a new cast of leads. Isabella Boylston and Cory Stearns from the corps de ballet got a shot at the main duet. They both had the torsion and courageous attack but looked very young; they were not yet able to project the sort of squirming relationship Millepied depicted. They’ll grow into the parts.
Looking at the ballet again the structure is clearer, though it was never that complicated to start. It’s by and large a series of duets. The partnering is fleet and complicated but the choreographic voice didn’t seem more original with a second viewing. We need a few more ballets to know what Millepied has to say.
copyright © 2007 by Leigh Witchel