"The Garden of Villandry", "Sinatra Suite", "Private Light", "In the Upper Room"
American Ballet Theatre
New York City Center
New York, NY
November 8, 2011
by Mary Cargill
copyright © 2011 by Mary Cargill
ABT opened its weeklong City Center program with a gala completely bereft of fouettes, and a minimum of point shoes. The brief welcoming speech by Kevin McKenzie seemed to imply that the dancers were relieved not to be romping through the Spring blockbusters, and that he was glad he could feature some of the younger dancers in fresher roles. The dancers did look energized, and the smaller stage of the brightly renovated City Center gave the performances a dynamic energy. The evening opened with Martha Clarke's "The Garden of Villandry", a pas de trois to the Franz Schubert Trio No. 1 (played live by on stage musicians). This is a visit to Tudor territory, with its evocation of Edwardian nostalgia and subtle undercurrents of emotion. Julie Kent, looking stunning in her black and white gown, was gently flirtatious as she turned between Roman Zhurban and Julio Bragado-Young. Kent gave a luminous clarity to her dancing, and the small gestures, reaching out her hand or brushing away tears, had a resonant nuance. Her air of resigned experience brought to mind Ashton's Lady Elgar from his "Enigma Variations", a much richer work than Clarke's, though this piece had it own joys.
The main joy in Twyla Tharp's "Sinatra Suite" comes from the classic Sinatra recordings; the choreography, while pleasant, can't really compete with the songs, and it was a bit like eating whipped cream on top of a steak. Herman Cornejo was sharp and clear, but the songs told of experience and his dancing said youth. Luciana Paris, as his soulmate, looked lovely, and gave the ballroom tinged choreography its proper weight, but she was a bit placid. There was no sense of past affairs.
There were plenty of affairs in the premiere of Demis Volpi's "Private Light". Volpi is a twenty-five year old Stuttgart dancer, who has won a number of choreographic awards, but based on this piece, he is in the running for the Emperor With No Clothes Award. The lively guitar music, played live by Christian Kiss, ranged from Villa-Lobos to country, with no corresponding variations in the music. The poor women, who generally kept their backs to the audience, were pushed, pulled, and posed like display window dummies, and spent a lot of time waving their legs like flies trapped on sticky paper. Simone Messmer and Cory Stearns had a brutal pas de deux, and Sarah Lane got passed around among three men, legs wide. Joseph Gorack got to pose nobly while staring down a baleful group of approaching dancers.
It was a relief to visit Tharp's "In the Upper Room", where the dancers get to enjoy themselves and the women get to stand on their own two feet. The Philip Glass music, for me, gets a bit tiresome, and was over amplified, but the casual symmetry of the structure and the dynamics of the choreography are invigorating. Gillian Murphy wore tennis shoes, and, though she gamely tried to slouch, she tended to look like she was wearing an invisible tutu. This was most apparent when Misty Copeland was on stage, an innocent dynamo who moved like molten taffy. The energy seemed to radiate from her spine to the tips of her fingers. Craig Salstein, too, danced with a magnificent flow, and gave the choreography a dynamic weight that was irresistible. The spectacular stage effects, with the dancers emerging and disappearing in the smoke, left the audience gasping.
copyright © 2011 by Mary Cargill