"Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes", pas de deux from "The Leaves are Fading" and "Stars and Stripes",
"Symphony # 9"
American Ballet Theatre
New York, NY
October 19, 2012
by Mary Cargill
copyright © 2012 by Mary Cargill
ABT's very brief City Center season featured a rarely seen company work in Mark Morris' "Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes" and a new Ratmansky whichshowed off the company's strength. These sandwiched a couple of audience-pleasing pas de deux which made for a rather skimpy middle section, but the opening and closing works were glorious. The Morris work, from 1988, is his oblique take on a white ballet, with a group of dancers cavorting to piano music by Virgil Thomson. The floppy costumes and the occasionally goofy steps are an affectionate parody of ballet, as the purest of arabesques melt into slightly awkward curves. But the atmosphere of gracious, generous camaraderie never deviates into satire. The dancers are all slightly anonymous, moving like notes in the air, with a magical precision. The corps moved with a controlled abandon, dancing with their entire bodies; the urgency of their upper bodies and the energy emanating from their torsos was exhilarating. Simone Messmer, with her ability to eat up space and Hee Seo's ecstatic lyricism stood out, as did Isabella Boylston in her bouncy, juicy solo which seemed to exist inside the music. But the heart of the work belonged to Herman Cornejo in the part originated by Baryshnikov. The throw-away virtuosity (those wonderful turns with the leg outstretched, halting on a dime), the open-chested majesty, and the purity of his upper-body were breathtaking. The final movement was an elegiac, slightly melancholy pause, as if these young gods and goddesses were saying farewell to something, as Cornejo turned his back to the audience, not to ignore them, but to concentrate his thoughts.
The pas de deux from Antony Tudor's "The Leave are Fading" also has its thoughtful moments, and Xiomara Reyes, with Cory Stearns, was able to show the progression from youthful innocent joy to more mature dreaminess. The partnering was sometimes problematic (the lifts are difficult to make effortless) and the dance naturally works better in its complete setting, with the contrasting pas de deux. But there are so many beautiful moments, as the couple grow together. There isn't a lot of growing in Balanchine's "Stars and Stripes" pas de deux, since it requires a full blown ballerina to pull off its combination of pyrotechnics and panache. For all the surrounding fluff, it is one of the most rigorous and classically pristine pas des deux around. Sarah Lane, with Daniil Simkin, seemed to be concentrating on getting the steps correct, and, since she is a fine dancer, she got them right. But she didn't seem to have the confidence to play with the rhythm or the phrasing, and so wasn't able to put an individual stamp on her dancing. Simkin, too, seemed a bit miscast, since his basic sweetness worked against the shiny, confident brashness of El Capitan. His dancing, though, was crisp, clear, and spotless, as he threw in some ravishing 560 degree turns.
Alexei Ratmansky seems to have a true affinity for Shastakovich, with his brassy rhythms and underlying tension. "Symphony #9", the first part of a future full length Shastakovich evening, fields two casts, and I saw the second one--second in terms of performance, but not, I suspect, in stature. Stella Abrera and Sascha Radetsky were the opening couple, and Abrera flew through the military snap of her fiery footwork. Radetsky was a powerful presence, and the choreography, with its curves and its speed, suited him. The corps, too, looked energized and powerful (even the girl that slipped in the final movement), as the patterns shifted constantly.
The center couple, Veronika Part and Roberto Bolle, entered after the bright, rollicking opening movement, and gave the work a haunted, almost fraught feeling, as they crept through the odd, subdued, ominous music. Bolle was a strong partner, and his support helped Part give her mysterious role a magnificent power, as her legs hurled out to the side. It was a beautiful movement in an of itself, but it was also oddly expressive; she was pushing something away, protecting her partner or protesting against something dangerous. There was an enigma at the heart of the work that emerged from the music and was embodied by the magnificent dancing.
Some sort of peace or resolution arrived with Jared Matthews, dancing with a powerful grace and ease as he seemed to lead the dark couple to a brighter place in the final movement. (But even there, darkness existed, as the adagio crept into the mood.) Matthews had the final word, as he broke into a series of turns a la seconde in the middle of the maelstrom, reminiscent, perhaps of the fouettes at the end of Balanchine's "Cotillion", another unforgettable, slightly disturbing work (at least according to writers in the 1930's). There were so many layers in the work, it was impossible to grasp everything in a single viewing, but this is clearly a significant, haunting work, and it will be fascinating to see what Ratmansky does with the other two sections.
Photos by Gene Schiavone:
Top: Herman Cornejo in "Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes"
Middle: Sarah Lane and Daniil Simkin in "Stars and Stripes"
Bottom: "Symphony #9"
Copyright 2012 by Mary Cargill