American Ballet Theatre
“Her Notes,” “Monotones I and II,” “Daphnis and Chloe”
David H. Koch Theater
New York, NY
October 29, 2016
by Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2016 by Leigh Witchel
American Ballet Theatre brought two works into its repertory, yet both looked better on the drawing board than in motion. Jessica Lang’s new “Her Notes” had several things going for it. In a move to even the score for women composers, the music was “Das Jahr” by Fanny Mendelssohn, a cycle reflecting a year’s journey.
American Ballet Theatre in “Her Notes.” Photo © Rosalie O’Connor.
The house flat was raised out of view at the beginning of a pas de deux for Abrera and Whiteside. Lang let Whiteside rip in a solo, and he tore through some showy moves: turns in front attitude at 90°, more of them with his leg at 45°, and then slides to the middle of the stage. The partnering was strikingly unusual; Abrera lay on her side on the ground in passé retiré and Whiteside picked her up using her knee as a handle. Later, he grabbed her like a parcel between her legs, but Lang didn’t develop the implications of any of it.
An allegro movement had the cast racing in and out.; women flashed their arms up and down on the notes of a cadenza leading to another duet, for Boylston and Alexandre Hammoudi. Lang kept using unorthodox partnering; Hammoudi picked Boylston up by the foot. But again rather than exploring the idea the work had already moved into a trio with Whiteside, and soon the three dancers were already gone and shortly reentering. The work ended when the window scrim was lowered and brought horizontal, so that when Abrera reached through it, she was reaching through the ceiling. The flat was laid on the floor as the angled roof of a house, with Abrera rising out through the window opening as if she were going up the chimney like smoke.
“Her Notes” had a short attention span. If the ballet was supposed to about the experiences of women, it wasn’t entirely clear how. There needed to be character development. Lang just kept plowing through the score; all her divisions seemed to be musical, rather than because an idea had been sufficiently explored. Like so much of her work, “Her Notes” was full of ingenuity and lacked depth.
“Monotones” came in between the new works, in a spotty performance. The ballet, with all its slow, sustained movement, hinges on line, and arabesques below 90° exposed the weaknesses in Daniil Simkin’s lines in “Monotones I.” Sarah Lane looked harassed, but Misty Copeland seemed to try to make the line sing. Where Ashton asked for the head to be thrown back, Copeland didn’t stint and looked all the way up.
The zero-gravity manipulations of Veronika Part in “Monotones II,” ended up seeming less like a chain of movement and more like a series of trick poses. Part bobbed her head and leaned with her shoulders as she ran with her partners round the stage in the final section. It was very soulful, but seemed to be from another country.
Benjamin Millepied’s production of “Daphnis and Chloe” was made in 2014 for Paris Opera Ballet, right before he took the reins of the company. The ballet was a tall order, even for Ashton; Ravel’s beautiful score is composed of large sections of sonic wash that isn’t easy to hang a dance on. Millepied seemed to tacitly acknowledge this by handing so much of the ballet off to his scenic designer, Daniel Buren. He filled the opening with projections and other sections with hanging transparent scenic elements in bold shapes and saturated colors.
Millepied made the basic plot clear economically. Marcelo Gomes and Boylston were lovers, Blaine Hoven and Skylar Brandt a rival couple. It was clearly illustrated with simple gestures and stances, but little emotion. You saw it all and felt nothing. Hoven danced a boastful solo; Gomes a neat one. After Hoven danced angrily and Brandt tried to seduce Gomes, the bad guys arrived, led by Scott. You could tell they were bad guys because they were in black. They abducted Chloe and assaulted Gomes,
The most interestingly abstracted moment was Chloe’s rescue. Whatever happened was invisible to us, but as she was surrounded by the villains (and it was sure implied from Scott’s position behind her that he had raped her) the sky turned ruby red and all the men fell to the ground, leaving her free. Gomes entered onstage and retrieved her without resistance. It may not have had the clarity of the other sections, but it had something that they didn’t: an evocative idea.
The most inexplicable moment when a corps of women danced a big swirling dance, ignoring Gomes who was sprawled unconscious at the side. Even when they practically stepped on him. When their dance was done and they were good and ready, they noticed him lying there.
In the dancing, Millepied used one bit of stereotypical Greek flavor: the men linked arms at the shoulders. That aside, it was fascinating how much of Millepied’s choreography resembled Peter Martins’. They use the same punchy steps: quick beats, kicks in attitude front with an arm tossing overhead. When the bad guys did their sissonnes and split jetés, they might as well have been dancing “Fearful Symmetries.”
Beyond vocabulary, like Martins, Millepied turned everything, including what would have been more resonant in mime, into steps. The ballet opened on a neoclassical dance for the corps and closed with a big finale. The hive-like activity would have been right at home in Martins’ Act 1 of “Swan Lake.” “Daphnis and Chloe” was handsome to look at and competently made, but Millepied made ABT look like New York City Ballet.
copyright © 2016 by Leigh Witchel
Sarah Lane, Daniil Simkin and Misty Copeland in “Monotones I.” Photo © Rosalie O’Connor.
Isabella Boylston and Marcelo Gomes in “Daphnis and Chloe.” Photo © Marty Sohl.