Opening Night Celebration
Ballet Across America 2017
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
April 17, 2017
by George Jackson
© 2017 by George Jackson
This time Ballet Across America seems different, less a survey across America’s regions than an attempt to look up and down the profession, from those starting out in ballet to true artists. Not as apparent is the excitement of different companies competing. More emphasis is being put on how ballet fits into American society at large. However, let’s not be hasty. This was just the kick-off gala. Yet to come are two full programs, one curated by ballerina Misty Copeland and the other by choreographer Justin Peck, both only recently prominent on the dance scene.
Pas de duex from Anthony Tudor’s The Leaves Are Fading. Stella Abrera and Marcelo Gomes, Principal Dancers from American Ballet Theatre. Photo by Teresa Wood
Artistry was a gift brought to this program in two pas de deux. One was a duet from “The Leaves Are Fading”. It had Romeo and Juliet romanticism tinged with tragedy as Marcelo Gomes and Stella Abrera traversed Antony Tudor’s choreography to Dvorak music. The continuity of movement Tudor developed in this piece reminded me of the influence he has had on a current choreographer such as Christopher Wheeldon (whose “Fool’s Paradise” will be shown on the third and final Ballet Across America bill). The other duet, Peck’s “Chutes and Ladders” (to music from a Benjamin Britten string quartet) for Jeanette Delgado and Renan Cerdeiro, isn’t seamless but built of segments that stop quizzically and amusingly to make us and the dancers wonder what will come next. Peck gives balletic steps and combinations freshness by inserting positions and moves we recognize from playing games or watching sports or going for a walk. Both the ABT couple, Abrera and Gomes, and the Miami pair, Delgado and Cerdeiro, could easily have made star turns out of their performing. That they didn’t but immersed themselves in the choreography were tributes to good taste.
That the “Imprint/Maya” solo danced by Complexion Company’s Desmond Richardson nullified its spurts of movement may have been the fault of Maya Angelou’s word text. Angelou’s poem, even set to music (by David Rozenblatt) and sung (by Melanie Nyema), goes on too long for Dwight Roden’s choreography. A second film by Hurwitz featured ABT dancers Abrera, Isabella Boylston, Gomes, Calvin Royal III and James Whiteside. They dashed more than danced on the roof, in the hallways and in the theaters of the Kennedy Center. The real star of this flick was Edward Durell Stone’s architecture.
Concluding this celebration of American ballet by Deborah Rutter’s Kennedy Center was “Concerto”, choreographed by Paul Vasterling for the 25 members of his Nashville Ballet to pianist Ben Folds’s music performed by him and the KC’s Opera House Orchestra led by conductor Nathan Fifield. Vasterling has done more than make a serviceable ballet that shows off his entire company. I suspect he is commenting on the symphonic ballet tradition. In the concerto’s’ first movement, with stalwart Judson Veach leading all the other dancers, I see the choreographer playing with both Balanchine’s cubistic neoclassicism and Massine’s thematic serialism and architectural groupings. The second movement, with Kayla Rowser, Owen Thorne and Jon Upleger dressed in a very white green, explores tensions made feasible by a trio of bodies and contrasts them with a corps de ballet that remains surprisingly still. Another trio – Mollie Sanson, Brett Sjoblom, Augusto Cezar – are kept super-busy in the concerto’s third and final movement. Is this last section a comment on the hyperactivity of contemporary choreographers? In Folds’s score, I heard a variety of modern age musical effects - Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Bartok. Perhaps. A friend also detected Gershwin. Again, perhaps. Vasterling did keep one watching “Concerto” and made doing so earnest fun.
Chutes and Ladders. Choreographed by Justin Peck, Jeanette Delgado and Renan Cerdeiro, Principal Dancers of Miami City Ballet. Photo by Teresa Wood.
Nashville Ballet in Paul Vasterling’s Concerto with composer Ben Folds on piano. Photo by Teresa Wood