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American Ballet Theatre

Repertory Program I:  'Petite Mort,' 'Sechs Tanze,' 'Pillar of Fire,' 'Within You Without You'

'From Mozart to Harrison'

by Lori Ibay

May 12, 2004 matinee -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York City

American Ballet Theatre’s Repertory Program I showcased the company’s versatility as it took the audience “from Mozart to Harrison,” beginning with Jiri Kylian’s “Petite Mort” and “Sechs Tanze,” two works the company premiered during their fall season at the City Center.

The intense, commanding opening of “Petite Mort,” danced in silence by six men (Ricardo Torres, Julio Bragado-Young, Danny Tidwell, Angel Corella, Marcelo Gomes, and David Hallberg) was slightly marred by problems with timing. For a few scattered moments, the ensemble was slightly “off” -- an early movement here, a late one there, a hand on the floor to maintain balance. Small variations in phrasing diminished the impact of the focused, deliberate segments. However, the ensemble pulled together during the faster phrases -- slashing their foils through the silence in sharp synchrony -- and continued with precise unison when the orchestra broke the silence with Mozart’s piano concertos.

The six women (Melissa Thomas, Yuriko Kajiya, Sarawanee Tanatanit, Erica Cornejo, Kristi Boone, and Luciana Paris) were more consistent and moved together with precision and grace, whether they were gliding across the stage behind their black evening gown facades or pulling away from the facades to reveal their vulnerability in flesh colored unitards. Most impressive, however, were the pas de deux which displayed the dancers’ athleticism and expert partnering abilities. Couples transitioned smoothly with impressive effortlessness punctuated by beautiful extensions.

“Sechs Tanze,” the humorous seeming-counterpart to “Petite Mort” (although “Tanze” had its world premiere nearly five years before “Mort”), followed a brief pause. Set to Mozart’s “Six German Dances,” the piece is divided into six comical acts danced by a cast of eight (Monique Meunier, Ashley Tuttle, Sasha Dmochowksi, Marta Rodriguez-Coca, Jesus Pastor, Jeffrey Golladay, Isaac Stappas, and Sascha Radetsky).

In the opening, fast paced pas de deux, Meunier and Pastor seemed to chase the beat of the music rather than move with it, and the audience’s laughter began as Pastor slapped white powder off his face and wig, leaving clouds of dust hanging in the air. Spurts of laughter continued as the supporting cast (Misty Copeland, Laura Hidalgo, Karen Uphoff, Bo Busby, Buck Collins, and Kenneth Easter) used the props from “Petite Mort” to create absurd poses that drifted across the back of the stage. The “gags” were amusing, but were not as effective when the dancers could be seen behind the facades, pushing them along.

The ridiculous hilarity seemed over the top at times -- thrashing arms looked more sloppy than funny, and intentional recklessness resulted in an unintentional stumble into the wings. However, moments of impressive dancing and subtle comedy -- Stappas and Radetsky’s quick, clean pirouettes and comic mimicking of their female counterparts -- hinted that perhaps, less is more. I recalled Kylian’s sentiments that the piece “shouldn’t only be regarded as a burlesque. Its humor ought to serve as a vehicle to point towards our relative values.” This time around, I think I missed the point.

David LaMarche was the pianist for “Petite Mort,” and the orchestra was conducted by Charles Barker for both “Petite Mort” and “Sechs Tanze.”

After an intermission, the company shifted from the abstract to the concrete with Antony Tudor’s “Pillar of Fire,” set to music by Arnold Schoenberg with scenery and costumes by Robert Perdziola. The plot moves quickly -- within the first few minutes, Hagar (Michele Wiles), the protagonist, despairs over her love interest, “The Friend” (Hallberg), who seems to show more interest in Hagar’s younger sister (Marian Butler), leading a heartbroken Hagar to give herself to “The Young Man from the House Opposite” (Ricardo Torres).

There isn’t much time to connect with all the characters, but Wiles was excellent in conveying Hagar’s desperation over “The Friend,” her despair over her mistake, and eventually her contentment when she is ultimately united with her true love. Butler danced daintily as the youthful, flirtatious sister in contrast to the prim and proper eldest sister (Maria Bystrova) and her stuffy, prudish friends, the “Maiden Ladies Out Walking” (Ilona McHugh and Karen Uphoff). Hallberg showed regal grace as “The Friend” opposite Torres as the seductive “Young Man from the House Opposite.”

The “Lovers-in-Innocence” (Misty Copeland, Ashley Ellis, Yuriko Kajiya, Luciana Paris, Julio Bragado-Young, Sascha Radetsky, and Craig Salstein) promenade formally around the desolate Hagar; their partnering is rigid and formal, but the men’s crisp, airy double tours hinted at their reserved bliss. Their stiff choreography and muted gray costumes contrast with the blacks and reds of the “Lovers-In-Experience” (Kristi Boone, Adrienne Schulte, Patrick Ogle, Flavio Salazar, and Issac Stappas), whose sultry choreography is first seen through a translucent scrim in the house opposite Hagar’s.

Though Hagar doesn’t quite fit into either group of lovers, Wiles is well-matched with Hallberg in a graceful pas de deux that sees Hagar’s emotions transform from shame and humiliation to blissful acceptance of her true love’s forgiveness. The curtain falls as the new lovers join the other passers by.

The orchestra was conducted by David LaMarche.

In another radical shift, the performance closed with “Within You Without You: A Tribute to George Harrison” choreographed by David Parsons, Ann Reinking, Natalie Weir, and Stanton Welch.

Angel Corella’s flawless control in “Something” made me wonder how a lovesick man can be so well put together, but I was too busy marveling at his signature super-fast pirouettes to give it too much thought. Marcelo Gomes and Gillian Murphy showed groovy attitude in “I Dig Love,” with Craig Salstein joining them for a sizzling pas de trois. Sarawanee Tanatanit and Sascha Radetsky were passionate, thrashy, and fluid -- rolling all over the floor and each other -- in a sultry pas de deux to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Although Tanatanit wasn’t quite as smooth as her partner, the most awkward moment was their exit, which had Radetsky dragging her off the stage, each gripping opposite ends of a metal folding chair.

The choreography of “Isn’t It a Pity” for an ensemble of ten dancers (Kristi Boone, Erica Cornejo, Monique Meunier, Maria Riccetto, Adrienne Schulte, Kenneth Easter, Jeffrey Golladay, Jared Matthews, Jesus Pastor, and Ricardo Torres) seems to all blend together. Dancers stroll casually across the stage, occasionally stopping for a solo here or there -- and while the ensemble looked oh-so-stylish in their Calvin Klein jeans, there wasn’t much to get excited about. In contrast, Herman Cornejo displayed his always-quick feet and powerful jumps in a fervent solo to “Within You Without You.”

The piece ends with “My Sweet Lord” -- a feel-good number with the full cast taking their turns dancing across the stage on what seems like a never-ending conveyor belt of dancers. While there are some thrilling moments -- like Gomes and Corella’s airborne duet and Cornejo’s gravity defying leaps -- mostly the cast looks like they’re having so much fun, you can’t help but smile and bop your head along with the music.

Edited by Jeff.

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