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American Ballet Theatre

‘Pretty Good Year,’ ‘Pillar of Fire,’ ‘Petite Mort,’ ‘Sechs Tänze’

First Impressions and Familiar Facades

by Lori Ibay

October 23, 2004 -- City Center, New York City

As I made my way into the City Center on October 23rd for one of ABT’s Saturday evening performances, I suddenly realized that it had been over 4 months since I had seen a ballet – or any dance performance, for that matter. In a lot of ways I felt like a first time ballet goer, which added to my excitement about finally seeing some dance again and my anticipation of seeing Trey McIntyre’s brand new “Pretty Good Year.”

I didn’t have to wait long, as the curtain rose on McIntyre’s world premiere, with the always elegant Stella Abrera and Herman Cornejo posed center stage in lemon yellow and silver costumes by Liz Prince. The music by Antonin Dvorak (Piano Trio No.1 in B flat major - first, second, and fourth movements) was performed by pianist Barbara Bilach, violinist Ron Oakland, and violoncellist Scott Ballantyne, and carried the dancers through liveliness, melancholy, intensity, playfulness.

The seven dancers – Zhong-Jing Fang, Abrera, Sarawanee Tanatanit, Cornejo, Bo Busby, Alexandre Hammoudi, and Matthew Murphy – displayed graceful deliberate movements, quick crisp unisons, and smoothly flowing pas de deux, changing their emotions as the mood of the music changed. The piece was centered around Cornejo’s high-flying energy and solemn intensity, and he seemed to connect to the audience with his presence and openness, drawing them into the performance.

Following the intermission was Antony Tudor's "Pillar of Fire," featuring Gillian Murphy as Hagar, Erica Fischbach as the Eldest Sister, Marian Butler as the Youngest Sister, David Hallberg as The Friend, and Marcelo Gomes as The Young Man from the House Opposite.

Murphy has complete command of the principal role, expressing Hagar's misery and frustration with her entire being. The corps danced cleanly around the principal dancers, but Tudor's choreography often seems stuffy and archaic, and the most intriguing aspect of the piece for me is the connection between Hagar and The Friend. Hallberg is so graceful and regal it's no wonder Hagar despairs over him, but in the end he's almost too princely for the melancholy, repentant Hagar. While the pair danced smoothly and easily together, Hallberg's nobility seemed mismatched with Murphy's Hagar -- the two never quite came together emotionally, even in the final pas de deux.

Jiri Kylian's "Petite Mort" (set to Mozart's "Piano Concerto in A Major" and "Piano Concerto in C Major") is not new to ABT's repertoire, but the company premiered a new staging this season that proved to be a refreshing take on a familiar favorite. If the star power on the stage (principal dancers Herman Cornejo, Marcelo Gomes, and Jose Manuel Carreno and soloists Carlos Lopez, Gennadi Saveliev, and Sascha Radetsky) wasn't enough to grab the audience's attention, the men soon silenced the crowd with the focused unison of the captivating opening phrases. The men's intensity overshadowed minor breaks in the unison and technical glitches with the foils.

The men were soon joined by even more of ABT's superstars -- principal dancers Xiomara Reyes and Paloma Herrera with Renata Pavam, Sarawanee Tanatanit, Stella Abrera, and Kristi Boone. The piece showcased the company at its best: Cornejo's energy, Radetsky and Abrera's seamless partnering, Gomes' strength and grace, Carreno's power, and Paloma Herrera's perfectly arched feet just a few of the many highlights.

Closing the program was Kylian's "Sechs Tänze" danced by Monique Meunier, Anne Milewski, Laura Hidalgo, Marian Butler, Julio Bragado-Young, Jeffrey Golladay, Isaac Stappas, and Kenneth Easter. The comedy of the piece is not subtle, and the dancers ate it up -- their dancing was loose and thrashy, they milked the "gags" and were overtly over-the-top. Although they drew roars from the crowd, I have enjoyed "Sechs Tänze" more when the technique is clean and the absurdity is understated. Still, I laughed as though I was seeing the piece for the first time.

Edited by Jeff.

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