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American Ballet Theatre

London Tour

by Ana Abad-Carles

February 14-15, 2007 -- Sadler's Wells, London, UK

It has taken seventeen years for American Ballet Theatre to return to London and the occasion finally happened in February at Sadler’s Wells Theatre. Seventeen years is a very long time in the life of a dance company, and it is difficult to assess the effect of such a span of time in a five day visit. Personally, the biggest criticism the company could receive at this return would be a lack of adventurousness in the choice of repertoire, as most of the works they brought on this occasion had already been seen here in 1990.

The company in general looks strong and, especially the corps the ballet, improved with every performance I attended. There are very good principal dancers, though perhaps there is a lack of more versatile dancers in the middle ranks of the company.

For their return to the London stage, ABT chose to open with “Symphonie Concertante” by George Balanchine (in their previous visit the chosen ballet was “Theme and Variations”). The ballet is a beautiful visual orchestration of Mozart’s musical dialogue for violin and viola. On opening night, the two main roles were taken up by Veronika Part and Michele Wiles, and the role of the cavalier was danced by Maxim Beloserkovsky. Though Part was very good in all static poses, her sense of drama did not transcend into her movements and, at times, especially in the allegro sections, she seemed too conscious of her own effort. Wiles was more responsive to the musical phrases, though I have to admit that the best performance I saw was the one led by Stella Abrera on the closing night.

Following this piece there were the usual pas de deux associated with the display of ABT’s star dancers. The first was the White Swan pas de deux from “Swan Lake”, wonderfully performed by Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes. Next came Tharp’s “Sinatra Suite”, with Angel Corella and Misty Copeland. Corella’s dancing is faultless, but I find his stage persona lacking in emotional depth and this did no favours to Tharp’s choreography. The last piece d’occasion was “Le Corsaire Pas de Deux” danced by Xiomara Reyes and José Manuel Carreño. Carreño’s dancing was beautiful. Not only did he have the technical mastery but also the sense of style and presence required by this role. Reyes was adequate, but not outstanding and thus, Carreño got – deservedly – the big ovation at the end of their performance.

Finally, the company presented Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room”. This work brought the Coliseum down seventeen years ago, and I was hoping that this performance would live up to the memories I had kept for all these years. It did. If only for that performance, I will be grateful to ABT for their return to London. Tharp’s ballet has passed the test of time and it now seems enhanced by it. When it was first presented in London on opening night in 1990, the audience did not know what to make of the work and it definitely took me a second viewing to get used to Tharp’s chaotic and yet perfectly framed style. On this occasion, Paloma Herrera, David Hallberg and Ethan Stiefel led the company in what was for me the highlight of the season.

On the second evening, ABT made the same mistake they made seventeen years ago and presented “The Kingdom of the Shades”. It has to be said that unless you are the Kirov (Mariinsky) there seems to be little point in presenting this work as part of a guest appearance, especially as the work is now staged by most ballet companies in the world. Though seventeen years ago the performance nearly ended with poor Alessandra Ferri being strangled by the shawl featured in her solo, on this occasion there were no major incidents, and yet there were no major ovations either for any of the performers. The corps looked correct, though not outstanding. Maxim Beloserkovsky as Solor was good and so was Irina Dvorovenko as Nikya. The same cannot be said of the three shades, however, who seemed to be ironing out all the difficulties of their different variations in an almost scandalous way. Can somebody remind dancers performing the First Shade variation that the ballerina needs to travel the whole stage when hopping in arabesque and not perform the arabesques on the spot?

Next came “Drink to me only with thine eyes”, Mark Morris’s great ballet. Just as it did seventeen years ago, it took some performances for the audience to understand its tongue-in-cheek mood and tone. Hernan Cornejo was outstanding in one of the main roles, but, as with Tharp’s piece, praise must be given to the whole company for having been able to maintain such wonderful standards and sense of style in both works. It was a pleasure to see this work danced so well again.

Last in the evening came Jerome Robbins’s “Fancy Free” and it was undoubtedly a great choice. Paloma Herrera and Julie Kent as the two girls were fantastic in their comic timing and interpretations, but real ovations were given to the three sailors, especially to Sascha Radetsky and Marcelo Gomes, who in the final variation managed to have the whole auditorium in genuine laughter thanks to their sense of comedy and fun.

The company is a different one than the ABT we saw seventeen years ago. It is difficult to say whether it is better or worse. I think the company we saw in 1990 was more rounded in terms of having more dancers (and especially female dancers) who could take on a variety of roles within the repertoire. Unfortunately, it seems to be true that ABT is not the creative hub that it was years ago, when the highlights of the season were those Morris and Tharp works just created or staged for the company. Companies go through different creative periods, so let’s just hope ABT can regain momentum and come back with more daring works, though personally, I will appreciate seeing “In the Upper Room” and “Drink to me only with thine eyes” as part of their visits whenever they come.

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