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American Ballet Theatre

'Black Tuesday', 'Manon (Act I PdD)', 'Don Quixote (Act 3 PdD)' and 'Thirteen Diversions'

by Carmel Morgan

January 31, 2012-- Opera House, JFK Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC

This year’s American Ballet Theatre (ABT) mixed repertoire program at the Kennedy Center debuted at the end of January, during the week prior to the annual Super Bowl. And, like some Super Bowls in years past, the performance provided a handful of thrills and even a wardrobe malfunction. The evening started with Paul Taylor’s “Black Tuesday,” a work that premiered at the Kennedy Center in 2001 (not 2011 as was misprinted in the program). More than a decade later, “Black Tuesday” perhaps resonates more strongly with audiences given the country’s present economic woes. Taylor’s ballet is set to the music of the Great Depression. The mood fluctuated according to the accompanying songs. The backdrop changed, too, from grimy bridge girdings under which dancers, in raggedy costumes, jazzily kicked up their heels, to an evening city skyline full of pinprick stars upon which to make a wish. “Black Tuesday” was tinged with suffering – Jared Matthews, dealing with desperate poverty, in a section titled “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” and the almost translucently thin Misty Copeland, likewise shrinking with sorrow, in “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” However, it also showed spunk – Nicola Curry, with her humorous yet poignant pregnant belly, strutting about in “Sittin’ on a Rubbish Can” and Gemma Bond, in cap and suspenders, adorably boasting of her triumphs in“(I Went Hunting) and the Big Bad Wolf Was Dead.”

Sandwiched in the middle of the program were two pas de deux. First, the utterly lovely Act I pas de deux from “Manon,” with Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes. How I wanted to see more! Kent and Gomes are such beautiful performers, and in this duet they certainly delivered. One reveled in their smooches and sweat. They maintained their heightened emotions while striking perfect positions.

The pas de deux from Act III of “Don Quixote” was less successful. A dark strip from around Xiomara Reyes’s tulip red tutu came loose and hung in a distracting loop far beneath the skirt’s hem. I had fun imagining the rescue team that fixed the issue offstage (needle and thread or tape or a safety pin?). Meanwhile, Herman Cornejo came to life in his solo portions. He bounded and flew, his longish hair bouncing.

Closing the evening was a recent Christopher Wheeldon work, “Thirteen Diversions.” (The program notes correctly reflected that this premiered in 2011). I found “Thirteen Diversions” disappointing and slow, but a fellow ballet patron commented that this work was her favorite of the night. To Benjamin Britten’s “Diversions for Piano and Orchestra,” played by Barbara Bilach, the dancers moved rather coldy and mechanically. Bob Crowley costumed them in silvery gray and also in black, with deep Vs in the front like a suit coat. The women had skirts with a satiny bright strip of color (pink, purple, yellow) underneath. The lighting, by Brad Fields, formed shapes and angles and prismatic stripes. I did appreciate a repeated, interesting element of the choreography in which one dancer purposely danced directly in front of another. Or sometimes a pair of dancers stood back to back. In either case, they moved as a unit. One dancer with arms down to her side had outstretched arms supplied by the dancer behind her. Yet there were times when it was clear the dancers were meant to keep their bodies more tightly together so that light wouldn’t seep through gaps between them.

If this performance were the Super Bowl, it wouldn’t amount to a terribly memorable game. And the winners would be Kent and Gomes, whose flawless dancing in the excerpt from “Manon” topped the rest. If it had taken place in a football stadium, I’d have let out a big whoop when they finished their pas de deux!

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