American Ballet Theatre
New Jersey Performing Arts Center
Newark, New Jersey
November 20, 2010
"Company B," Seven Sonatas," "Everything Doesn't Happen At Once"
American Ballet Theatre returned to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center last night for the first time in more than ten years. For this one-night-only performance, ABT selected three one-act pieces from its repertory that were representative of its “contemporary” side. While the works and the performances were very good, the program choice wasn’t. For a once-in-a-decade appearance, something more traditional, if even only a pas de deux, would have been welcome, and something not seen across the Hudson within the past year might have attracted more interest.
That having been said, the three works presented last night ranged from ‘superb’ to ‘much better than expected,’ and the evening provided an opportunity to see some memorable choreography and wonderful dancing.
The program opened with Paul Taylor’s “Company B,” fresh from ABT performances last spring at the Met. Overall, the piece was danced somewhat more balletically than it should have been. But Mr. Taylor’s work often lends itself to a balletic gloss, and the performance quality was stellar enough to overcome any complaints by stylistic purists. Particularly outstanding were Marian Butler, partnered by Roddy Doble, in the “Pennsylvania Polka” segment, Craig Salstein and accompanying entourage in “Oh Johnny, Oh Jonny, Oh," and Misty Copeland’s intoxicating “Rum and Coca Cola.” It might be a stretch for her, but having seen her in this and as the Gypsy Girl in “Don Quixote,” Ms. Copeland might make an interesting “Carmen,” should ABT decide to take chances.
The second piece was the jewel of the evening: Alexei Ratmansky’s “Seven Sonatas,” which ABT performed in Manhattan during its brief fall ‘season’ at Avery Fisher Hall a year ago. It was luminous when I saw it then, and remains so on subsequent viewing.
Using seven keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti as his foundation, Mr.Ratmansky has constructed a series of independent and yet interdependent dances for three men and three women, and in the process transformed the baroque musical framework into a work of timeless visual lyricism. With the simple white costumes created by Holly Hynes, and Brad Fields’s gentle lighting, it was like watching silk in motion – hardly a description that could be applied to the music alone. Solos yield to pairs which yield to trios, partners mix and match, there are wicked changes of direction and backward movements, and yet it’s all woven seamlessly – every sequence is there because it should be there. Though plotless, the piece is rich with emotional nuance and meaningful interaction. While each of the dancers -- Stella Abrera, Xiomara Reyes, Christine Shevchenko, Gennadi Sevaliev, Herman Cornejo, and David Hallberg – performs at a level where perfection is a virtual given, Ms. Shevchenko was a pleasant surprise. Still in the corps, she danced with rare presence and control (she handled a slight slip deftly, without missing a beat), combined with a sense of playfulness and joy.
Mr. Ratmansky is a consummate craftsman. Even when I find his works less than fully cohesive, as I did with “Namouna” for New York City Ballet last spring, his choreography displays an almost rhapsodic emotional core, and always seems to spring as much from the heart as from the head. In that sense, and even though there’s no obvious similarity, his work frequently brings to mind Jerome Robbins’s creations. And like Robbins, Ratmansky’s work is “contemporary ballet,” with the accent on “ballet.”
Which brings me to “Everything Doesn’t Happen at Once.” I missed Mr. Millepied’s piece when it premiered with ABT a year ago, but from the comments I heard afterward, I expected the worst. And with the opening movement, I thought it was just another pre-packaged “contemporary ballet” with the accent on “contemporary.” Mr. Millipied is not yet the craftsman that Mr. Ratmansky is, and he appears to use the tempo of the music to which he choreographs (in this case, by David Lang) more as commandments to be followed then sources of inspiration. But, except for that opening movement, and even though it suffered in comparison to the pieces by Ratmansky and Taylor, for what it was I found it to be a pleasant surprise.
“Everything Doesn’t Happen at Once,” fortunately, lives up to its title. After the initial movement, where everything really did seem to happen all at once, the piece settles down as if to dissect the initial frenzy into component parts. It doesn’t always work – but it is unexpectedly engaging, with an effervescence that prompted a standing ovation at its end. And the repeating images of Daniil Simkin as a sort of human self-propelled catapult who repeatedly is snared in a net of dancers is not one I’m likely to forget any time soon.
But in addition to the sparkle, Mr. Millepied’s work also had a soul.
Toward the mid-point of the piece, the action yields to a deceptively simple-looking duet danced by Isabella Boylston and Marcelo Gomes, choreographed to continuing and incessantly repetitive “gongs” of sound that give the duet a deliberate, almost ritualistic quality, with an understated but undeniable passion simmering beneath a surface of subdued sensuality - perhaps a “Bugaku” of another time and place.
Mr. Gomes surrounds and almost seems to absorb Ms. Boylston as the duet progresses to its climax. His eyes, and his arms, are everywhere as he transports Ms. Boylston from one step to another, from one level of choreographic intimacy to another. But though Mr. Gomes was the dominant force, Ms. Boylston, assigned a more limited movement vocabulary, was at all times the duet’s ripe, exposed heart. The two of them were mesmerizing.
Finally, a word about NJPAC. I last visited NJPAC when it was relatively new and still somewhat of a work in progress. It is now a magnificent performing arts facility, and Prudential Hall, the largest of the three performance spaces and the venue for ABT’s program, is a jewel. Large, but intimate at the same time (and raked – at least in the orchestra – so that sight lines are not likely to be obstructed), it provides an opportunity for NJ residents who prefer to avoid public transportation or the game of chicken that is getting into Manhattan to see companies that may not get to perform on a regular basis in this metropolitan area, and it should be a magnet for ballet/dance companies that cannot afford New York costs.