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 Post subject: American Ballet Theatre - 2013 Fall NY Season
PostPosted: Thu Jun 27, 2013 6:24 pm 
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ABT released information today regarding its 2013 Fall Season at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. In pertinent part, the press release stated:

"The World Premiere of The Tempest by Alexei Ratmansky will highlight American Ballet Theatre’s inaugural Fall season at the David H. Koch Theater, October 30-November 10, 2013. The Fall 2013 season, announced today by Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie, will also feature revivals of Bach Partita by Twyla Tharp, Les Sylphides by Michel Fokine, Gong by Mark Morris and Clear by Stanton Welch.

Principal Dancers for the engagement include Paloma Herrera, Julie Kent, Gillian Murphy, Veronika Part, Xiomara Reyes, Polina Semionova, Hee Seo, Herman Cornejo, Marcelo Gomes, Daniil Simkin and Cory Stearns.

The Tempest, a ballet in one act choreographed by Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky and set to music written for the Shakespeare play by Jean Sibelius, will be given its World Premiere on Wednesday evening, October 30. Adapted from William Shakespeare's play The Tempest, the ballet will feature sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto and lighting by Robert Wierzel. Tony Award-winning director Mark Lamos will serve as the production's dramaturg. The Tempest will be given five performances at the David H. Koch Theater.

RETURNING REPERTORY

American Ballet Theatre's 2013 Fall season at the David H. Koch Theater will also include performances of George Balanchine's Theme and Variations, Alexei Ratmansky's Piano Concerto #1, which premiered during ABT’s 2013 Spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House, José Limón’s The Moor's Pavane and Frederick Ashton's A Month in the Country."

The full content of the press release can be found on the ABT website.


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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - 2013 Fall NY Season
PostPosted: Wed Oct 02, 2013 11:36 am 
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James Whiteside has been promoted to principal dancer. Michael Cooper reports for the New York Times.

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - 2013 Fall NY Season
PostPosted: Fri Oct 25, 2013 11:11 am 
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In the New York Times, Roslyn Sulcas interviews choreographer Alexei Ratmansky about his new work, "The Tempest."

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - 2013 Fall NY Season
PostPosted: Fri Oct 25, 2013 4:46 pm 
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Ormsby Wilkins discusses the music of Jean Sibelius that is used in "The Tempest."

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - 2013 Fall NY Season
PostPosted: Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:49 pm 
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A quick take on Alexei Ratmansky’s “The Tempest,” which had its world premiere tonight at the opening night of American Ballet Theatre’s Fall Season at the David H. Koch Theater.

Mr. Ratmansky’s pieces tend to grow on you over time, so I reserve judgment until I see at least one more performance. But my initial sense is that although parts of “The Tempest” are good, even brilliant, they come in bits and pieces and don’t sustain the piece as a whole.

Marcelo Gomes, who looked like a cross between Robinson Crusoe and Neptune, was a powerful Prospero, and the repeated image of him with arms and one leg stretched forward and the rest of his body held back, as if he was being pulled in two directions at once, was stunning. But Mr. Gomes didn’t have much dancing to do. The choreography for Ariel was airy and bubbly and full of jumps and turns and more jumps and more turns, and Daniil Simkin had a field day with it (dancing hyperactive sprites with flaming orange spiked hair, solo, is right up his alley) -- but the excitement left the stage whenever he did. Herman Cornejo, as Caliban, also executed Mr. Ratmansky’s choreography brilliantly, but too much of it looked like it had been borrowed from the choreography for the Fakir in “La Bayadere.” The duets for Sarah Lane, who played Prospero’s daughter Miranda, either with Mr. Gomes or Joseph Gorak, who danced Ferdinand, were beautifully constructed and executed, but there was precious little of it. And the overall sense of darkness that permeated the piece (except when Ms. Lane was dancing), though not surprising given the libretto, dampened whatever enthusiasm might have existed for what little choreography there was to be excited about. Indeed, there was more excitement generated on the ‘grand promenade’ by the sound and light show for the ersatz ‘tempest’ that was the theme for ABT’s post-performance gala dinner than there was on stage.

Again, however, Mr. Ratmansky’s pieces often look better on repeat viewing, perhaps “The Tempest” will as well.

More to follow.


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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - 2013 Fall NY Season
PostPosted: Fri Nov 01, 2013 12:28 pm 
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Alastair Macaulay reviews the Wednesday, October 30, 2013 opening gala for the New York Times.

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - 2013 Fall NY Season
PostPosted: Fri Nov 01, 2013 12:51 pm 
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In the New York Times, Michael Cooper reports on the discovery of an orchestration of "Les Sylphides" that was commissioned from composer Benjamin Britten for $300 by Ballet Theatre in 1941. It will be performed tonight (Friday, November 1, 2013).

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - 2013 Fall NY Season
PostPosted: Sun Nov 03, 2013 5:36 pm 
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In the New York Times, Alastair Macaulay reviews the Friday, November 1, 2013 performance of "Les Sylphides," Twyla Tharp's "Bach Partita" and Mark Morris' "Gong."

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - 2013 Fall NY Season
PostPosted: Tue Nov 05, 2013 12:27 pm 
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American Ballet Theatre
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

October 30, November 1, November 2 (M & E)
“The Tempest” (new Ratmansky); “Aftereffect” (new Gomes); “Bach Partita” (Tharp revival); “Les Sylphides” (Fokine revival); “Clear” (Welch revival); “Gong” (Morris revival); “Theme and Variations”

-- by Jerry Hochman

American Ballet Theatre celebrated the first week of its twelve-performance 2013 Fall Season at the David H. Koch Theater with two world premieres, revivals of four ballets that have not been in the repertory for many years, and the freshly-costumed return of a Balanchine classic. Based on pre-season hype, the most eagerly awaited ballet was Alexei Ratmansky’s “The Tempest.” But the revival of Twyla Tharp’s “Bach Partita,” which premiered in 1983 and hasn’t been seen since 1985, proved to be the more significant event. Also particularly noteworthy have been the performances of Marcelo Gomes, who danced in four of the seven ballets. This season, Mr. Gomes is putting on a dance-as-a-performing-art clinic, and in these performances alone is demonstrating why he is the most valuable dancer on ABT’s roster.

As posted above, my initial take on Mr. Ratmansky’s new production of “The Tempest,” which had its world premiere at ABT’s gala opening night celebration on October 30, was that parts of it are good, even brilliant, but they come in bits and pieces and don’t sustain the piece as a whole. A second viewing on November 2 has not changed my opinion. Although “The Tempest” should be seen for the performances of Mr. Gomes, Sarah Lane, Daniil Simkin, and Herman Cornejo, overall it’s somewhat disappointing.

The piece is choreographed to Jean Sibelius’s “The Tempest (Incidental Music), Op. 109,” and therein lies much of the problem. The quality of Sibelius’s composition is not the issue – to me, the music is a combination of program music and tone poems that captures the essence of the play perfectly. But necessarily the incidental music tells the story in the form of highlights – incidents and moods – condensed from a larger whole. But when applied choreographically, the result is an incidental visual version of the larger story. Indeed, the program notes begin with this concession: “The ballet is at once a fragmented narrative as well as a meditation on some of the themes of Shakespeare’s play.” That it is. But although a series of vignettes can tell the story succinctly and perhaps sufficiently, a broader brush is needed to tell the story well.

The ballet begins with Prospero, a master of occult arts, conjuring a storm that causes his brother Antonio, the usurper of his title, Antonio’s co-conspirators, including Alonso, the King of Naples, Alonso’s son Ferdinand, and various hangers-on, to be shipwrecked on a dreary island in the middle of nowhere – the same island on which Prospero and his three year old daughter Miranda had landed twelve years earlier after being put to sea, presumably to drown, by the usurpers. Prospero enlists the aid of one of two ‘servants’ that he has recruited from the island – Ariel, an airy spirit who longs for freedom (the other being Caliban, the deformed offspring of a witch) – to help him carry out his plan to separate the conspirators, make the son of one of the usurpers and his daughter fall in love, and ultimately regain his title as Duke of Milan and unite the dukedom’s dueling parties. In the process, Caliban assaults Miranda, gets drunk with a couple of clownish servants, and Prospero and his minions summon more storms. Ultimately, Prospero’s wizardry is fulfilled, Ariel is given his freedom, and all parties except Caliban leave the island to return to Milan.

The entire piece runs approximately 45 minutes, and looks as compressed and runny as the above description.

But that’s not to say that much of what’s there isn’t first rate. The dances for Miranda (Ms. Lane) and Prospero (Mr. Gomes), which show her love and respect for her father and his protective love for his daughter, illustrate reverential love in a nutshell. The two duets with Ferdinand are distinctively different from that – and different from each other. The first, displaying ‘instant’ love, looks just like that: playful and effervescent youthful love in a nutshell. The second, when it’s clear that the two will be married, portrays ‘youthful joy’ in a nutshell. For example, in one simple step Mr. Ratmansky says everything about how Miranda feels when she learns she and Ferdinand will marry: In the course of executing a combination of steps as she happily glides across the stage, Ms. Lane suddenly punctuates the phrase by tapping one foot gently but deliberately onto the stage floor. It’s a brief exclamation (repeated shortly thereafter) that clearly transmits her happiness in a childlike way. It’s a perfect step in its context, and one that is very different from choreographic expressions of ‘passionate joy’ in which the ballerina typically soars upward.

It’s a rare talent that can pare complex emotions to their core and express them choreographically, as Mr. Ratmansky does. But just because they can be shown succinctly, in a nutshell, doesn’t mean that they should be. These dances are all too brief and segue into the next vignette too quickly. They should have had more time to breathe, but the score doesn’t permit it.

A somewhat different problem arises with the choreography for Ariel, which is airy and bubbly and full of jumps and turns and more jumps and more turns, and Mr. Simkin had a field day with it (portraying a miniature white tornado of a sprite with flaming orange spiked hair is right up his alley). And later in the piece, when Ariel is carrying out one of Prospero’s directives, the sight of Mr. Simkin costumed like a fearsome goddess (a ‘harpy’) with pronounced naked breasts, bathed in red light and flapping his oversized cape/wings to scare the conspirators – sort of a cross between Xena and a Great Leonopteryx (respectively, the ‘warrior princess’ from the television series and the venerated ‘big red bird’ from “Avatar”) – is unintentionally hilarious, but unforgettable. Mr. Simkin brought Ariel to life, but the excitement left the stage whenever he did.

Everything else about the piece was disappointing. As Caliban, Mr. Cornejo executed Mr. Ratmansky’s choreography with just enough character to be both savage and sympathetic. But too much of the movement quality looked like it had been borrowed from the choreography for the Fakir in “La Bayadere.” Worse was the brief reference to Caliban’s attempted rape of Miranda (much too insignificantly portrayed), and the scene where he gets drunk with two of Alonzo’s servants (unimaginative, and, as staged, a comic interlude before the main action resumes). These scenes should provide essential insights into Caliban as savage cannibal, and Caliban as victim. Treating them lightly avoids displeasing viewers, but also misleads them into concluding that Caliban’s remaining on the island represents some sort of cruel abandonment.

Further, Mr. Ratmansky’s treatment of secondary characters is, at best, superficial. Alonso, Antonio, and the others are there because they’re in the play, but they are relatively empty vessels. And the use of dancers clad in blue, with spiked blue hair (for the women) and blue mohawks (for the men), as both island spirits and representative of the force of the tempests, collectively called “Chorus,” just looked silly. Finally, the overall sense of darkness that permeates the piece (sets and costumes by the estimable Santo Loquasto) dampened whatever enthusiasm might have existed for what little choreography there was to be excited about. Indeed, there was more excitement generated on the ‘grand promenade’ by the sound and light show for the ersatz ‘tempest’ that was the theme for ABT’s post-performance gala dinner than there was on stage.

Mr. Gomes, who looked part Robinson Crusoe and part Neptune, was a wondrously powerful Prospero. But except for his delightful duets with Ms. Lane (whom he partnered as if she were weightless) and several Hamlet-esque soliloquys, he didn’t have much dancing to do. Mr. Gorak didn’t have much acting to do, but he was a competent partner, and he and Ms. Lane looked good together. Ms. Lane was a perfect Miranda: as staged, she was moonlight on a dark and stormy night. Her role could have been cardboard: the sweetly innocent and obedient daughter who falls for the first boy she’s seen since she was three. But her acting made Miranda believable, and illustrates how important it is to cast a ballerina who not only can dance a role flawlessly, but can believably act it and look it.

“Bach Partita” requires little in the way of description other than that it choreographed by Ms. Tharp to music by Bach (“Partita No. 2 in D Minor for solo violin”). That says it all. The piece isn’t the Tharp one has come to know through dances such as “In the Upper Room,” “The Golden Section ,” “Deuce Coupe,” “Sinatra Suite,” or “Push Comes to Shove.” It’s serious, without a hint of Ms. Tharp’s usual wit. It’s a bit difficult to watch because it is so serious, but it’s impossible to ignore. That it has been rescued, and performed as brilliantly as it was by the ABT dancers (many of whom excelled in “In the Upper Room”), is cause for celebration.

The piece has three lead couples, and is divided into five segments. In some segments, the lead couple is supported by four couples, in another by three couples, and all are complemented in the final section by sixteen corps dancers. Of the lead couples, Gillian Murphy and Mr. Gomes, and Stella Abrera and Calvin Royal, were sensational. Mr. Royal, who joined the company last year and is a member of the corps, is being pushed quickly. Although he’s still rough around the edges, his obvious enthusiasm and natural partnering ability have already made him an audience favorite. The other lead couple, Polina Semionova and James Whiteside, were very good as well, but didn’t look quite as comfortable with the choreography. Dancing the supporting quartet of couples were Devon Teuscher, Christine Shevchenko, Yuriko Kajiya, Luciana Paris, Blaine Hoven, Sterling Baca, Mr. Gorak, and Luis Ribagorda. All were excellent, but Ms. Teuscher, Ms. Shevchenko, and Mr. Ribagorda were stand-outs. The trio of couples consisted of Misty Copeland, Skylar Brandt, Nicole Graniero, Craig Salstein, Arron Scott, and Gabe Stone Shayer, each of whom performed superbly.

Also noteworthy was the performance of the Partita by violin soloist Charles Yang. Mr. Yang provided a concert every bit as glorious as the choreography on stage, and he received an appropriately enthusiastic ovation from the audience - and the cast.

Opening night was the setting for another world premiere. “Aftereffect,” a piece d’occasion choreographed by Mr. Gomes to the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s “Souvenir de Florence,” is a contemporary dance for eight men. It’s powerful (but not macho), with interesting patterning and sequencing. Mr. Gomes’s choreography continues to develop, and “Aftereffect” is another positive step. Led by Sasha Radetsky, each of the dancers (all but Mr. Radetsky are members of the corps) was given a chance to shine, and all executed Mr. Gomes’s choreography with gusto.

The opening night audience was also treated to a fine performance of George Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations” by Gillian Murphy and Mr. Whiteside, which featured new costumes by Zack Brown. [The costumes are gorgeous, but the colors (peach and red-orange), are not at all regal-looking.] Ms. Murphy danced impeccably; Mr. Whiteside was somewhat off in his turns, but otherwise did quite well in his ABT debut in the role. On Saturday evening, Ms. Semionova (also in an ABT debut) and Cory Stearns assumed the lead roles, and both performed with appropriate regality. The leads on Saturday afternoon were Isabella Boylston and Mr. Simkin. Except for somewhat ginched shoulders and monochromatic demeanor (she didn’t smile until the concluding section), hers was a fine and promising ABT debut in the role, one to which she appears well-suited. Mr. Simkin, on the other hand, decided to add characterization and personal bravura touches where there aren’t any. He didn’t need to pretend he was Prince Siegfried, with his chin in the air and nose pulled back into his head. And he didn’t need to emote profusely during the pas de deux, acting like his partner was his long lost love and that he would be the love of her life. And he didn’t need to milk his arabesques during his initial diagonal, or do double turns when other dancers were doing one, just because he could. Whatever he was dancing wasn’t Balanchine. Losing control during some of his turns didn’t help, nor did the painfully slow tempo of the orchestra, conducted by Charles Barker, presumably to accommodate the principals (he conducted at a noticeably less lugubrious pace on opening night).

The four performances also included three additional revivals: “Les Sylphides,” “Clear,” and Mark Morris’s “Gong.”

“Les Sylphides” is a relic. It is a Romantic ballet choreographed by Michael Fokine that debuted in St. Petersburg in 1908, and was on ABT’s initial program in 1940. It hasn’t been performed by ABT since 2005. Choreographed to music by Frederic Chopin, “Les Sylphides” is famous for being the first plotless ballet. Not only is there no story - the characters have no names, and there’s no emotion other than the emotion that a sylph might naturally generate just by being a sylph. It has significant value as ballet history, but for many contemporary audience-members, it’s a sure cure for insomnia. As the woman seated next to me said to her companion: “George, is it the music or the dancing that’s making you fall asleep?” I heard no response from George.

But focusing on style and performance quality can convert the tedium to excitement.

Friday’s cast was led by Ms. Seo (‘Prelude’ and ‘Pas de Deux’), Ms. Boylston (‘Mazurka’), Ms. Lane (‘Waltz’), and Thomas Forster. In the same ‘roles,’ Saturday afternoon’s cast was Veronika Part, Ms. Semionova, Melanie Hamrick, and Mr. Stearns – except Ms. Semionova danced the pas de deux. All were either role debuts or ABT debuts.

Mr. Forster, a member of the corps, did remarkably well as the character that in other ballets would be called the Poet. Mr. Stearns performed admirably as well, but he had a tougher road to hoe partnering Ms. Semionova, who is considerably taller and more solid than Ms. Seo. The finest performances, in terms of proper execution of the Romantic style, were provided by Ms. Part, Ms. Seo, and Ms. Lane.

On Friday, Ms. Boylston did a fine job with the ‘Marzurka’ leaps and jumps. But the Romantic style does not come naturally to her. She appeared relatively earthy rather than weightless, and she consistently kept her arms straight (and at one point flapped her hands as if she was trying to fly). Ms. Seo did a much better job with her sections – she was softly rounded throughout, delicate, and looked every inch the sylph. But Ms. Lane is a natural Romantic stylist, and was the most successful of the three. Not only were her arms and hands correct, but she moved with a soft, effortless fluidity, that sense of being ethereal, that is a cornerstone of Romantic style. I particularly liked the way she moved her arms and hands forward as imagined music flowed from her mouth, spreading the silent sound for all to hear.

On Saturday, Ms. Semionova also did a fine job with the ‘Mazurka’. But she’s is not a sylph, and to me failed to look in any way ethereal. She also was sparkly – a quality that served her well in “Theme and Variations,” but was out of place in “Les Sylphides.” Ms. Hamrick did a fine job with the ‘Waltz’ section, but lacked Ms. Lane’s polished execution. But Ms. Part danced the definitive ‘Prelude’. Her performance stopped the show – literally. Following the ‘Prelude’, the audience continued applauding, trying to coax her out for a curtain call.
Eventually the performance moved on without it, while the audience was still applauding Ms. Part. The usual order of performance has the dancer who performs the ‘Prelude’ dance the pas de deux, as Ms. Seo did on Friday. But at Saturday’s performance, Ms. Semionova danced the pas de deux. The change was not the result of a sudden injury – it was listed that way in the program. To me, it was a mistake, and audience-members with whom I spoke afterward were dumbfounded that Ms. Part did not dance the pas de deux.

Mr. Welch’s “Clear,” which premiered in 2001 and hasn’t been in ABT’s repertory since 2007, is a fine example of an (almost) all male dance. Choreographed to a variety of Bach pieces, Mr. Welch has choreographed nearly non-stop movement (until certain dancers calmly walk offstage when their segments have concluded), with every part of each body moving in strange and wondrous ways -- neck and head rotations, arms moving like short staffs (the weapon that Little John wielded in the Robin Hood stories), leg kicks….culminating in a slow duet between the lead male dancer and the lone woman (Mr. Gomez and Julie Kent on Friday, Sasha Radetsky and Paloma Herrera on Saturday). It was a ******* sink of movement – but there was no sense of awkwardness, or of movement for movement’s sake, and it was structured such that the eye never tired of the visual cacophony. Mr. Gomes was extraordinary – movement quality that was both angular and lyrical, every gesture crisp, repetitive turns in second on a dime, and his usual sensitive partnering. But each member of the two casts performed exceptionally well. In addition to the principals, and without diminishing the performances of all, I found the performances of Mr. Royal and Mr. Ribagorda in the afternoon, and Daniel Mantei and Mr. Shayer in the evening, to be particularly and unexpectedly exciting. As I overheard one audience member say to another, with reference to the men: “Where have they been?”

The least significant of the ballets in these opening programs was Mr. Morris’s “Gong.” “Gong” may well be a fine ballet, but it’s hidden behind Isaac Misrahi’s pastel palette (each of the ten dancers is costumed in a different pastel color, except that all dancers wear the same contrasting colored shoes that pick up the color of whatever tinted light might be shining on them), and it’s buried in gimmicks and take-offs on the oriental themes in the score (“Tabuh-Tabuhan” by Colin McPhee). Structured in five segments, the best parts of the ballet were the two pas de deux, danced by Ms. Murphy and Mr. Radetsky, and Ms. Copeland and Mr. Gomes, each of which was performed without artifice, and in complete silence.

Overall, however, the opening performances of ABT’s Fall Season provided the audience with interesting new ballets and revivals. Of at least equal importance, it also provided casting opportunities for ABT’s soloists and members of the corps that are rarely offered during the company’s Spring Season at the Metropolitan Opera House. As an opportunity to see dancers one might not otherwise see, and dancers in roles one might not otherwise see them dance, this brief season should not be missed. ABT’s Fall Season continues through November 10.


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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - 2013 Fall NY Season
PostPosted: Tue Nov 05, 2013 7:51 pm 
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In the New York Observer, Robert Gottlieb reviews Alexei Ratmansky's "The Tempest," Balanchine's "Theme and Variations" and Twyla Tharp's "Bach Partita."

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - 2013 Fall NY Season
PostPosted: Thu Nov 07, 2013 1:21 pm 
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In the Newark Star-Ledger, Robert Johnson reviews "The Tempest."

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - 2013 Fall NY Season
PostPosted: Fri Nov 08, 2013 2:22 pm 
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In the Huffington Post, Carla Escoda reviews the Wednesday, November 6, 2013 performance of "Les Sylphides," "The Moor's Pavane" and "Gong."

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - 2013 Fall NY Season
PostPosted: Fri Nov 08, 2013 2:54 pm 
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In the New York Times, Brian Seibert reviews the Saturday, November 2, 2013 performances of Stanton Welch's "Clear," Fokine's "Les Sylphides" and Balanchine's "Theme and Variations' and the Sunday, November 3, 2013 performance of "Theme and Variations," Twyla Tharp's "Bach Partita" and Alexei Ratmansky's "The Tempest."

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - 2013 Fall NY Season
PostPosted: Fri Nov 08, 2013 8:31 pm 
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In the New York Times, Gia Kourlas reviews the Thursday, November 7, 2013 performance of Balanchine's "Theme and Variations," Ashton's "A Month in the Country" and Ratmansky's "Piano Concerto No. 1."

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - 2013 Fall NY Season
PostPosted: Sat Nov 09, 2013 7:18 pm 
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American Ballet Theatre
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

November 7, 2013
“Theme and Variations”; “A Month in the Country”; “Piano Concerto No. 1”

-- by Jerry Hochman

When last we visited Alexei Ratmansky’s “Piano Concero #1,” it was the third ballet in Mr. Ratmansky’s ‘Shostakovich Trilogy’, which premiered during American Ballet Theatre’s Spring, 2013 season at the Metropolitan Opera House. At that time, I saw it as the most abstract of the three ballets, but nevertheless having significant connections to the overall theme of the Trilogy.

As the most abstract of the three, “Piano Concerto #1” is also is the most easily excised from the Trilogy. This ABT has elected to do, and the piece, now independent, began a brief run in the course of ABT’s Fall 2013 Season at the David H. Koch Theater last night. It was a wise decision. It appears to me that certain modifications have been made since its premiere, which would not be surprising since the composition selected for the third piece in the trilogy was changed at the relatively last minute. But in addition to any minor tinkering that may have been made, pivotal connections to the overall Trilogy theme that I observed last year aren’t there, or have been modified to eliminate any sense of missing links. The only remnants are the backdrop (with cut-out red symbols), the costumes (unitards, grey on one side and red on the other, for the corps, and red leotards for the lead women), and an unsettled overall atmosphere that moves from celebration to apprehension at the drop of a musical phrase.

But the changes, at least in terms of “Piano Concerto #1” being a standalone, have been for the better. As an independent piece, it now appears purely abstract, with sweeping movement quality, compelling if meaningless modulated phrasing, and differences in choreographic style and visual emphasis between the two lead couples that now needs no explanation. And it’s wonderful – on its own, it is one of Mr. Ratmansky’s finest abstract works.

The cast made a difference as well. Last night Gillian Murphy undertook the first couple’s lead female role (as she was supposed to have done last spring until she was sidelined with an injury). Both she and Mr. Royal, who reprised his role, executed Mr. Ratmansky’s choreography with vigor, and without the inappropriate majesty that last year’s first cast brought to the roles.

But the story of Thursday’s performance was the second couple, this time assayed by corps dancers Skylar Brandt and Gabe Stone Shayer. Mr. Shayer, who joined the company as a member of the corps only a year ago, is a dancer with a naturally engaging quality of youthful enthusiasm. He’s also an excellent partner and crisp stylist, and looked perfectly at home with the Ratmansky choreography.

Ms. Brandt was another matter. In a word, this young corps dancer, whom I highlighted a few seasons ago following her performance in Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room,” was sensational. Without any apparent sense of hesitation or apprehension in her first featured role, she lit up the stage, moving with fearless attack, quicksilver speed and the precise footwork that marked her performance in the Tharp piece. In the overall scheme of things Ms. Brandt is relatively new to the company (she joined ABT’s corps in June, 2011), and there are many extremely capable dancers ahead of her in the pecking order. Consequently, her assignment to featured roles may be limited for awhile. But she exemplifies the quality of the young ballerinas that ABT has at its core.

An example of a dancer still in ABT’s corps who might be considered ahead in the pecking order is Gemma Bond, who joined the company in 2008 after a stint with The Royal Ballet. Ms. Bond (who is also a nascent choreographer) should be given more roles than she gets. On Thursday night, she was a superb Vera in Sir Frederick Ashton’s “A Month in the Country,” dancing with all the combination of youthful vibrancy and petulance, as well as precise execution, that Sarah Lane brought to the role last spring.

But Ms. Bond also looked more appropriate in the role because the overall cast was more convincing.

As I mentioned in a prior review, to me it’s not only critical for a ballerina to be able to be able to dance the steps flawlessly, she must also be able to act the part and look the part in order to make the role work. Here, Ms. Kent, in the pivotal role of Natalia Petrovna, satisfied all three criteria. Although I felt Ms. Kent’s portrayal was overly mannered, to an extent that’s in Ashton’s choreography, and her execution was impeccable. But more than the execution of the steps, having a more realistic-looking Natalia Petrovna made the relationship between her and the other characters naturally make more visual sense. Ms. Kent looked like she could have been the wife of her husband Yslaev, played by Victor Barbee, rather than his child bride (at the performance I reviewed last year, Hee Seo, ABT’s youngest principal, danced Natalia Petrovna). And she looked like she could have had a significantly younger teenaged ‘ward’, and rival, in Ms. Bond. As a consequence of the more proper balance between Natalia and Vera, their respective attraction to Beliaev, Natalia’s son’s tutor, appeared more realistic as well. And even though Daniil Simkin did his best to steal the performance (he was extraordinary as Natalia and Yslaev’s young son, and his pas de deux with a rubber ball was both childlike and edgy), a young child’s trying to be the center of attention is not unusual. Finally, guest artist Guillaume Cote was superbly correct as the tutor and object of both women’s fantasies. Although I still find the ballet both affected and ponderous, a month in an evening, the different cast made it reasonably believable.

The evening opened with a repeat performance of George Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations,” led by Polina Semionova and Cory Stears, which I previously reviewed. The conducting by Ormsby Wilkins, who also conducted the performance with this same cast last week, is somewhat more upbeat than in other performances I’ve seen this season, but it’s still considerably slower than as presented by New York City Ballet. And the ballet as ABT presents it is filled with dead space (periods of silence during which dancers move into position, or just catch a breath) that would be unthinkable in the NYCB version. Regardless of whether one or the other is a more accurate rendition, the NYCB version looks better.


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