American Ballet Theatre.
America's ballet audiences have an enduring affection for nineteenth-century choreography. Mention Swan Lake, and their eyes light up.
Aware of this taste for anachronism and its salutary effect at the box office, American Ballet Theatre artistic director Kevin McKenzie devoted two-thirds of the spring season to evening-length ballets dating from the nineteenth century (La Bayadere, Don Quixote, Swan Lake) or in the nineteenth-century mode (Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet and Manon; Ben Stevenson's Cinderella). Fortunately, several other choices were so strong, and the company has so many interesting dancers, that the repertoire looked far more balanced than it actually was.
The season's only true premiere was Twyla Tharp's The Elements, which headed an all-Tharp program. For The Elements Tharp chose a stunning baroque score by Jean-Fery Rebel. Beginning with a great crash of sound, it led the participants through a variety of cosmic and human paces.
Weaving in and out of windswept groupings, the dancers, led by Amanda McKerrow and Griff Braun, Martha Butler and Keith Roberts, and Kathleen Moore and Wes Chapman, along with John Selya, Gil Boggs, Maxim Belotserkovsky, Ashley Tuttle, Sandra Brown, and Shawn Black, were constantly challenged by minute, scat-like details; and yet the overall framework was relentless to the point of ferocity. I found the result more overwhelming than affecting.
Jiri Kylian created Stepping Stones for Stuttgart Ballet in 1991. This season marked its ABT premiere, and a meaningful acquisition it is. The dance consists not only of vividly condensed action, it conjures up a complete world around that action.
Clad by Joke Visser in skin-simple black trunks for the men, black leotards and sheer tights for the women, the performers manipulated strange stones incised with hieroglyphs. The pacing was that of a ritual at the time of its origin, before repetition replaces discovery.
Above there loomed an ominous black triangle designed, as was the lighting, by Michael Simon. Within the play of light, it suggested a nocturnal sky with a crescent moon and then seemed to become the wing of a giant manta ray. The musical accompaniment tastefully balanced early John Cage with Anton Webern, but the daring yet logical choreography was the unifying force.
At some point George Balanchine decided to restage his Apollo without the opening episode in which Leto gives birth to the god. Kudos to ABT for now restoring the scene and for assigning it to the luminous Kathleen Moore.
Although Balanchine was only in his early twenties when he created Apollo, it is a full-blown act of artistic affirmation, and its roles, especially those of Apollo and Terpsichore, are lifelong interpretive challenges. I found Julio Bocca's god to be a little rough-hewn; Jose Manuel Carreno brought grandeur to the role, while Vladimir Malakhov offered a refinement reminiscent of ABT's early Apollo, Igor Youskevitch. Susan Jaffe's Terpsichore had the glowing authority of a true ballerina.
When Lar Lubovitch staged A Brahms Symphony for his own company, it consisted of the first three movements of the composers Third Symphony and was assigned to twelve dancers. I remember enjoying the flowing interplay between music and dance. Now, with the fourth movement added and with nine additional dancers, the two elements seemed to be struggling for dominance. Only the solo passages seemed in harmony. The well-chosen soloists were Moore, Roberts, Sandra Brown, and Johan Renvall.
Cinderella is becoming runner-up to The Nutcracker as a ballet to lure parents with their children. That was reason enough for McKenzie to take it on. He selected the version originally made by Ben Stevenson for Washington Ballet and currently performed by his own Houston Ballet. David Walker's Houston sets were also borrowed.
There were stretches of admirable dance craftsmanship, especially in the solos for the Fairy Godmother (Christine Dunham) and her companions and in the Jester's variations that enabled Angel Corella to take command of the stage and the air above it. But on the whole the ballet lacks poetry.
Its prosiness and its pratfall humor for the Stepsisters were leavened by Yan Chen's spunky heroine. Paloma Herrera's Cinderella had a velvety sweetness, while Julie Kent used her spacious port de bras to presage Cinderella's regality.
Twenty companies in addition to ABT have performed Stevenson's Cinderella, proof of how similar ballet company repertoires are becoming. But there are still differences that distinguish them. Some troupes use a single dancing style to dominate changes in repertoire while others, notably ABT, keep their artists flexible to many styles, many periods.
One of the joys of attending multiple performances is spotting this individuality in unexpected places. For example: Keith Roberts's dark-hued Lescaut in Manon, Christina Fagundes's clearly defined Autumn and Rosalie O'Connor's delicate Summer in Cinderella, and Charles Askegard's warm-blooded Paris and Ethan Brown's authoritative Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet.
Nina Ananiashvili is so intuitive that throughout an evening-long ballet she consistently appears to be "born to the moment." Herrera is also blessed with spontaneity, but she has not yet been fully shaped by experience. I hope that Marianna Tcherkassky, whose poignant Juliet, on June 15, culminated a distinguished twenty-six-year career with the company, will be on hand to coach the gifted Herrera and others like her. It is this spontaneity that American Ballet Theatre has long cherished and that gives it a special stature.
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|Title Annotation:||Metropolitan Opera House, New York, New York|
|Article Type:||Dance Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1996|
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