writers on dancing


Mixed Bill

"Mozartiana," "workwithinwork," "Amazed in Burning Dreams"
American Ballet Theatre
City Center
New York, NY
November 6, 2004 (evening)

by Susan Reiter
copyright © 2004 by Susan Reiter

The mixed bills offered during ABT's invaluable autumn City Center seasons certainly are wide-ranging. On one program I saw, the most recent work was created in 1947. Others offer a range of work spanning eras from the early years of the last century to the early years of this one. This particular evening consisted of three works all created within the past 25 years, yet provided plenty of contrast and food for thought.

"Mozartiana," George Balanchine's glowing, perfectly polished jewel from 1981, is seen to ideal advantage at City Center. It's an intimate, chamber scaled work—only eleven dancers in all—and benefits from the intimacy here—especially after its delicate refinements were viewed at a disadvantage in the vast expanse of the Met last spring. Here, more than at the New York State Theatre, we can sense the sweet, protective bubble that the four young girls create around the meditative ballerina during the opening Preghiera, and appreciate how the ballet opens outward from that point on, through the frisky bounding of the male solo to the Gigue, then the stately sweeps and dips of the grown-up female quartet in the Menuet. Finally, there is the dazzling display of quicksilver virtuosity and sweet-tempered conversational byplay in the glorious Theme et Variations, where everything seems possible, before the poignant camaraderie of the Finale unites the generations and sums up the refined elegance and gracious warmth of all that has come before.

Making a debut in the incredibly refined and demanding ballerina role of this ballet must be a truly daunting challenge. One must contend, inevitably, with the shadow of Suzanne Farrell, its originator, whose persona technique and individual quirks are so richly encapsulated in the choreography. One must communicate the delicately shaped simplicity of the Preghiera, with its aura of privacy, to a theater full of people, without layering on a glaze of fervent emotion or excess emphasis. Then one must perform a sequence of intricately challenging variations, filled with moments of risk, with an air of ease and (one hopes) delight, go right into the exquisitely calibrated dialogue of the pas de deux, and sustain energy for a tricky cadenza in the finale.

Julie Kent's first time out in the role was quite a success; she truly seemed to be staking her own individual claim to the role rather than donning a garment that belonged to someone else. Her Preghiera was luminous and touching, even though her phrasing of this subtle material has a slightly drier tone compared to the lush fluency with which Veronika Part delivered it. The variations brought out a sparkle of delight in Ms. Kent's dancing, and she met their demands calmly and sensitively, while not yet attacking them with the full quota of daring they invite.

Angel Corella, remolding himself to appear less the elfin sprite and more the noble cavalier, charged through the variations boldly and fluently, savoring every space-cleaving jump and whirling through multiple pirouettes with élan and musical sensitivity. They explored the courtly dialogue of the pas de deux elegantly and with verve, but lacked a certain communicative warmth. Ms. Kent didn't allow one minor bobble just before it ended to diminish her attack in the subsequent finale, into which she plunged with glistening verve, turning the crystalline vigor of the cadenza into an appropriately bold punctuation mark.

Last spring, Herman Cornejo staked his claim as a superb interpreter of the Gigue solo, and on this occasion he impressed even further with his ability to encompass its courtly and jester-like qualities and to flow seamlessly though its sharp shifts in direction and sudden accents. His performance does not uncover the slightly jazzy flavor that some other interpreters have incorporated into this unusual and delicious solo.

The post-Balanchine era that began two years after the creation of "Mozartiana" established a void of choreographic greatness, and prompted endless seeking and questioning as to who can next advance the art of ballet in new and important directions.

Certainly for some, William Forsythe has been a (if not the) major contender in this search, and one cannot deny that he has been a major and influential figure over the past two decades, taking the ballet vocabulary to harsh (and at times truly ugly) revved-up extremes. Compared to some of his ultra-pretentious conceptual pieces, "workwithinwork," first performed in 1998 by his Frankfurt Ballet, is unburdened with extraneous baggage—unless you count the often-annoying lighting that rarely lets you truly see the dancers' faces.

It's a fierce, sleek machine of fierce, high-tech dancing, and ABT's 15 dancers did it proud. Mr. Forsythe, who often sends the individual dancer out into space to fend for him or herself (or engage in confrontation), rarely evoking a spirit of cooperation, has in this work created a sense of we're all in this together, as dancers often wait and watch upstage as others come forward. There are a lot of brief, snazzy duets, aggressive and juicy in their attack but pleasantly free of the overly intense hostility and harsh manipulation he sometimes favors. The fact that the accompaniment is the spare but evocative Duetti per due violin, Vol. 1 (heard on recording) rather than one of the cacophonous sound constructions by Thom Willems that Forsythe often uses, helps give the material a more human quality.

The costumes are glorified practice togs or swimwear, with some dancers sporting tops made of sparkly material, and the women displaying plenty of skin. These are tough babes, who will brook no nonsense, but they are at least allowed a touch of wit, and a few rare moments of delicacy, amid all the attitude. Monique Meunier blazed through her sections of the piece, cleaving through space, suggesting a lean, mean creature on the prowl. In the midst of what is very much an ensemble piece, one could not help being riveted by Carlos Lopez, who has an amazing aptitude for Forsythe's swift, knotty deconstructions of classical dance. He stood out even on a stage that included an embarrassment of male dancing riches—David Hallberg, Marcelo Gomes, Danny Tidwell, and Mr. Cornejo—as he revved himself up to warp speed, delivering seemingly impossible combinations with an air of improvisatory casualness. He gave the movement an organic quality, enabling us to see it as expressing an internal force, rather than arbitrarily imposed on the dancers. He also provided at least the hint of an emotional center; his urgent outpourings seemed like an appeal or message of warning to the others, who in the closing moments all stood and focused on intently his final, understated deliverance.

Kirk Peterson's "Amazed in Burning Dreams" matches big, busy movement with big, busy music. Philip Glass's music form the film "Mishima" opens with clanging bells and includes lots of militaristic percussion. Mr. Peterson launches propulsive squadrons of dancers along diagonals in bold, bracing maneuvers. The dancers, in surprisingly bland uniform gray-blue unitards with touches of red that pick up on the odd red semi-mask eye make-up they all sport, resemble space-age gladiators. There's energy aplenty, and the audience seemed honestly exhilarated by their dynamic effort, especially Danny Tidwell in a bounding call-to-arms solo. There's some relief from the clangor in the strangely detached duet executed with cool efficiency by Kristi Boone and Mr. Gomes.

The piece, which was created for Pacific Northwest Ballet in 1993 before ABT took it into the rep in 2001, is an efficient, sleek program closer, if that's what is called for, but the overall impact it left was of a great deal of sweat being expended in the service of blandness.

One small plea: Unless it's guaranteed as part of the company's contract with the choreographer, ABT should remove the mini-review, in excessively florid language, that passes for a program note to the Forsythe work. No other ballet gets this kind of verbal boost in the program (complete with an abundance of adjectives like "haunting," "gorgeous," "breathless" and "intricate"), and none should. Historical information, musical details or other useful background are appropriate in a program, but this florid verbiage is not.

Volume 2, No. 42
November 8, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Susan Reiter


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