writers on dancing


Repertory Riches

"Apollo," "Gong, "The Green Table"
American Ballet Theater
New York City Center
New York, NY
October 21, 2005

by Lisa Rinehart
copyright ©2005 by Lisa Rinehart

ABT possesses a treasure trove of one-act ballets created by the world's most gifted choreographers. These gems glitter in the exotic intimacy of the New York City Center, providing evidence that, when expertly handled, dance can be meaningful and moving—not just because of excellence in execution, but because of content. This is saying a lot for an art form that originated as a stylized display of courtly elegance. "Apollo" (Balanchine), "Gong" (Morris) and "The Green Table" (Jooss) make a formidable display exemplary of ABT's breadth of repertory choice. These evenings don't tend to sell out big opera houses, but there's arguably more bang for the buck.

Of course, choreography is only half the story. The balance is in performance, and with few exceptions ABT's dancers delivered. Unfortunately, one of those exceptions was Jose Manuel Carreno in the title role of "Apollo." Physically a godlike speciman, Carreno was uncharacteristically awkward and never managed to produce the single-minded masculine energy that is the dance's epicenter. The result was perfectly illustrated by the diminishment of one of the ballet's iconic images wherein Apollo, crouching low, chariot-driver style, holds his muses before him like horses driven forward into the arc of the sun. Carreno looked uncomfortable here as though his skittish team was dragging him somewhere he didn't want to go. Not really sun god behavior. Perhaps more performances will bolster his inner machismo. Julie Kent, on the other hand, could be as perfect a Terpsichore as there's ever been. Her relaxed and playful performance was spot on and seemed to wash calm over the jitters of Irina Dvorovenko (Polyhymnia) and Stella Abrera (Calliope). I prefer the starkness of Balanchine's excised version of Apollo (no birth sequence), but Amanda Cobb was very fine as Apollo's mother and this ballet's crystalline beauty is undiminished by any small flaws in execution.

"Gong," the most contemporary offering of the evening, is not one of Mark Morris' stronger pieces. Depending on how you look at it, his usual musicality is either lacking, or precisely present, as the dance looks and feels like the disturbing reverberations of a giant gong having been smacked too closely to one's ear. The music, Kevin McPhee's Tabuh-Tabuhan, is challenging in its randomness and the dancers seem befuddled by their own pointe shoes. Morris' movement in "Gong" has glimmers of Indian classical dance (Morris frequently travels to India for inspiration), but such flat-footed delicacy is hard to translate onto a foot tightly shod in canvas, satin and glue. Add Isaac Mizrahi's incongruously heavy tutus and goofy gold cuffs at the ankles and one is pining for a quiet room. There are however, a few striking duets when Morris sets the music aside and—presto, there with the silence is Morris' usual originality and humor.

The highlight of the program was Anna Markaard's expert staging of the Kurt Jooss masterpiece, "The Green Table," a new and timely addition to ABT's repertory. The ballet's anti-war sentiments are literal and clear—like medieval woodcuts—but since when is ballet an effective forum for ideology? Since July 3, 1932, to be exact. This was when Jooss premiered the ballet in Paris to an audience still reeling from the horrors of World War I. Casting himself in the role of Death, Jooss created one of the most powerful political statements of his time—eight scenes in the German Expressionistic style depicting the tragedy of war. In America, seventy-three years later, as we fumble through a war of questionable legitimacy, "The Green Table" still holds up.

Beginning with its most recognized sequence in which black-suited diplomats in grotesque masks diddle with diplomacy over a green felted table, Jooss' dance is scathingly current. This section alone should be required viewing for any public policy makers presuming license to put other people's lives at risk. The six scenes that follow are painterly illustrations of the ugly consequences that politicians so ably ignore when they opt for war: The Farewells, The Battle, The Refugees, The Partisan, The Brothel, and The Aftermath. The piece ends with a reprise of the opening—a blatant suggestion that war, like death, remains inevitable. The character of Death (David Hallberg) is not remotely subtle and moves through these scenes as a skull-faced monolith clad in abbreviated gladiator wear. Anything less than a command performance can render this role comical, but Hallberg doesn't disappoint. He's absolutely superb and along with the rest of the cast, supplies the gravity and pathos this dance deserves. "The Green Table" encapsulates into a dance unwieldy ideas that have inspired tomes of literature and hours of debate—it must be seen. Kudos to ABT for making that possible.

Volume 3, No. 39
October 24, 2005
copyright ©2005 Lisa Rinehart



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last updated on October 24, 2005