writers on dancing


ABT Winds Down A Satisfying Season
"Gong," "Dark Elegies," "In the Upper Room"
American Ballet Theatre
City Center
New York, NY
November 3, 2005

by Susan Reiter
copyright ©2005 by Susan Reiter 

It was exciting to see the repertory for ABT's City Center turn out to be as consistently rewarding in actuality as it had seemed on paper, when the schedule was first announced. A program like this one, with exceptional works by one of the great choreographers of the first half of the 20th century plus two of the undisputed geniuses of our era, provided an evening of dance that inspired admiration, reflection, and sheer gratitude.

I was struck by how both Mark Morris' "Gong" and Antony Tudor's "Dark Elegies" present us with very democratic societies, in which the individual keeps being absorbed into the larger picture. Principal dancers in "Gong" don't necessarily have the biggest roles; here was Julie Kent, surging through the intricate lines and circles of Morris's ingenious athletic/exotic inventions, graciously sharing the stage, and only in the final few minutes getting a brief solo moment.

Morris fills the stage with surging energy and keeps surprising us with what comes next. For a while, the men and women seem to be alternating. The men advance with a weighty grandeur. In their assertively colored jumpsuits set off by gold belts, ankle bands and earrings, they evoke both Star Trek and Indonesian deities. The five pigtailed women who are like handmaidens to the tutu-ed ballerinas also have a "Star Trek" sleekness to their sleek, tiny-skirted costumes. The five primary women radiate a cool hauteur as well as a robust engagement with Morris' pristine yet juicy pointe choreography.

Lines of dancers slash across the stage, both advancing directly towards us and charging through along diagonals. Several times, a group forms a circle that makes its way across and into the wings while it is wheeling around. The two duets in silence that Morris has placed between the movements of Colin McPhee's luscious score manage to be both witty and profound, as the dancers test one another's degree of trust, offer support and challenge each other. Stylized prayer gestures and arms bound over the head as a tilt add to the intriguing geometry of a luxuriant, generous dance that reveals new wonders with each viewing.

I felt the absence of Kent in this cast (one of several during the season) of "Dark Elegies," having been mesmerized by her stately vulnerability in the duet in the first cast. Simone Messmer and Isaac Stappas made you believe they were a couple who shared a profound loss, and who could never be the same again because of it, but the poignancy that Kent had provided was absent. The man at the center of the third song, behind and around whom linked trios glide in simple folk-flavored patterns, seems to be a figure of comfort and healing, perhaps the village pastor. Jared Matthews performed the role with luminous simplicity, as though trying to spread a sense of healing calm amid the expanse of grief surrounding him. Melissa Thomas's restraint spoke eloquently in the opening song—the forthright woman who shepherds the community through its stages of grief—capturing the muted expressiveness of Tudor's deceptively simple choreography in which yielding plastique struggles with angular exactitude. And Hee Seo's wistful eloquence added another note of dignity amid sorrow. Jesus Pastor gave a more internalized, less showy interpretation than last week as the man who lashes out angrily in his response to loss, and becomes the fierce center of a whirling vortex.

There are so many masterful aspects to this 68-year-old masterpiece, from the pared-down essence of the featured roles, with not an extraneous step to be found, to the deft, brilliant circling patterns that hint at folk dance while never literally copying it. Those circles serve to protect and provide safe harbor, to reverberate with the intensity of the mourners' sense of loss, to enclose it from intruding outsiders and also shield its purity.

The second cast of Twyla Tharp's "In the Upper Room" got a chance to perform the work on this occasion with the smoke effects under control (after being enveloped in excessive haze last week), and made a game effort without fully achieving the crescendo of awe and enlightenment that this work can deliver. Sarah Lane, new on this occasion among the toe-shoe contingent, was a major plus, articulating with an exquisite blend of precision and delight.

Volume 3, No. 41
November 7, 2005

copyright ©2005 Susan Reiter



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last updated on November 7, 2005