DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition
Without Words, Within You Without You
The titles of two of the three pieces on American Ballet Theatre’s opening night program at the Kennedy Center include the word “without:” Nacho Duato’s Without Words and Within You Without You by four choreographers. It’s an apt word for the program as a whole. Tuesday night was an evening without any great choreographic feats, without any really good roles for the company’s fine dancers throughout the principal, soloist and corps ranks, and without the sense of polish expected from a company among the ranks of the world or American best.
Without Words, in the company’s rep since 1998, features Duato’s signature snakelike movement for four couples—the men in nude briefs, the women in nude unitards. The costume choice, a pose where three dancers line up a Museum of Natural History evolution chart and Ethan Stiefel’s apelike crawls, led me to believe that Duato sought to make a statement about humanity at its most primal. Given this assumption, I found his soft, winding movement more interesting, since onstage the primal state is usually rendered more violently.
But, the slinky movement grew tiresome as the piece continued; the pace only broken by slam-bam moments like 180 degree plus penchés. (Paloma Herrera actually did a cartwheel at the end of her duet with Danny Tidwell.) Whether the lack of dynamic was the fault of the choreography or the performance, I’m not sure. Tidwell (who I mistook for Jose Manuel Carreño for awhile) brought a languorous depth to his performance, as did Isaac Stappas and Anne Milewski in a later duet. These three corps dancers were mesmerizing because they gave the choreography shape, transitioning into and out of moments of sharpness among the endless curves.
Without Words might be a candidate for second balcony viewing, since the projected photographs of the dancers by Nancy Ellison were rather high to take in from the orchestra. I had to choose between the photos or the dance, whereas a colleague sitting in the balcony reported the two components meshed nicely.
No seat change could improve ABT’s venture into rock ballet. The marriage of ballet and rock music has not been the most productive; I wonder if it’s really bringing in the younger audiences that ballet companies crave. As a member of the twentysomething generation, I’ll reveal a secret: we have taste. If a ballet is good, whether it’s choreographed to Radiohead or Ravel, we will appreciate it and come back to the theater. I don’t think the George Harrison tribute Within You Without You with choreography by Stanton Welch, Natalie Weir, Ann Reinking and David Parsons will, though it has some decent moments, be a ballet that enthuses anyone enough to corral them back into the theater for more.
The simplicity of rock music presents a choreographic obstacle. Lyrics make rock melody-driven and it often lacks the multiple layers of classical music. (I am not saying that rock music is unsuitable for ballet, just that, like any accompanying element to choreography, its potential limitations should be considered.) In Within You Without You only Stanton Welch’s ensemble piece “Isn’t It a Pity?” played with different parts of the music. Throughout the song, which laments how people hurt each other, dancers walked across the stage to the rhythm of the bass, while individuals and duets broke into curvaceous, chest-arching phrases that followed the melody. It may not have been the most original of choreography, but it gave the stage depth and used the song’s structure to produce meaning, rather than bad lyric-based choreography.
In contrast, the other ensemble piece, Parson’s closer “My Sweet Lord” felt flat. Dancers streamed across the stage, always traveling from stage right to left in a series of jumps and turns. Many of them are beautiful, talented dancers and they looked to be having fun, but their rollicking rhythm again grew monotonous, as they just kept coming and coming. Other sections were disappointing. Reinking made a chair dance to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” performed by Stella Abrera and Isaac Stappas. In a few turning series, the two became one with the swirling guitar riffs, but otherwise it was a gymnastic chair dance. Corella turned and twitched through Welch’s solo to “Something,” but why the ethereal Melissa Thomas standing upstage caused him to do so was a mystery. Weir’s contribution’s “I Dig Love” and “Within You Without You” rode on the technical abilities of stars: the pliable, turning wonder Gillian Murphy in the first and Ethan Stiefel in the second.
Murphy and Corella danced a great deal on Tuesday; both leading the Raymonda divertissements that opened the performance. The selections, staged by Anna-Marie Holmes, preview the company’s new full-length Raymonda, a centerpiece of their upcoming spring season. Murphy was excellent in sections that demanded technical precision. Until seeing Murphy doing chainés turns, I have never considered them anything more than a transitional step, but she makes them exciting. But, Murphy is not a soft dancer and her rigid port de bras marred her performance.
If dancers had specialties, Corella’s would be entrances: the man can burst onto the stage with a bravura rarely seen. But, his jumping and turning flourishes start at such a high pitch that his variations, at least here, cannot go anywhere. The pas de quatre danced by Julia Bragado-Young, Carlos Lopez, Sascha Radetsky and Craig Salstein was clean and controlled, each phrase pushing the four men higher into the air.
The corps had some rough moments, perhaps with the full-length Raymonda on the horizon, the performance of just sections of the ballet are being treated as dress rehearsals. The costumes, designed by Barbara Matera, particularly those for the portion of the corps in white with fur trim, make the dancers look boxy, especially the laced corsets that bind the women’s lower rib cages and waists.
Performances of this program continue through Thursday.
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