Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wheeldon’s Thirteen Diversions, Two Missed Opportunities and One Deep Bench

Well, I have mixed thoughts about last night’s mixed bill at American Ballet Theatre.  On one hand, there were a lot of things wrong with the program: uninspiring and even mundane choreography (ahem, Mr. Millepied?), a costume choice that may have been trying too hard (again, Mr. Millepied?), unfortunate miscasting or unnecessary use of two or three principal dancers......but really not much of what was wrong with the performance can be attributed to the dancers.  Not really.  On the other hand, there was Wheeldon’s “Thirteen Diversions,” which was well danced, lit, costumed and choreographed.  And, there were a few very strong performances by members of the corps de ballet and soloists in Ratmansky’s Dumbarton that, if you were really seeing, reminded me what I love about ABT, and gave me back more than a glimmer of hope for the company’s future. 

First up was Ratmansky’s “Dumbarton”, a piece set to Stravinsky for 5 couples.  The music and the choreography were generally unmemorable, but I did like the shape of the costumes.  Ratmansky does seem to know how to dress (and choreograph) male dancers in an appealing, masculine way.  Another issue I had with the piece is that principals Michele Wiles and Veronika Part really could have been lifted right out; they were either too tall or too bland to make any impact on me at all. However, Yuriko Kajiya and Misty Copeland lit up the stage (my friend said Yuriko was like a spring flower) with their joy, energy, quick feet and inspiring shapes.  Finally I noticed why people are buzzing about Joseph Gorak.  What Ratmansky DID give the audience, I think, is a glimpse of some interesting pairings - some combinations he sees in our company that maybe Kevin McKenzie hadn’t, especially since the latter seems obsessed with height.  I particularly enjoyed Copeland and Eric Tamm - I’d like to see where that partnership can go.  Also, I felt that Thomas Forster was paired well with Ms. Wiles, which is something somewhat rare in what I’ve seen over the past few years.

Second on the program was another of Benjamin Millepied's attempts at choregraphy.  Set to lovely cello suites by Bach played on stage by Jonathan Spitz, “Troika” was a waste of three very strong male dancers.  Both the choreography and the costumes were trying way too hard (as, it seemed to me, was Daniil Simkin).  It was welcome to see Sascha Radetsky and Alexandre Hammoudi really get to dance for a change, rather than stomping and gesticulating around the stage as Paris or Hillarion - both are beautiful dancers.  That, however, was about all I enjoyed about the piece.  The trio of Simkin, Radetsky and Hammoudi didn’t feel naturally cast together.  I would have liked to see Radetsky with Jared Matthews, who does Simkin’s part in the other cast. I’m told the other cast of Matthews, Forster and Blane Hoven had an entirely different dynamic, and I have a feeling I would have liked the piece more with them.  (If you saw that cast, I’d love to hear your thoughts.)  My main concern is that I really don’t understand why McKenzie keeps commissioning pieces from Millepied.  First we had that purple mess back at City Center in 2007, “From Here on Out,” which was so over choreographed the dancers couldn’t help but be visibly exhausted and out of synch for the last section.  Not to mention the unflattering costumes.  Then we had “Everything Doesn’t Happen At Once” at Avery Fisher in 2009.  (Admittedly, I did like this piece somewhat better, but what DON’T I like that pairs Marcelo Gomes with Isabella Boylston?) Again, odd costumes on the men that distracted from the piece, plus so much unnecessary choreography filling the gaps.    When companies like Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and Cedar Lake are doing SUCH interesting contemporary choreography, Millepied’s contributions seem like such a wasted opportunity to create something amazing with ABT’s roster of dancers.  I don’t know if it’s a money issue or lack of vision, but I hope we won’t be seeing more new pieces from Mr. Millepied any time soon.

Then, we got to the sadly miscast “Shadowplay” by Anthony Tudor, originally danced by Baryshnikov.  Due to an injury to Herman Cornejo, Craig Salstein was cast in the role of Boy with Matted Hair.  First, let me say that I adore Salstein.  In Twyla, in Cinderella, in so many things.  His dancing was fine, there were no visable fumbles or missteps, but he simply doesn’t have the right character to make this piece interesting.  Cornejo and Simkin (in the other cast) both have a certain kind of spark needed for the role.  Salstein seemed too at home with this foreign world and unfortunately often seemed to blend right into the background.  The corps looked none too happy to be doing this piece either.  The whole thing seemed sort of sad and unwanted.  The audience’s applause seemed also a little sad and forced. I will say the set was beautiful and the men did a good job with some difficult lifts involving Xiomara Reyes.   

Then, after the second intermission, finally, was Wheeldon’s “Thirteen Diversions”.  The music by Benjamin Britten and lighting were perfect.  The women’s shorter skirts were particularly flattering to the choreography and I loved the ribbon lining which gave the otherwise black and grey costumes some life (the men’s jackets were a bit strange but it wasn’t distracting).  I had heard from people who attended Tuesday night that this piece was the highlight of the evening and I wasn’t disappointed.  Jared Matthews substituted for Sascha Radetsky and he was fantastic.  Dancing side by side with Marcelo Gomes and David Hallberg he looked right at home.  His lines and extension were sharper than ever and as always his upper carriage was gorgeous and classical. His confidence made the people around me ask, “is that a principal? Who is that?” He’s also one of the strongest partners in the company.  Gillian Murphy and Hallberg’s variation was enjoyable.  Wheeldon smartly avoided many of the positions that make Murphy’s upper body look tense, instead giving her fluid choreography that really showcased her strengths.  It was probably the most I’ve ever enjoyed her dancing, even more than “Pillar of Fire” or “Fall River Legend.”  For me, I prefer her in the more contemporary choreography, and last night was further proof.  Isabella Boylston and Marcelo Gomes also inspired.  Boylston’s solo variation was powerful and graceful (her legs and arabesque always delight me), and their partnered section was unique and perfectly danced near the end of the piece.  It reminded me why I’ve long thought that it’s a little unfair to other dancers when pieces are choreographed on Gomes - I’ve yet to see anyone who is as strong both as a partner and as a solo dancer as he is.  For example, I had seen Lubovitch’s “My Funny Valentine” twice with other dancers, and the second time I turned to my friends and said, “this would have been SO much better if Marcelo was in it.”  When I got home I looked into it - it turns out he originated the role in 2001.  I can’t wait to see him in Giselle tomorrow.  Other enjoyable moments from the Wheeldon: Maria Riccetto and Simone Messmer looked strong and had good unision.  Gray Davis dancing in the corps sections stood out - I think he is really starting to mature as a dancer.

Some parting thoughts, as a request to Mr. McKenzie: (1) Bring back the 2-3 week fall season.  ABT’s contemporary ballet is strong and the depth of talent in the company is always shown best there; (2) Promote Boylston and Hammoudi already.  Get Matthews and Kajiya ready to promote to principal in the very near future.  They both most definitely have “it”; (3) Stop hiring Benjamin Millepied; and (4) when you cast based on something other than height some interesting things can happen.  That Copeland/Tamm pairing is still on my mind....but I’m sure I won’t see it again this season.  Oh well.

As a reference, here's a link to the NY Times slideshow from this program:

Anyway, I’m still getting the hang of this “blogging” thing - but hopefully I’ve entertained or informed a few you of you out there just a little bit.

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