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ABT Fall City Center season Week 1


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#1 Dale

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Posted 22 October 2003 - 07:35 PM

I'm always last (I still have to jot down my thoughts on Penn Ballet and Stravinsky), so I will be first.

THREE VIRGINS AND A DEVIL (Revival Premiere): Waddell*, Schulte*, Fischbach*, Molina*, Bragado-Young*

This was a fun way to start the program and was very sweet. It was just the sort of drama-ballet piece the company was known for. The story has the three virgins tempted outside their church by a frustrated Devil. He recognizes the "lustful one" to be the most easily tempted and sure enough eventually she goes off into the Devil's den of iniquity with a handsome passerby. The "greedy one" is lured by a necklace and finally the "priggish one" falls for the Devil's sob story and gets pushed into the cave, which emits puffs of smoke when it swallows a virgin. The young cast was nice but I can surmise the ballet would be even more successful if it was performed by, as it had in the past, more experienced dramatic dance artists.

SYMPHONIC VARIATIONS (Revival Premiere): Butler*,Tuttle*, Riccetto*, Salstein*, Belotserkovsky*, Lopez*

Again, I was looking forward to seeing this ballet of great beauty. The look of the ballet is just stunning, thanks to Sophie Fedorovitch's grecian costumes and swirling olive background. The choreography is light and fleet - celestial. From what I read, it represented the relief Ashton and the cast felt in 1946 at the end of World War II, as if a weight had been lifted off. The original cast was Margot Fonteyn, Pamela May, Moira Shearer, Micheal Somes, Henry Danton and Brian Shaw. I saw ABT's first cast in 1992 of Cynthia Harvey, Ethan Brown, Ashley Tuttle, Wes Chapman, Sandra Brown and Parrish Maynard. I've also seen two recent Royal Ballet productions. Although there was much to be admired in ABT's first cast (such as the whirl around the stage of snappy footwork by the two outer women), I missed having a true ballerina at the heart of the work. When the music slows and the lead man holds the central female as she skims across the stage, the effect is supposed to be like a flat stone skipping lightly over a very calm lake without stirring the water. I did not get that tonight. Maybe in another performance.

DIANA AND ACTEON Pas de Deux and Coda only: Murphy, Carreсo
TCHAIKOVSKY PAS DE DEUX Pas de Deux and Coda only: Dvorovenko, Corella

These pas de deux were just the opening and codas and gave our evening the requisite quota of fouettés. Murphy had the audience screaming with hers, which started off with a quadruple and featured doubles, triples and quads. The others gave their usual best. Corella appeared to do the Baryshnikov version of the men's solo (with hops on his supporting leg during the turns a la second) of the Balanchine and the pas de deux came to an exciting finish as Dvorovenko and Corella really went for the fish dives.

LE GRAND PAS DE DEUX (Company Premiere): Reyes, Malakhov

This was new to the company, choreographed by Choreography By: Christian Spuck to Giacchino Rossini's Thieving Magpie overture for Stuttgart Ballet. It's a humerous take on those "gala" pas de deuxs and there were direct quotes from Don Q., Swan Lake and Gorsky's Grand Pas de Deux. It was funny but not crude.

THEME AND VARIATIONS: Herrera, Gomes

This was a standard performance of Theme and Variations. AD Kevin McKenzie made a point of saying this was Balanchine's original production, I only wish ABT would go back to the original costumes (Woodman Thompson's, or the later Andre Levasseur's) - the current ones (creamy pink for the soloists, lavender blue for the corps and a bit darker ones for the demis) by Theoni V. Aldredge. Gomes was superb and musical during his solos. Herrera was excellent with her feet but underplayed some of the details, especially those during the spirtual moments of the music.

#2 Michael

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Posted 23 October 2003 - 05:52 AM

My my, Gillian Murphy certainly has grown up. Her performance last night in the brief Diana and Actaeon had a Sylvie-Guillemesque status and quality, prodigious eye candy for the masses. No one will say that this did not "project." That this once aspiring "pure dancer," should be developing this sort of Hollywood quality and into the most wildly popular female star of the company, rivaling the oh-so-famous men in the adoring shrieks she draws from the galleries, is most suprising.

Although Symphonic Variations could have been better cast and should have been much more cleanly danced, this was the first time I've seen this ballet and I was so very happy to see it. How different Ashton's musicality is from anyone else's. The choreography so clear and spare and the way (what critics have described) as his footwork "floating on top of the melody" so visually intelligible.

I do wish that some ABT man was able actually to complete a double air turn to a clean fifth position or something visually resembling one. Why perform these steps only to land one half rotation too soon? It just looks bad. The Cubans consistently finished these to clean fifth positions last week and what we saw last night at ABT in this regard was simply awful. I'm thinking of both Belostserkofsky in Symphonic Variatons and of Gomes in Theme and Variations, landing with their feet any old way and the lower halves of their bodies facing squarely to the side, while pullling the torsos around to the front in an attempt to make it appear that they had completed the steps.

Theme and Variations was strangely quiet. Again the tempi were much too slow and the conductor kept breaking the flow to allow for the dancers to make long slow walks to the rear corners of the stage to set themselves, as if these were the elisions in the Grand Pas of the nutcracker. No attack whatsoever in this performance. Casting Paloma in this is really casting a little against type. Gomes and Herrera were at their best in the pas de deux which had an almost introspective quality seldom seen. As above, I wish Gomes could complete an air turn in a position that slightly resembles facing stage front and with his feet in something which slightly resembles a fifth position. Luckily, the conductor picked things up for the Polonaise.

I could not keep my eyes off of Michelle Wiles, newly confident and in control in those lucious developees to the front, as one of the side girl demi-soloists.

Wiles and Murphy are the future of this company. Jose Manuel Carreno is a God amongst the men. Strange the Stiefel didn't dance last night, is he hurt I wonder?

#3 Juliet

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Posted 23 October 2003 - 06:48 AM

Stiefel is in Boston, rehearsing Mozartiana and Stars and Stripes. Opens tonight.

#4 carbro

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Posted 23 October 2003 - 09:50 AM

Thank you, Dale and Michael, for your terrific reviews. Sorry I couldn't be there. I have been waiting for a little magic from Gillian -- good to know that she has more than a little. :P

As for Marcelo, yes, the air turns are a problem. :shrug: But he has so much else going for him that I pretend he lands in perfect fifth, en face. :wub:

So did the company dance the Original version of Theme, as had been announced, or was it the familiar version?

#5 nysusan

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Posted 23 October 2003 - 09:55 AM

No Julie Kent last night either.

Dale, I saw 3 Virgins back in the 70s and, while I enjoyed last night's performance I have to say that your guess is correct - I remember the characterizations being much stronger, perhaps even a little broader. I thought this cast was fine, though, and the audience seemed to agree. Maybe they'll loosen up and have more fun with it as the season progresses.

This was my first time seeing Symphonic Variations. I'll reserve judgement since I'm seeing it again this season, but last night I was almost bored at certain points. I found that strange since I love everything else I've ever seen by Ashton. I thought the costumes & scenery were gorgeous, and that Belotserkovsky's elegant style was well suited to this piece. I haven't seen much of Tuttle previously so I don't know if she was miscast, or having an off night but IMO her style really didn't seem to fit the music or the choreography and I think that was a large part of my problem. I remember liking it a lot at the beginning and then having my attention fade. I think I have tickets for this later in the season with Stella Abrera in the ballerina role and I'll be curious to see if I feel differently. I wish they'd cast Kent or Murphy ...I thought Murphy was wonderful in Diana & Acteon with Carreno. They both brought the house down (deservedly so).

Michael, I also expect great things from Michele Wiles but last night I found myself thinking that Murphy & Dvorovenko were going to slug it out for the top spot on the roster over the next few years (interesting imagery, don't you think!)

Speaking of casting, I was very curious when I saw Reyes & Malakhov cast together in a pas de deux. Their sensibilities are so different. Now that I've seen La Grand Pas de deux I think the casting was inspired. This is part of their family friendly matinee program & I bet it will get howls from the kids. It's easy to go overboard with this kind of piece but I agree that it was very funny & very well done.

In Theme & Variations I kept finding myself watching Wiles and also Anna Liceica. Herrera will never be my favorite dancer, but she & Gomes seemed to have a connection here, which made her performance more appealing to me somehow.

An interesting start to the season!

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 23 October 2003 - 10:24 AM

These are all so much fun to read -- thank you, all. It looks as though we'll have a terrific posting season!!!!

I wasn't there, of course, but wanted to comment on the comments about "Symphonic Variations." I'd had the same feeling that some of you posted about the ballerina role when the Royal Ballet danced this work in DC a few seasons ago. It really needs a seasoned ballerina, a queen ballerina, the kind of quiet, take-charge ballerina that Fonteyn was. I didn't see her, either live or on video (sob) in that role, but one can still sense her presence at the end, when the center ballerina, who's been quietly on the side, begins to take over, and the music begins its rather happy finale. Goodness has triiumphed. (I would love to see this follow "Dante Sonata," the ambiguous -- who's going to win? -- wartime ballet.

Dale, I loved your "flat stone skipping lightly over a very calm lake without stirring the water."

Carbro, I think the original version of "Theme" is the standard/familiar version.

#7 carbro

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Posted 23 October 2003 - 12:41 PM

Possibly, Alexandra. I was under the impression that when Balanchine made Suite #3, he made some changes and, true to fashion, continued to tinker. And many (though not all) of the changes he set on NYCB were then adopted by ABT. But I may be mistaken.

#8 Michael

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Posted 23 October 2003 - 01:30 PM

For one thing, the score has been changed. In Theme as it occurs in Suite No. 3, as in the original T'schai score, there is no little drum-roll-polonaise-introduction, as occurs in the ABT score, the orchestra simply states the theme and takes it from there.

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 23 October 2003 - 01:34 PM

ABT has kept its "Theme" and not modified it. As Dale wrote: "AD Kevin McKenzie made a point of saying this was Balanchine's original production."

#10 carbro

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Posted 23 October 2003 - 07:42 PM

:P Thanks!

#11 atm711

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Posted 24 October 2003 - 05:53 AM

I wasn't there, of course, but wanted to comment on the comments about "Symphonic Variations."  I'd had the same feeling that some of you posted about the ballerina role when the Royal Ballet danced this work in DC a few seasons ago.  It really needs a seasoned ballerina, a queen ballerina, the kind of quiet, take-charge ballerina that Fonteyn was. I didn't see her, either live or on video (sob) in that role, but one can still sense her presence at the end, when the center ballerina, who's been quietly on the side, begins to take over, and the music begins its rather happy finale.

Alexandra, I can still sense Fonteyn's presence in the whole ballet. It cried out for her. I saw last night's (Thursday) performance and I could not help thinking "You can't go home again" (Ah, Thomas Wolfe you were so right :wub: ) It was a very nostalgic evening for me, and I came away missing three ballerinas--Fonteyn, Kaye and Danilova. From the moment the curtain rose on "Pillar of Fire" I had my doubts---there was Hagar (Murphy) sitting on the steps in an olive drab dress :clapping: After all those famous photos of Kaye in her pea green outfit, how could they make such a change? And why didn't they use the Jo Mielziner costume and sets? All this, before a step was danced! Murphy looked too small and self contained for a dynamic Hagar; Hagar must show what she is feeling deep within her. She needs a sense of abandon when she hurls herself at her partners; I thought she might rescue her performance with the final PDD, but it did not happen. Marcelo Gomes (wearing a black business suit :( ) had a couple of sexy moves with the legs that looked more James Cagney than Tudor. Here, I will extend my nostalgia to Hugh Laing. Paloma Herrera (that most uneven of ballerinas) danced Raymonda. I did not like the costumes of Barbara Matera. They were much too fussy---the corps and soloists had tutus with long sleeves and the ballerina's costume was too wide and overladen with appliques. Karinska, where are you? I would gladly had revisited the Ballet Russe 1946 production with Danilova. When ABT does the complete "Raymonda" next season I hope they have the good sense to give all the performances to Ananiashvilli :rolleyes:

If all of the above appears to be too negative, I must add that I attended the performance with two friends who had never seen any of the ballets. They loved
it :P

#12 Alexandra

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Posted 24 October 2003 - 08:22 AM

If all of the above appears to be too negative, I must add that I attended the performance with two friends who had never seen any of the ballets. They loved it 


And how many times a year does THAT happen!

Thank you for that, atm. What's sad is that all of the things you mention could be done, and done well, by those dancers. Coaching? Rehearsal time? And the fact that a ballet like Pillar wanders in and out of the repertory so the current generation of dancers hasn't grown up watching it.

I saw a production of "Lilac Garden" (not at ABT) that had been redesigned. It placed the ballet squarely in Lilac, Indiana. biggest Lilacs you ever saw -- I expected the Lilac Fairy to swoosh in any moment and take them away.

#13 nysusan

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Posted 25 October 2003 - 07:33 AM

ISN'T IT A PITY?

Veronika Part has finally made an appearance - last night in the corps of the George Harrison tribute. In "Isn't it a Pity" and "My Sweet Lord" - she had little to do. Still no sight of Monique Munier. On a positive note, you couldn't help but notice Michelle Wiles in a small soloist role in the same songs. Those port de bras, those developees, she is such a beautiful dancer.

Some quick thoughts...

After a second viewing, I must have had too much wine before the curtain went up on opening night. That's the only explanation I can come up with for being "almost bored" by Symphonic Variations. It is a gorgeous dance - quite sublime. Unfortunately I still think that the weak interpretation of the ballerina role shifted too much focus to Belotserkovsky. I hope they keep this in repertory and give different dancers an opportunity to interpret it.

ATM711 - how lucky you were to have seen Fonteyn, Kaye & Danilova! Unfortunately I was only able to see Fonteyn a few times at the end of her career. I can only imagine how different Symphonic Variations would have been with a ballerina of qualities.

On the other hand, my reaction to Pillar of Fire was different from yours. I've never seen Kaye, but I saw Sallie Wilson as Hagar many times in the seventies. When I heard that Murphy was cast in the role my first thought was - she's so physically beautiful, will she be convincing as a character who's afraid she'll wind up a spinster? Can she portray an outcast, a misfit? I've also found her dancing in modern pieces to have a very strong sensuality and wondered if she would be effective in expressing Hagar's repressed sexuality. I thought she did very well. Different, perhaps, from what I remember but still a beautiful, compelling interpretation. Strangely enough, I agree that she lacked abandon in some of her pas des deux (especially with Gomes) but I thought she was able to express Hagar's emotions very powerfully - her longing and pain and ostracism. When the curtain fell my first thought was that Tudor held up very well, It had almost the same emotional impact as the first time I saw it. I also thought Erica Fischbach was a very fine older sister. Oh well, different strokes for different folks...

Sandra Brown has been everywhere this first week. IMO she was the best thing about Diversion of Angels on Thursday night, a beautiful "Woman in Red". Vivacious, flirtatious and yet also, very womanly. I thought hers was definitely the strongest performance in the Graham piece. Last night she was cast in all 3 ballets and continued to impress me, especially in the Forsythe work and with Carreno in "While my Guitar Gently Weeps".

#14 Thalictum

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Posted 25 October 2003 - 09:48 AM

I must say Part was mesmerizing even in the corps of the Harrison. She is much thinner than during the Met season. It is frustrating that she is not cast -- think of what her sensuality and regality could make of the Woman in White in Diversion of Angels? If she put her mind to it and worked out the Tudor-esque kinks, she could also be a great Hagar - as could Meunier.

And what about Raymonda? Part was coached at the Kirov for Raymonda by her teacher Inna Zubkovskaya, herself a great Raymonda. I saw Part perform the scarf variation in a special on Russian TV and she was divine.

Edited by Thalictum, 25 October 2003 - 09:52 AM.


#15 Alexandra

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Posted 25 October 2003 - 04:04 PM

I wanted to put up Links to the reviews of ABT we're running on DanceView Times. I've tried to get writers with different perspectives to provide a diversity of opinions, so you may find, as the season goes on, that they'll be disagreeing with each other.

Eric Taub reviewed opening nighit:


A Taste of the Sublime, A Dollop of Kitsch: ABT Opens at City Center

It's always a happy occasion to welcome American Ballet Theatre back to NYC, in this case for its fall City Center season. The program showed the great range of ABT's repertory, focusing on works celebrating the upcoming centennials of Sir Frederick Ashton and George Balanchine in 2004. The evening promised well for the next three weeks—especially once the dancers start dancing as well as they've shown us they can. Unfortunately, last night, despite some fine moments, there were times when it looked as if everyone needed a good jolt of caffeine.


Mindy Aloff reviewed Thursday night (Master Works program):

An Elusive Pillar of Fire, a Divine Symphonic: ABT's Master Works Program

For its three-week City Center season this fall, ABT has divided its repertory into four categories, each represented by one program of three or four dances: “Master Works,” “Family Friendly Works,” “Innovative Works,” and “Contemporary Works.” Surely, the packaging is intended to appeal to audiences who don’t know much about ballet, would like to try it, and need some guidelines. What those audiences are going to make of the fact that a ballet entitled Three Virgins and a Devil is on the “Family Friendly” program would require a disquisition by Dr. Ruth; but let that pass. What matters is that the company is attempting to get people into the theater—perhaps with the hope that the dancing and the choreography will win them over to the point that they can begin to think independently, to question, for instance, why some dances by living choreographers are considered “innovative” while others are considered merely “contemporary,” or why innovation is so decisively separated from mastery, or why families with small children who have been exposed to countless acts of violence and mayhem in Saturday morning cartoons should require “friendliness” in their ballets. These questions touch on some core preconceptions about the art and culture of our time, of course, and it is to ABT’s credit that it is not only willing to raise them but also that it would do so indirectly, through its marketing, using what used to be called reverse psychology.


Forsythe's Stunning workwithinwork Lights a Spark on ABT's Innovative Works Program

It is far too easy to criticize the name of American Ballet Theatre's Friday-evening program: Innovative Works, but I can't resist. It's all marketing. Aesthetically, there was one such ballet—William Forsythe's wonderful workwithinwork. Framing it were two pieces so bereft of a creative spark that instead of pushing the form in a new direction, they only served to flatten it to choreographic mush. Nacho Duato's Without Words, a vapid dance created for the company in 1998, costumes four couples in unflattering nude bodysuits (Duato's design), boasting intricate partnering that rambles into mind-numbing mediocrity. It is not so much a piece as an exertion—mindless toil for the audience as well as the dancers. The closer, Within You Without You: A Tribute to George Harrison, wouldn't even cut it as choreography for a music video. The only thing Without Words and Within You have in common with Forsythe's mysterious gem is the word WITH in the title.


Eric Taub will review two of the weekend programs (cast changes). Gia Kourlas will review the Contemporary Works program next week, and Eric Taub will review two weekend programs next week as well. Stay tuned.


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