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ABT D.C. opening: 'Black Tuesday'...lives up to the title


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#1 Natalia

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Posted 11 April 2001 - 09:24 AM

It was a [mostly] Black Tuesday at the Kennedy Center last night, as ABT opened its week-long spring season with a mixed bill in which two great Tchaikovsky tutus-and-tiaras ballets served as bookends to a truly dreary -- thematically, visually and, alas, choreographically -- world premiere by modern dance master Paul Taylor.

THEME AND VARIATIONS (Balanchine/Tchaikovsky) - Perhaps my all-time-favorite Balanchine ballet, tonight's T&V was not at all done justice by the ragged ABT corps and the lackluster principals, Paloma Herrera and Marcelo Gomes. Ms Herrera's gorgeously arched feet are always a delight to behold but her sagging port-de-bras was too much of a distraction. Even her usually-spot-on technique eluded her in the diagonal to her solo that precedes the pas de deux (sloppy finish). Mr Gomes certainly *looks* like the perfect cavalier -- tall, dark & handsome -- but he, too, displayed mediocre technique tonight. The famous male solo with the successive double-tours was a case in point, as Gomes badly cheated the jumps by commencing each one looking at the wings (i.e., these were one-and-three-quarter tours en l'air).

Halfway through the ballet, I fixed my eyes on the (to me) true star of that work, that evening - tall, blonde Michele Wiles, one of the four female demisoloists...she made the entire ballet for me. [A graduate of Washington's Kirov Academy and Gold Medalist at Varna 1996, Wiles will be dancing her first (or one of her first) Myrta in GISELLE this Sunday afternoon. Too, she will be debuting the lead in T&V in New York City, on June 22. Not to be missed!]

BLACK TUESDAY, World Premiere (Taylor/popular 1930s depression-era songs) - Despite glimmers of greatness -- and I certainly recognize Taylor as one of THE greatest choreographers of our day -- this ballet/modern dance can be summed up in one word: BO-RING! Brown-on-black; black-on-brown.

Despite lighting designer Jennifer Tipton's efforts, this ballet was barely lit. It is set inside a New York subway tunnel, populated by various homeless people and underworld types (a cigar-chomping pimp, hookers, a child hooligan-murderer). Fun - fun - fun!

Worst of all, the choreography was ridden with Taylor Cliches: now comes the Jitterbug, now comes the 'happy jump' with open arms by the corps, now come the quick-footed jerky movements and shoulder-twitches for the person who is going bonkers with the world. Bits of the musical 'Fosse'. Plenty from of 'Championship Ballroom Dancing.' But mostly LOTS of re-hashed Taylor.

The costumes by Santo Loquasto appeared to be cast-aways from Taylor's recent tango ballet....dark print dresses in filmy fabric for most of the the ladies.

The monotony was broken by the two effective segments in the work, both coming towards the end of the ballet. One of these is 'Are You Making Any Money?' featuring Marcelo Gomes as cigar-chomping pimp with three 'gigolettes': Erica Cornejo, Elizabeth Gaither and Anne Milewski. The audience seemed to wake up with their synchronized antics. The other excellent piece of this ballet was 'I Went Hunting and the Big Bad Wolf was Dead,' in which a little pigtailed girl in overalls (Marian Butler in THE finest performance of this work) goes bezerk and shoots everyone in her path...all to a Disneyesque happy tune. Paul Taylor's 'take' on Columbine and other high school massacres, perhaps? The other episodes in this ballet went on far too long to be effective. Even Ethan Stiefel in the final Tharpish-soft-shoe solo ('Brother Can You Spare a Dime?') made minimal impact. Brother, can you spare a No-Doze tablet??!!

SLEEPING BEAUTY Act III - Many, many seats in second tier (esp. in the middle) emptied after the Taylor work...but those of us who remained were rewarded with a luscious Aurora and Desire of Julie Kent and Angel Corella. Less effective were the diminutive Diamond Fairy of tiny, dark-haired Xiomara Reyes (with bumbling silver fairies who seemed to be learning their roles right there on the stage)...and a very bland Bluebird pdd by the heavy-looking Ashley Tuttle...heavy in the arms of Hernan Cornejo, who won't be winning any partnering awards anytime soon. HOWEVER, Cornejo made up for his weak partnering with a magnificent, high-flying solo. Easily the highlight of an otherwise lackluster evening.

Well, long-ago, I bought tickets for the repeats of this program tonight (Wednesday) and tomorrow (Thursday). I'll know to take a long-long break between the two Tchaikovsky works. It's dinner at 8:45 pm for me.

- Jeannie Szoradi, Washington, DC.

p.s. - I also attended the 2 pm Dress Rehearsal for ABT Friends members. The leads in BEAUTY Act III were magnificent: Irina Dvorovenko & Maxim Belotserkovsky, who will be dancing Aurora & Desire tonight (Wednesday). Extra incentive to stay on through the end tonight! The biggest delight of the dress rehearsal was the opportunity to see a great Aurora from the past, Irina Kolpakova (an ABT regisseur), coaching Dvorovenko in the finer nuances (particularly, facial expressions) of Aurora's pdd solo. It all occured just in the wings, which I could barely see from my seat...but my eyes were focused on that 'surprise' for a very long time.

[ 04-11-2001: Message edited by: Jeannie ]

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 11 April 2001 - 12:56 PM

I wrote a review for the reviews section of the main site; mine would be a wavering thumb, not a thumbs down.

Here's the link:
[url="http://"http://www.balletalert.com/reviews/r01/ABTTues.html"]http://www.balletalert.com/reviews/r01/ABTTues.html[/url]

[ 04-11-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#3 Natalia

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Posted 11 April 2001 - 01:31 PM

Happy to read that we weren't in total disagreement, Alexandra! :)

My finger merely wavered at Dress Rehearsal, where the principals for both Tchaikovsky ballets differed from those seen at the Tuesday performance. It was the performance that sent the thumb down.

[In addition to Dvorovenko/Belotserkovsky's BEAUTY Act III, the dress rehearsal saw very fine T&V soloists in the form of Gillian Murphy and Jose-Manuel Carreno, who will lead that ballet tonight (Wednesday). So...the only 'downer' at the rehearsal, to me, was BLACK TUESDAY.]

#4 ltraiger

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Posted 11 April 2001 - 03:51 PM

I found the program oddly conceived, as mentioned, with the Taylor sandwiched between two Tchaikovskys -- Balanchine and "Sleeping Beauty."

I, too, long for the depth and resonance of Taylor's "Sunset" or "Company B." That's what I expected and, I admit, what I wanted. Instead, in his Americana mode, Taylor's "Black Tuesday" feels disjointed and the performances appeared mechanical in some places rather than deeply felt and expressive. With time, experience, perhaps, "Black Tuesday" will develop into a more meaningful and dramatic work that it was Tuesday night. Individual performances were lovely but as a company the group didn't jell together.

I would like t comment more, but must fly out the door for now. Agree on the shagginess of the corps and those pasted-on smiles. Kent was lovely, as was Corella. Herrara and Gomes looked a bit like they were still warming up and forget that the audience was in the house.

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 11 April 2001 - 04:41 PM

It's always fascinating how different various people's perceptions are -- if we had 60 people, there would probably be 60 different takes on dancers, especially. I was sitting about four rows from Lisa and, to me, Gomes did everything except toss bouquets at the audience :) I thought his performance was very generous.

ABT opening performances here have been shaky for the past several years; they usually settle in later in the week. I always like to think it's lack of rehearsal -- I thought that might have been a problem with "Theme" last night.

But one thing that I've been hearing from some people for the past several seasons that didn't really hit me until last night is that, especially in "Theme," ABT is beginning to look more like a Joffrey-style company than ABT used to look -- and I don't mean this as a slur on Joffrey at all. That has always been an eclectic company. A very uniform look wouldn't suit it at all, nor its repertory. But Joffrey isn't trying to dance "the classics." ABT always aimed for a uniform corps -- not clones, but at least close cousins :) There were always character dancers, and these dancers were well-used in the modern dance or crossover rep. San Francisco has a collection of various heights and girths, but very similar body proportions and Tomasson is giving them a uniform style. I haven't seen as mismatched a corps in the opening "Theme" from ABT before, especially the men.

#6 Terry

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Posted 11 April 2001 - 07:14 PM

I was expecting to hear a little more excitement about the new soloist, Xiomara Reyes, since I was hoping for a new member who is fresh and exciting to see ... Did she not leave a lot of impression?

#7 Michael

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Posted 11 April 2001 - 08:25 PM

Alexandra, I'm glad you liked Tuttle's Florine. I love her polished, chiseled, disciplined quality. I haven't seen her in that role but I imagine she's perfectly suited to it.

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 11 April 2001 - 10:34 PM

Terry, Reyes danced the Diamond Fairy Tuesday night and she didn't leave much impression, on me at least, I'm sorry to say. But I honestly think that wasn't her fault. That whole divertissement looked, to me, as though it had not received much rehearsal. Some of the other soloists looked very carefully coached, but the Jewel people seemed to be floundering a bit.

I'll watch for her later in the run. She's scheduled to do Moyna in "Giselle" Saturday matinee.

One new person (new to me, anyway) who did make an impression was Stella Abrera as the Lilac Fairy, even though she literally has nothing to do but walk and kneel. I've been looking for Maria Bystrova, too, but she seems pretty deeply buried in the corps.

That's what happens when a company comes only for a week and brings two programs -- they can't show off everybody :)

#9 CygneDanois

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Posted 11 April 2001 - 11:32 PM

Just got back from ABT. Theme and Variations: Murphy/Carreno; Murphy substituted for Erica Cornejo in Black Tuesday as well. The Sleeping Beauty: Dvorovenko/Belotserkovsky as Aurora/Désiré, Yan Chen/de Luz as Princess Florina/Bluebird, Michele Wiles/Marcelo Gomes as Gold/Diamond Fairies.

Somewhat underwhelmed by Murphy/Carreno--more impressed by Sascha Radetsky and Michele Wiles as demi-soloists. Enjoyed Black Tuesday. Maybe it's the years in NY. The grand pas de deux in Sleeping Beauty was the highlight of the evening for me. Joaquin de Luz's beats as the Bluebird were quick and small, and Yan Chen was just lovely in the adagio, but had technical difficulties in her variation. Her shoes looked very soft, although it was nice that they were silent. Very much liked Marcelo Gomes and Michele Wiles in the Precious Stones/Metals. But why is the golden fairy danced by a man? At any rate, if the part must be danced by a man, one could do much worse than to have Gomes dance it. There were some choreographic irregularities in this version of Sleeping Beauty, but the dancers still managed to look, for the most part, very good. Will write in more detail later as it's nearly 1am! :eek:

#10 Juliet

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Posted 12 April 2001 - 08:36 AM

Thought I saw you there, CygneDanois...and others, too, but wasn't able to talk...

I didn't feel any sparkle in Theme, and the female corps was not only disparate in attack, timing, and general energy level, but it looked to me as if serious coaching was needed here. These are very, very talented people, but a corps is a corps and is supposed to do things together, no?

Gillian Murphy can turn, and her unengaged demeanor was not objectionable in this piece. Indeed, she looked quite lovely, except for those wrists, which I found very jarring....Carreno was beautiful, period.

Unlike many I have heard, I *like* the costumes--so that was also something pleasant in the equation........maybe I was just expecting more from this piece, but I found the experience somewhat tepid....

Obviously, I am on another planet, but I enjoyed the Taylor piece a good deal. Costumes very imaginative, suited to the choreographyand period; lighting and decor very, very interesting (subway tunnels, fretwork, city skyline); maybe I was watching another ballet than the rest of you? I wasn't bowled over, but found the choreography interesting and the individual performances quite full-bodied; *this* is the piece which looked as if it had rehearsal time and some thought behind it.
So? I was really pleasantly surprised, not having great expectations after reading Tuesday thoughts on opening night...

Sleeping Beauty was notable for the elegant performances by Dvorovenko and Belotserkovsky--I won't go into my usual paeans, but they did not disappoint. Also sparkling Michele Wiles' beautifully articulated Diamond Fairy--perfectly cast--and Yan Chen, who attempted some sort of characterization of Princess Florine (unfortunately not often done.) Joaquin De Luz was rather lumpen as Bluebird, and his arms were doing whirligigs rather than fluttering....I was surprised and disappointed as his feet were quick and light, but not the rest of him.....

I was happy to see Stella Abrera cast as Lilac Fairy. Would have been even happier to see her dance something.

#11 Alexandra

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Posted 12 April 2001 - 09:03 AM

I did not dislike the Taylor either, and last night it looked better than on at the premiere; it's beginning to jell. I'll put up a review on the main site later today.

#12 Natalia

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Posted 12 April 2001 - 09:23 AM

Wednesday was a far more felicitious performance, due to the spectacular Vaganova technique and Kirovian nuances in Dvorovenko and Belotserkovsky's Aurora/Desire. [Did I mention earlier that I saw the great Kolpakova coaching Dvorovenko in Aurora's Act III solo? Awesome!] And what can I say about Michele Wiles' Diamond Fairy that hasn't been articulated above? She is perfection in the role. WOW-WOW-WOW! On the other hand, De Luz & Chen were rather bland in the Bluebird pdd.

In T&V, Murphy/Carreno were far better than Herrera/Gomes the evening before. Both dancers have the 'regal air' that I like to see in the soloists in this ballet. Carreno is ABT's true Cavalier, IMO. ;) Yet...just like Cygne Danois, I have to give the top honors to Wiles/Radetsky in this ballet. As one of four demisolo couples, they simply stole the show. These are stars, not supporting artists!

Skipped the Taylor - two viewings in Tuesday's dress rehearsal, plus the Tuesday performance, was enough for me. Sorry - this is no ballet. This is plain-and-simple modern dance with some Fosse steps thrown in. I prefer my ballet 'straight-up and classical,' thank you. Thank goodness, this mixed bill includes two true ballets...and two of my all-time favorites, at that. Definitely getting my money's worth, even without the Taylor.

Terry - Xiomara danced on a very small scale and, to be a bit blunt, doesn't have a traditional face...not sure how to write this politely. I'll just stop there. :)

Juliet - Abrera is indeed lovely. She will be dancing Myrta in GISELLE, during one of the performances this weekend.

I'll be there again tonight. Can't get enough of Michelle Wiles and Sasha Radetsky in T&V! :)
- Jeannie

#13 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 12 April 2001 - 10:24 AM

Juliet, I also liked the Taylor work very much. I saw the rehearsal Tues. and the performance last night (Wed.) I think it's interesting, and very well danced, and I do think it's a ballet.

Carreno is certainly an elegant and handsome cavalier, but I was disappointed in his technique in the variation last night. He did not finish the rond de jambe sautés, and then did some sissonnes which were lovely at first but sloppy feet on the ending of each jump. Murphy's "unengaged demeanor" did not work for me at all. She is certainly strong technically, however.

Michelle Wiles is lovely in Theme soloists, but mismatched with the other three in terms of height. Found this distracting.

#14 Alexandra

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Posted 12 April 2001 - 10:49 AM

Just a few notes. I thought Gillian Murphy's "Theme" was beautifully danced--someone will probably come up with a dancer I've forgotten, but I thought it the strongest since Kirkland's, and I don't say that lightly. She was crisp and strong and light, and the pas de deux was lovely. I do agree, though, that she was a bit too detached, too external. I thought she wasn't a good match for Carreno, who seemed off-form to me last night. Bujones is in my eye in this ballet, because I've never seen anyone as powerful (except for a tape of Youskevitch, but that kind of dancing happens now only in Heaven.)

I liked Wiles very much in Theme as well, but I'd agree with Victoria that the soloists aren't supposed to stand out. (They're not even soloists, since they don't have solos; they have more to do, but they're supposed to dance as a group). As supporting players, if someone is more noticeable than the others, there's something wrong with the whole. (Part of the reason Wiles is so visible, too, is that she's a good head taller than the rest of the women in the cast.)

I thought Wiles' Diamond Fairy was very fine. She's matured a lot in the last year. She seems totally at ease with herself -- her size, her place on stage -- and she danced beautifully, I thought. "Sleeping Beauty" and "Theme," generally seemed slack and sloppy again, and "Beauty" looks very, very unloved. I didn't get any sparks last night from anyone, except Wiles. I did like Dvorovenko and Belosertkovsky (oops, forgot to check the spelling) very much in the adagio.

I'd forgotten how much I disliked MacMillan's production of "Sleeping Beauty." It's cynical -- and the sets match it. Sour apricot. Anorexic cherubs. Parachute silk hanging limply from the ceiling. NO COURT. None. The King and Queen wander on -- well, the Queen rather flounced on, but I think she needed to do something to make it look like what was happening had something to do with theater, so it's forgivable. The fairy divertissement is awkward and ungrateful to the dancers -- CyngeD, I like Gomes generally, but that variation was done on a small, speedy man and I don't think he had much chance in it.

The Taylor looked much better last night -- proves the importance of out of town tryouts :) Whether or not one likes it, "Black Tuesday" isn't modern dance and the social dances that form the base of much of the material predate Fosse by several generations. Taylor uses the dances of the 30s as the source, or starting point, for the choreography (rather like Ashton did in the pas de quatre in "Swan Lake;" they're not just social dances, but you can see the Charleston, or the Turkey Trot, and see him rework them.) I think ballet has been denuded of so many of its parts in the past 30 or 40 years that we have gotten used to thinking of "ballet" as just the classical portions, but it also includes classical, demicaractere and character dances. If this isn't ballet, then neither is anything by Fokine or Massine. I think a lot of people might see "Scheherezade" or "Parade" now and think "This isn't ballet," but that would be throwing out several centuries of tradition. Like Morris, Taylor knows the difference between ballet and modern dance, and their pieces for ballet companies are quite different from those for their own companies. This doesn't make them ballet choreographers, and both are on record that they don't want to be called that, but they do make ballets when working with ballet companies.

I agree with Juliet about the costumes, the sets, the lighting. Last night, there were some changes in the lighting, especially at the beginning and end, that added needed emphasis. As much as I liked Gomes on opening night, Picone was much stronger, I thought (Gomes was a big bad kid, but Picone was a pimp.) Having Picone in that role gave more meaning to Stiefel's solo at the end and balanced the whole ballet, I thought. On opening night, Stiefel came out of nowhere. The dancers were very good, but there weren't any stars (except for Stiefel). Also, Butler (in the big bad wolf number) seemed so much more confident that she pulled the piece together. I thought it too long opening night, but last night it seemed just right, and it also seemed tighter, punchier -- which made the Stiefel solo more powerful. If there were a stronger personality in the Boulevards of Dreams sequence, I think that would make a big difference.

I'd been thinking of "Black Tuesday" in the context of Taylor's work (I've been watching him since 1976, when "Esplanade" was new, and admire his work greatly) but I'd forgotten to think about it in the context of the ABT rep. ABT has had terrible luck in new pieces for nearly 50 years. All the directors have tried. They've tried ballet choreographers, modern dance choreographers, they've come up with very few hits and fewer great works. If this isn't quite "Fancy Free," it's at least on the level of "Leaves are Fading," not Tudor's greatest work, either, but head and shoulders above the rest. (Which doesn't, of course, mean that anyone has to like it :) )

[ 04-12-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#15 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 12 April 2001 - 11:18 AM

Interesting discussion on the Taylor. I assume Taylor made this as he usually makes commissions, no? (On his own company, and then someone else sets it on the dancers at the other company) I'm curious who that person was and how much translation and transposition was involved.


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