ABT Review: Jessica Lang-Her Notes, Daphnis and Chloe


Jessica Lang, Her Notes. Click for more photos.

ABT’s Friday bill showcased Jessica Lang’s world premier of Her Notes. The work is an exciting explosion of movement, complexity, and mystery. The work merits multiple viewings given the intricate and nuanced patterns Lang presents, and I look forward to seeing it three more times this ABT fall season.

Her Notes relates to composer Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s writing of the piano piece Das Jahr (The Year). Fanny was Felix Mendelssohn’s sister, with great musical talent; however, as a woman, she was not encouraged to publish her work according to the program notes. Despite this societal bias in the 1800s, she wrote over 400 works for the piano, an instrument she had access to in her home. She wrote Das Jahr, her most famous work, when she and her husband traveled on a yearlong trip. At the end of each month, she wrote a musical reflection of the experience on different colored pieces of paper.

Lang’s work is a dance interpretation of the music from four months, featuring creative imagery representing written pages. In the beginning, dancers enter over a rectangular scrim at the back of the stage and suspended rectangles adorn the stage for parts of the production. The work has five sections representing January, February, June, December, and a final Postlude to summarize the year. As the seasons change, various shaped suspended rectangles are lowered, with each segment having different color theme. As the month changes, Fanny turns the page to work on another reflection with a blank page of another color with dancers providing a visual representation of her work.

The cast consists of 10 dancers and Lang makes full use of her instruments, with movements rooted in classical ballet vocabulary. Lang uses classical ballet technique infused with modern/contemporary elements, particularly off-balance movements and weight shifts not commonly seen in classical ballet. Dancers bolt in and out of the action in novel and complicated patterns; for example, the lead male dances with two supporting females while the lead female dances with two supporting males. Off they go with entry of another set of dancers in this fast paced, dynamic work. With the changing seasons and resulting background and lighting, there is never a dull moment. The unpredictable nature of the work is its greatest strength as the audience is treated to a vast array of movements and combinations.

The work has a sense of humor. In one segment, several women did fish dives out of sight behind the rectangular scrim, followed by Cory Stearns falling in a similar movement, caught by one of the ladies, drawing laughter from the crowd.

I enjoyed Misty Copeland and Jeffrey Cirio in the February segment; Misty displayed nice off-balance weight shift movements while Jeffrey had several controlled turn sections. Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes were rich in detail in their pas de deux. Devon Teuscher and Stephanie Williams danced the Postlude with great energy.

It is difficult to take in all that Her Notes offers in one viewing. I look forward to seeing it again.

It is a relief that the ABT World Premier this season is from someone not named Ratmansky/Peck/Millepied/Wheeldon, choreographers who have dominated new works in the recent past at major ballet companies. Also unique is that the work is from a woman (along with the first piece of the evening, Twyla Tharp’s The Brahms-Haydn Variations). I’m not sure why female choreographers have not been prominent in ballet creation. Maybe artistic directors believe they will not be criticized for selecting a big name choreographer for a new work, even if it is a failure; the current roster of “approved” big names are all men. On the other hand, investing resources in a relatively unknown choreographer that generates a flop creates great career risks for the artistic director. Whatever the reason, ABT deserves credit for deviating from the standard path in the creation of this winner of a work.


Stella Abrera and Cory Stearns, Daphnis and Chloe. Click for more photos.

Daphnis and Chloe

ABT performed Daphnis and Chloe, Benjamin Millepied’s 2014 work for the Paris Opera Ballet. The story of Daphnis is based on the 2nd century writings of Greek writer Longus. It is the story of Daphnis’ love for Chloe, and the many obstacles they encounter before they find true love. The ballet goes back to the Ballets Russes, with score by Maurice Ravel, commissioned by Diaghilev. Vaslav Nijinsky and Tarmara Karsavina choreographed the work in 1912.

Millepied’s work is a modern interpretation of this ancient story, with sets designed by Daniel Buren featuring numerous suspended geometric shapes raising and falling throughout the performance. There are no Greek statues or relics and nothing in the scenery or costumes that would remind viewers of a story from ancient Greece. Dancers are clad in loose-fitting costumes designed by Holly Hynes, rather than more classical attire.

The plot is easy to follow, particularly with the color scheme costumes where white represents good, black bad, and colorful colors festive. The simple story is that Daphnis (Cory Stearns) and Chloe (Stella Abrera) are in love; the seductress Lycenion (Cassandra Trenary) challenges their love by going after Daphnis; Dorcon (Blaine Hoven) makes a pass for Chloe; Dorcon conspires with the pirate Bryaxis (James Whiteside) to kidnap Chloe; Daphnis is hurt trying to defend Chloe from the pirates. Through all of the challenges, there is a happy ending as nymphs intervene with the god Pan and the young lovers are brought together.

Stella and Cory were particularly compelling, radiating youthful love. Blaine portrayed the evil Dorcon with abandon; his dancing has shown substantial maturity this season after his June promotion to Soloist. Cassandra demonstrated great passion in attempting to seduce young Daphnis. The choreography for the pirate segments is particularly striking, danced with abandon by Whiteside with great controlled and energetic turns.

Millipied’s Daphnis and Chloe is impressive, although the suspended scenery can be puzzling and distracting at times. I’m not sure what the suspended shapes represent and why they are there, adding great mystery to the work. Former NYCB dancers Janie Taylor and Sébastien Marcovici staged the performance for ABT.

The first week of ABT’s fall season has been a joy, filled with important, weighty works danced at a very high level to fairly full houses. The season resumes Wednesday for the final week. In addition to Ashton’s delightful Symphonic Variations, Ratmansky’s Serenade after Plato’s Symposium, Her Notes, and Daphnis and Chloe, the company will perform Ashton’s Monotones I and II and Balanchine’s Prodigal Son with leads Jeffrey Cirio/Hee Seo and Daniil Simkin/Veronika Part.

ABT Review: Symphonic Variations


Isabella Boylston and Alban Lendorf, The Brahms Haydn Variations. Click for more photos.

Checking on the ABT fall season schedule a few weeks ago, I was relieved to discover the first performance on my list coincided with the Clinton/Trump presidential debate. The debates, like a gruesome traffic accident on the highway, are both ghastly and irresistible. You know it will be horrible, but you can’t resist sneaking a peek as you drive by.

Instead, I spent my time Wednesday evening enjoying ABT’s thoughtful and compelling fall season opening performance. The bill consisted of significant works that were well danced: Alexei Ratmansky’s Serenade after Plato’s Symposium, which debuted in May; Frederick Ashton’s 1946 classic Symphonic Variations; and Twyla Tharp’s The Brahms-Haydn Variations (2000). I will give more detail on the works during the two-week season, but here are brief thoughts for now.


Marcelo Gomes, Serenade after Plato’s Symposium. Click for more photos.

I wasn’t blown away by Serenade after Plato’s Symposium when it debuted in May at the Met, but after seeing it again, it is growing on me. The work is set to Leonard Bernstein’s violin concerto of the same name. In Plato’s symposium, seven Athenians, discuss the nature of love. In the ballet, seven men give a dance conversation interpretation of the debate, filled with camaraderie and male bonding. Men pick each other up after falling, grasp hands in a group circle like football players before a game, and shake hands throughout. Dancing was at a high level in this multifaceted, nuanced work. Impressive performances included Jeffrey Cirio in a brisk solo with nice jumps such as strong double cabriole derriére; Daniil Simkin with a funky inside out series of chaîné turns; and his trademark wide arm pirouettes; Blaine Hoven looking in great shape after his promotion to Soloist in the spring; and, of course, the charismatic Marcelo Gomes.

ABT hasn’t performed Ashton’s Symphonic Variations since 2003. Not sure why it has been out of the rep for so long as this is a pure dance classic. Ashton completed the work after serving in the Royal Air Force in World War II. The work, set to César Franck’s Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra, was one of his first works for the main stage of the Royal Opera House. Symphonic Variations is exhausting for the three couples, as they are onstage and active for the entire 18 minute work. No going off in the wings for a desperate breather in this one. Dancers are clad in white tunic-type costumes and are reflective throughout against a green background with curved lines. Various combinations of dancers are active from the entire cast to solos, providing great variety.

Alban Lendorf was impressive, adding muscular heft to the role, facilitated by his great line and feet. His training in the Bournonville Method at the Royal Danish Ballet is apparent by his light and crisp beats. Cameron McCune bust onto the stage with an impressive performance; Cameron joined ABT as an apprentice in 2013 after winning a silver medal at the Youth American Grand Prix in 2012. Calvin Royal III danced with great passion in this and in the previous Symposium works.

Tharp’s The Brahms-Hayden Variations finished the evening. The work features the beautiful formal Variations on a Theme by Haydn for Orchestra, Op 56a with dancers clad in informal plain brown costumes. The work is disjointed at times, lacking cohesion between the lead dancers and corps, which adds to the complexity of the work. Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes were entertaining in a playful dance that showcased Gillian’s great turns.

John Clifford New York City Ballet Videos on YouTube

John Clifford recently posted a number of great New York City Ballet (NYCB) videos on his YouTube channel. Clifford is a choreographer and Artistic Director at Los Angeles Dance Theater and was a Principal Dancer at NYCB from 1966-1974, founder of Los Angeles Ballet (1974-1985), and Ballet of Los Angeles (for more information on Clifford’s interesting career, check out an interview with Rebecca King at Tendus Under a Palm Tree). The videos feature NYCB stars Jacques d’Amboise, Allegra Kent, Patricia McBride, Arthur Mitchell, Kyra Nichols, Violette Verdy, Maria Tallchief and many others. As I noted in a previous post, finding NYCB video is difficult; these videos help to fill a big void, giving a great historical perspective on Balanchine’s work and his company. The videos seem to come from live TV and video recordings. Whatever the source, it is a wonderful treasure that will keep NYCB and ballet history fans busy.

A sample of videos:

Serenade: Darci Kistler, Kyra Nichols, Maria Calegari, Adam Luders (see post below for video)
Western Symphony (1956): Tanaquil Le Clercq and Jacques d’Amboise a few weeks before she was stricken with polio (see video above)
Tarantella: Patricia McBride and Edward Villella
Agon (1960)
Raymonda Variations (1965): Melissa Hayden
Concerto Barocco (1966): Suzanne Farrell
Who Cares? (1983): Sean Lavery, Lourdes Lopes, Patricia McBride, Heather Watts
Agon Pas de Deux: Diana Adams and Arthur Mitchell
Scotch Symphony, 2nd Movement: Maria Tallchief
Violette Verdy compilation
La Source: Violette Verdy, John Clifford
Concerto Barocco (1966): Suzanne Farrell)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1966): Allegra Kent, Jacques d’Amboise

NYCB Review:
Classic NYCB, American Music

NYCB Review: Classic NYCB, American Music NYCB presented two delightful programs Thursday and Friday consisting of great classics danced at a high level. The dancing of the company this fall season has been outstanding with all of the favorite principals back from other projects, with the exception of Maria Kowroski. Coupled with the great rep, the season has been compelling.

Classic NYCB, Friday

The company presented the theme Classic NYCB on Friday, consisting of Serenade, American Rhapsody, Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, and Western Symphony to a packed house at Koch Theater. Even some seats in the nosebleed fifth balcony were occupied.

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Balanchine’s Serenade (1934), his first original work he created in the U.S., so it was nice to get reacquainted with the work. The multifaceted classic leaves much to ponder; although it is plotless, one wonders the meaning of the relationships between the dancers in the work: the Russian Girl (Megan Fairchild), the Waltz Girl (Sterling Hyltin), the Dark Angel (Teresa Reichlen), their partners (Zachary Catazaro, Ask la Cour), and Corps dancers consisting of 17 women and four men.

The corps provides texture to the work, starting from the iconic opening scene in which 17 women stand erect, arm raised overhead; after a subtle move of the wrist, their arms move overhead and down to their chests to the flowing Tschaikovsky Serenade for Strings in C Major. The corps plays an important role as the dancers are active in numerous sections, many with beautiful flowing arms as they dance in long skirts in an icy blue light. The leads are integrated into the corps in an egalitarian manner. Rather than the lead always performing in front of the corps, in some sections, the lead dances with the corps, indistinguishable from the rest.

A memorable moment from Serenade takes place when corps members slowly leave the stage as one of the male leads (Ask la Cour) slowly walks toward the Dark Angel, commencing a graceful pas de deux. Another is the ending when the Waltz Girl falls to the floor, possibly representing death, only to be rescued by six women. She gets up and runs to embrace another woman; several men hoist her on their shoulders as she lifts her arms in a graceful backbend as the curtain falls. For a plotless ballet, it is open to many interpretations. The mystery of the work is one reason it is a timeless favorite.

Serenade was beautiful Friday. In particular, Megan was impressive as the Russian Girl, with fast paced beats, moving with breakneck speed to keep up with the music. The corps dancing was at a high level, generally in synch.

The evening featured an interesting discussion by NYCB Music Director Andrew Litton on George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, the music for Christopher Wheeldon’s American Rhapsody, which was Gershwin’s original title for the work. Gershwin created the iconic score in just six weeks at his residence at 33 Riverside Drive (75th Street) for an all jazz 1924 concert by band leader Paul Whiteman. Litton demonstrated on the piano the innovative fast repetitive notes and frenetic energy of the work, which later influenced Maurice Ravel’s work. A great history, particularly for younger audience members who probably thought the score was derived from American Airlines commercials.

Robert Fairchild, Gene Kelley Tribute, Career Transition for Dancers Gala, September 28, 2015. Click for more photos

As for Wheeldon’s American Rhapsody, Robert Fairchild always stands out in Broadway type roles with great jazz steps and turns infused with substantial ballet technique. Robert, back from the leading role in Wheeldon’s An American in Paris, and Tiler Peck were on the mark in several playful dances. Untiy Phelan and Amar Ramasar were effective in their partnering. Although I enjoyed the leads, I found the work disjointed with little cohesion, particularly the interaction between the corps dancers and the leads.

Ashly Isaacs and Gonzalo Garcia displayed nice timing and emphasis in the Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux. Ashly, a Soloist, had great energy with effective phrasing on her beat sections, all with flowing arms. Her performance was impressive. Gonzalo was fine in his solos, although he cheated a bit much on his takeoffs for his double tours.

Western Symphony (1954) closed out the evening with rousing performances from Teresa Reichlen and Andrew Veyette. Teresa had a nice arabesque penché diagonal, very effective with her long legs and deep extension; also, controlled grand fouettes. Andrew had a lot of razzle dazzle, highlighted by rapid repeated double pirouette/double tours, a very difficult combination.


Ashley Bouder, Stars and Stripes. Click for more photos

American Music, Thursday

Nice to see Ashley Bouder back in action after giving birth to a girl in May (Gia Kourlas of The New York Times interviews Ashley on returning to the stage). Her dancing in Stars and Stripes Thursday showed that she is as strong as ever, with a stirring performance in the athletic Fourth Campaign (Liberty Bell and El Capitan) with Andrew Veyette. Ashley’s balances in arabesque in the pas de deux were impressive along with her solo, which featured tricky changes in pace and movements alternating between big and small steps. Andrew was equally impressive, with sturdy leaps, done with militaristic precision.

Troy Schumacher led the troops in the 3rd Regiment: Thunder and Gladiator section with nice high double tours to a solid landing and precise entrechat six along with his troops. Lauren King (First Campaign: Corcoran Cadets) and Megan LeCrone (Second Campaign: Rifle Regiment) led their troops with great gusto. The corps was nicely in synch Thursday, generally dancing in a triangle formation behind the lead.

Jerome Robbins’ energetic, pulsating, and dynamic Glass Pieces opened the show. The piece, set to Philip Glass music, opens with dancers walking briskly and randomly across the stage, much like everyday scenes from busy pedestrian crossings in New York. Keeping with Glass’s score, the scenery and costumes are minimalist in nature; dancers in unitards with a few women in skirts perform in front of a simple checkered background. Every now and then, three couples break up the frenetic informal walking with slow duets consisting of basic dance steps. Some steps are constant throughout the piece, such as lunges with an exaggerated outstretched arm, exaggerated struts with clenched fists, reinforcing themes from the repetitive music.

The last section (Akhnaten excerpt) is my favorite part, with energetic drum-focused music and exciting dancing from corps members. Everyone had fun in this section including the orchestra; I could see the tuxedo-attired percussionist banging away on the drum, swaying and moving with almost as much gusto as a rock band drummer. This work has to be a favorite among dancers as it allows them to cut loose with raw athleticism.

NYCB Jewels and Divertimento No. 15 Review, Sept 24, 30


Teresa Reichlen and Russell Janzen, Diamonds. Click for more photos

NYCB presented Balanchine’s 1967 classic Jewels Friday. The idea for the ballet originated in Europe in the 1950s when Claude Arpels of the jewelry firm Van Cleef & Arpels suggested it to Balanchine, according to John Gruen’s The World’s Great Ballets. Later in the 1960s, Balanchine decided to choreograph a ballet with dancers dressed as jewels. The result is a full-length three act plotless ballet, with music from three composers.

Emeralds is the first piece, set to music by Gabriel Fauré. Balanchine considered Emeralds “an evocation of France — the France of elegance, comfort, dress, perfume,” set to 19th century dances of the Romantic era. Emeralds is an exercise in simplicity as rudimentary steps predominate. To make it work, leads must dance with great timing, grace, and musicality.

Abi Stafford/Jared Angle and Ashley Laracey/Adrian Danchig-Waring were the leads Friday. The dancing was fine with Jared and Adrian as noble and graceful cavaliers; Abi and Ashley were graceful, with arms flowing with the enchanting music. In Emeralds, I enjoyed the interplay between the leads and the Corps dancers as they weaved in and out in various patterns; every member of the Corps had her place as they systematically moved from location to location with great precision and timing. The Corps danced well Friday, dancing like clockwork with great purpose.

The second piece, Rubies, has a more modern flavor. The opening of the curtain revealed a dramatic and stark black and red backdrop with dancers in red, which elicited shrieks and applause from the approving crowd. Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz were the leads. Megan is dancing very well this season and displayed dramatic energy and spunk in this work; I liked Megan’s phrasing as she lightly tapped the floor after a massive grand battement. Joaquin proved to be a fine complement to Megan, with an aggressive, all-out style, demonstrated by rapid chaîné turns, which met with great applause. The piece, set to the festive Stravinsky Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, is informal and playful, featuring movements not usually seen in ballet: quirky shoulder moves, flexed feet while standing in second position, jump rope movements, and exaggerated running steps. Energy is vital in this work and plenty was provided, led by Megan and Joaquin.

Diamonds is the third piece, set to Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony, inspired by Imperial Russia and the Mariinsky Theater, where Balanchine trained. Teresa Reichlen and Russell Janzen were the leads with a cool blue, Nutcracker-type background with dancers clad in classical white attire. Russell displayed ample chivalry in the long pas de deux, filled with supported promenades showcasing Teresa’s great long-limbed extension, ending the dance by kissing her hand while on one knee. Very sweet. Russell’s solo was adequate but not memorable, consisting of standard turns in second positiondouble tours, and coupé jeté manége. Teresa’s musicality stood out with the various changes in tempo throughout her solos.


Tiler Peck, Andrew Veyette, Ana Sophie Sheller, Divertimento No. 15. Click for more photos.

NYCB performed Divertimento No. 15 (1956) Saturday evening September 24 as part of the Balanchine X Vienna theme. Divertimento is a regal, elegant, chivalrous work, set to the beautiful Mozart score. The work showcases intricate patterns and complexity between the five female leads and three males during a number of short divertissement pieces. Balanchine named the work after Mozart’s score, which he considered the finest divertimento ever written. Dancers-clad in regal attire, classical yellow and white tutus for the women and white tights for the men against a plain blue backdrop-serve up ten short variations against the soothing Mozart score.

Standout performances included Lauren King in the First Variation, following the rhythms in the Mozart score with carefully timed movements. Ana Sophia Sheller displayed nice control in her solos, particularly on her aggressively performed arabesque scoots in the Third Variation. Tiler Peck was dynamic, displaying fast footwork in the cutsie, up tempo Sixth Variation. Andrew Veyette was uncharacteristically out of synch, strained at times with loose form in the Fifth Variation.

Lincoln Center Live Streaming Event Friday

Lincoln Center will present an all-day live broadcast on its Facebook page Friday, October 7. The event is designed to give arts fans backstage access the what goes on during a typical day at the arts complex, according to The Wall Street Journal.. The event will include a day in the life of NYCB Principal Dancer Megan Fairchild, a behind the scenes look at Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Falsettos, and a pre-performance meeting with pianist Lang Lang.

As I noted in a previous post on ballet marketing, streaming is a great way to reach arts fans outside of the New York area. The article says that the Philharmonic streamed its September 21 opening-night concert via Facebook Live. In April, the San Francisco Symphony used it to broadcast a world premiere; Broadway shows have also used the tool.

Metropolitan Opera House Celebrates 50th Birthday

The Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center celebrates its 50th birthday. The opera house opened on September 16, 1966 with the world premier of Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra, based on the Shakespeare play. Fred Plotkin at WQXR has a nice history of the old Metropolitan Opera House at 7th Avenue and 39th Street:

The relatively confined space in that crowded part of the city meant that the old Met had a glorious auditorium with excellent acoustics and sightlines that often made it easier to see other audience members than the stage. It had very little space surrounding the stage, meaning that scenery sometimes had to be put out on the street. Settings at the old Met were not special and one of the reasons that it became known as a “singer’s house” is that the singers were the main reason one went to a performance at the old Met.

Things were so tight that the chorus often rehearsed in Sherry’s, the restaurant in the old opera house. Because the company did a different opera each evening, in repertory, scenery had to be put in trucks after a performance and transported to a warehouse.

The overall plan for what came to be known as Lincoln Center was done by Wallace K. Harrison, the preferred architect of the Rockefeller family and the man who designed Rockefeller Center and the United Nations building. Harrison would also design the new Metropolitan Opera house to sit in the middle of the main plaza of Lincoln Center, with Philharmonic Hall (now David Geffen Hall) for the New York Philharmonic (leaving behind Carnegie Hall) and the New York State Theatre (now called the Koch Theatre) for the New York City Ballet and New York City Opera (arriving from City Center on 55th Street).