My favorite ballet music scores are Aaron Copland’s Rodeo, Georges Bizet’s Symphony in C, Stravinsky’s Firebird, and Leoš Janáček’s Sinfonietta. Because of my love of the music, I was thrilled at the news that ABT would revive Jiří Kylián’s ballet by the same name in the fall season; I think the last time the company performed the work was in the late 1990s so this was a revival, like Twyla Tharp’s Bach Partita last season.
I remember seeing ABT perform it in the late 1990s at City Center, watching it for the first time after a long day at work and very tired. Before the curtain opened, trumpet and horn players made their way to the extreme sides of the stage, six on each side. The opening segment was a VERY, VERY LOUD, inspiring fanfare that woke me up.
Here is a YouTube video of the piece and my advice is to CRANK UP THE VOLUME TO LEVEL 11 for maximum enjoyment.
According to Wikipedia, Janáček dedicated the work in 1926 “To the Czechoslovak Armed Forces.” He said it was intended to express “contemporary free man, his spiritual beauty and joy, his strength, courage and determination to fight for victory.”
For background on the dance, The Netherlands Dance Theater debuted the piece in 1978 and the ABT début was in 1991. According to Kylián’s website he received a call from the director of the Charleston Festival in the summer of 1978 inquiring whether had heard of the composer. Kylián knew the composer and always wanted to create a work to the glorious Sinfonietta but was taken aback with such an enormous responsibility. Although time was very limited, Kylián accepted the challenge for the festival. With dancers working overtime and impossible hours while on tour in Israel, the result is a spontaneous, simple work. The audience at the festival in the summer of 1978 was unable to hear the last horn fanfare because they stood on top of their chairs, cheering and throwing the programs into the air, according to his website.
ABT revived the piece Friday and again the horn fanfares were very loud and inspiring. During the opening fanfare, five men run on and off stage, with jetes (split jumps from one leg) the primary step. After the fanfare, women join the action, wearing flat shoes rather than pointe shoes, performing mini duets with the men. The men and women are happy, with joyous looks as they occasionally look skyward. I particularly enjoyed James Whiteside, with long extended arabesques and great line, Marcelo Gomes, with precise steps and his long legs that cover a lot of ground on the jetes, and Jose Sebastian, a Corps member that I have not seen much before. Among the women, Gillian Murphy and Paloma Herrera excelled at the primarily basic steps.
In the end, to the closing horn fanfare, dancers form a line with their backs to the audience, arms up, looking skyward at the blue sky backdrop. Kylián joined the dancers onstage for the curtain call. I enjoyed this piece immensely and look forward to seeing it again. ABT will perform the piece tonight, Tuesday, Thursday, and next Saturday and Sunday matinees.
Liam Scarlett’s With A Chance of Rain has been a source of controversy since its debut Wednesday, with butt and boob grabbing in one section, described by New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay as “…kiddie humor; it makes both dancers look callow.” I’m happy to report that, according to ABATT at BalletAlert reporting on the Friday performance: “Good news. The boob grab and shake has been removed from the Scarlett ballet. The twerking has been reduced to a slight rear end shake. Glad to see McKenzie came to his senses. Don’t know if the change is optional or mandatory.” In the Friday performance, there was some butt grabbing, I guess for the sake of humor. However, the humor escaped me. In general I think that choreographers should adhere to a rule that if you can’t do something on a crowded New York City subway train, you shouldn’t do it onstage.
Aside from the controversy, I didn’t like the somber, dark, monotonous piece. Cory Strearns and Isabella Boylston had a nice duet but it couldn’t save the work for me.
I enjoyed Christopher Wheeldon’s Thirteen Diversions, which debuted in 2011. It was dedicated to the late Georgina Parkinson, former Royal Ballet dancer and ABT Ballet Master. The dancers are clad in black or silver elegant costumes set to a backdrop that changes in color and music by Benjamin Britten. There are four lead couples with eight men and women in the supporting cast as they make their way through 13 segments. The piece is classical with quirky novelties and head movements with dancers working in small groups. Stella Abrera and Thomas Forster had a nice duet as did Misty Copeland and Joseph Gorak. Later, I enjoyed Calvin Royal III and Joseph in a duet.
The piece is interesting, with never a dull moment with the 13 separate segments as the piece uses various combinations of dancers set to basic ballet movements with the backdrop revealing the changing mood of the work as it progresses.