Wayne McGregor’s new AFTERITE is a one and done ballet for me; one viewing Saturday evening of this weird and offensive science fiction work is enough.
The work, set to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, revolves around a colony consisting of 13 dancers and two children. Costumes are minimalistic, with dancers in beige comfort clothes resembling sleep attire. The primary set consists of a greenhouse on stage right with plants inside. For some reason, the community is nasty to the mother (Devon Teuscher) as they covered her head with a black bag with members circling around her. Ultimately the community forced her to make a decision on which of her two children will survive. The story and the program notes are unclear on the genesis of the terrible choice the mother faces. There doesn’t seem to be a genocide or ethnic cleansing motive; rather the program alludes to a nonsensical neo-Malthusian belief that too many people populate the earth to consume the limited resources Mother Nature produces: “Inside the last colony, humanity is a fragile frontier and survival demands the fittest. As nature reclaims its rites, a mother must choose what she holds most dear and what she can afford to lose.” Alternatively, it represents a futuristic society required to sacrifice its own to please the nature Gods.
The story went from bad to worse as it progressed. To ease its “burden”, the community resorted to tactics practiced by the Nazis. One child was inside the greenhouse. The evil head member of the community, Gabe Stone Shayer, locked the door. He flipped a switch that released white smoke inside the greenhouse; the greenhouse became as gas chamber as the young girl disappeared. His mission accomplished, Gabe strutted around the stage as the mother was distraught. The action took place in front of a camera tripod without a camera attached, placed on stage earlier.
Arts should be provocative and thought-provoking, not afraid to tackle difficult topics. However, I have no idea what debate AFTERITE is designed to provoke and am at a loss for where to start. Audience members were also not convinced. The reception at the end of the performance was the most tepid I have seen in over 30 years of attending ballet performances as audience members scurried out of the Met as the curtain closed; it was as if the audience collectively said “What was that?”
The dancing in AFTERITE consisted of numerous pairings with quirky movements without a unifying theme. Much dancing seemed designed to fill the Stravinsky score. There was a pairing at the beginning with Gabe and Daniil Simkin, allowing the choreographer to check same-sex partnering box that seems to be required for new ballets these days. Gabe and Devon had an interesting dance at the beginning that was filled with tension.
Hopefully AFTERITE will not return. This effort was money down the drain.
For the remainder of the ABT season, I look forward to watching characters die of more anodyne causes: sword fights and suicide by knife stabbing (Romeo and Juliet); suicide by drowning and by a broken spell (Swan Lake); and death by volcanic eruption caused by Gods seeking revenge (La Bayadere).
The first work of the evening was Firebird as the unifying theme of the evening was futuristic pieces set to Stravinsky scores. Although the ballet is based on Russian fairy tales, the ABT Alexei Ratmansky version has a futuristic feel. Scenery is bizarre, consisting of trees with smoke rising from the trunks and bright fire tinged tops. Costumes add to the science fiction with bold colors to delineate the cast of characters. I wasn’t fond of the work when it debuted in 2012, but it is growing on me each time I see it.
Many in the packed Met house Saturday evening were there to see Misty Copeland as the Firebird. Misty delivered a fine performance filled with theatricality. The role plays to her strengths, with a mix of dramatic energy and petite allegro. Herman Cornejo was effective as Ivan as he destroyed Kaschei (Duncan Lyle) and his followers to marry the princes (Cassandra Trenary). Kaschei is a big role for Corps member Duncan. I haven’t seen him dance much. Given his quality performance, he will get more roles in dramatic parts.