ABT Fall 2018 Wrap-Up: Other Dances, Balanchine Work Highlight Season

American Ballet Theatre featured two substantial performances Friday, danced at a high level: Balanchine’s Symphonie Concertante and Robbins’ Other Dances.

Symphonie Concertante is unusual as it was originally choreographed for New York City Ballet’s precursor company and revived by ABT. It was created for Ballet Society in 1947 based on a preliminary 1945 version with students from the School of American Ballet. The leads in the original Ballet Society cast were Tanaquil LeClercq and Maria Tallchief. Anna Kisselgoff of The New York Times writes that Balanchine was particularly productive during this period:

For Symphonie Concertante is typical of the concentration on fiendishly tricky classical technique that explodes like fireworks in a spate of Balanchine ballets in the 1945-47 period. He was then working in four different companies that had already produced some of his best ballets, and it is a shock to realize that even without his own permanent company, formed in 1948, Mr. Balanchine had already produced some of his best ballets. In 1947 alone he created the Bizet Symphony in C for the Paris Opera Ballet, the Tchaikovsky Theme and Variations for Ballet Theater and the Mozart Symphonie Concertante for its Ballet Society premiere. In 1946, he was still with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, where he had just staged his ballet based on Tchaikovsky’s tribute to Mozart – Mozartiana, itself a link to Symphonie Concertante.

NYCB last performed Symphonie in 1952. ABT restaged and revived the work in 1983 with Cynthia Gregory, Martine van Hamel, and Patrick Bissell as leads.

On Friday, Christine Shevchenko, Devon Teuscher, and Thomas Forster served the piece well, with strong technique filled with great musicality to the Mozart score, backed by solid, in-synch work from the Corps (see photo at the top of this article). The 16 Corps members provide a foundation for the work, with basic steps such as tendus to the side and recurring piqué arabesques. Two lead women, Christine and Devon, perform similar steps as they echo the other. The two build on each others’ work with additional nuance representing their instruments, violin for Christine and viola for Devon, at times acknowledging each other as if engaging in dialog. The steps are generally straightforward, with emphasis on a dance interpretation of the Mozart score. Several sections provide challenges such as turns from fifth position and alternating turns in attitude (bent leg) which both, as great turners, handled well. Also innovative is a brief partnering section in which Christine supported Devon on pointe as she bourréed around Devon, a rare sequence in a classical work.

Thomas Forster entered about midway through the work, providing noble support. At times he supported one; at other times both. This piece is truly a Balanchine “woman is a garden of beautiful flowers and the man is the gardener” type work, with Thomas as the regal gardener, tending to his flowers (Christine and Devon) with great care as Blaine Hoven did the previous week. The work is not all partnering as Thomas had a short solo consisting of entrechat six and multiple pirouettes, which he handled with grace.

ABT will perform Symphonie Concertante November 3 and 4 at the City Center Balanchine celebration, with seven other leading companies. Christine, Devon, and Thomas are scheduled to dance in both.

Another great performance Friday was Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo in Jerome Robbins’ Other Dances. Robbins made the work for Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1976 for a New York Public Library for the Performing Arts benefit. Other Dances consists of Chopin piano works consisting of four mazurkas and one waltz, performed by Emily Wong.

Sarah and Herman were brilliant Friday in Herman’s New York debut in the role (his first was at Kennedy Center). The work will always be owned by Makarova and Baryshnikov (see YouTube video below), but Sarah and Herman did the work proud, with great gusto, technique, and musical timing. Herman was energetic, starting with folksy head shakes at the beginning of his first solo, clean saute de basques, and rapid chaîné turns. Herman has such great stage presence in which he can be compelling without doing anything. Such command and authority served him well in this work which has several slow parts. Sarah was his equal, dancing with great joy and emotion.

Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo. Click for more photos.

Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo. Click for more photos.

Wayne McGregor’s AFTERITE finished up the great evening on a down note. I did not like the work when it debuted in the spring. A second viewing did not improve my initial impression.

AFTERITE is about a colony consisting of 13 dancers and two children. The primary set consists of a greenhouse on stage right with plants inside. For some reason, the community is nasty to the mother (Alesandra Ferri) 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. 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, Herman, 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, Herman strutted around the stage as the mother was distraught.

I still do not get it.

On a positive note, Garegin Pogossian was impressive. He has been a Corps member since 2016 with a background consisting of several competitions, including Lausanne. Garegin shows great promise and I look forward to seeing him again.

ABT Fall Season Final Thoughts

I enjoyed the fall season this season over last year. Symphonie Concertante was well danced by the leads and Corps. Robbins’ Fancy Free and Other Dances were in fine form, particularly with Herman Cornejo. I enjoyed Alexei Ratmansky’s Songs of Bukovina more this year and it is growing on me, particularly when Christine and Calvin Royal are leads. Michelle Dorrence’s new work set to Duke Ellington was entertaining, but not impactful and nuanced enough for future viewings. Jessica Lang’s new work lacked context, a nice but not memorable work. Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room is a 1980s classic throbbing with energy, with standout performances from Skylar Brandt, Herman, Joseph Gorak, Isabella Boylston. Originally scheduled for two casts, only one cast was used.

More ABT Fall Season Reviews:

Alistair Macaulay, New York Times
Alistair Macaulay, New York Times
Robert Greskovic, Wall Street Journal
Robert Gottlieb, Observer
Marina Harss, DanceTabs
Jerry Hochman, CriticalDance