ABT Fall Season 2017: More of the Same

ABT’s Fall Season makes heavy use works that have debuted or revived in the last several years. Works Thursday/Friday/Saturday evening consisted of two performances of Her Notes (debuted last year); two of Seranade after Plato’s Symposium (debuted in the 2016 Met Season and performed the 2016 Fall Season) two of Thirteen Diversions (debuted in the 2011 ABT Met Season, last performed in the 2011 Fall Season); one of Symphonic Variations (last performed by ABT last Fall Season after a 10-year absence). The only works in the first week that were not performed recently were Alexei Ratmansky’s new Songs of Bukovina and a revival of Jerome Robbins’ Other Dances, which ABT last performed in 2009 (2008 for NYCB, scheduled for May 2018 for the Robbins’ Celebration). In the 12 Fall Season performances, Serenade, Thirteen Diversions, and Her Notes will be presented five times each.

Although the substantial repetition makes for a dull season (although easier for the dancers) there are two new works-Ratmansky’s Songs of Bukovina and Benjamin Millepied’s I Feel the Earth Move next week. Songs of Bukovina is set to a recently completed folk-infused piano suite by the Ukrainian composer Leonid Desyatnikov and performed by guest soloist Alexey Goribol. Desyatnikov, in an interview by Marina Harss in The New York Times, gives background to the music: “The foundation was a thick book published in the Soviet Union containing Ukrainian folk songs from the 18th century forward. Many were from the region of Bukovina (in the Carpathian Mountains). Bukovina was always half in Ukraine and half in Romania, and there was a lot of coming and going, so its culture is very eclectic and mixed. The music from there can remind you of Ukrainian music, or Balkan music, or Jewish music.” Ratmansky and Desyatnikov have much in common; both are from the Ukraine, Jewish, and greatly influenced by life in the Soviet Union. This is Ratmansky’s sixth work with Desyatnikov’s music.

Ratmansky’s work consists of two leads (Isabella Boylston and Gabe Stone Shayer, who replaced the injured Alban Lendorf) and four couples. The work has plenty of ensemble dancing and a community feel, resembling a village. Active dancers rotate throughout the work in various unrelated segments: the entire cast, women only with men sitting on the floor watching in rapt attention, the lead couple, and solos from Isabella and Gabe, each segment with a different motif and tempo. Steps are straightforward with no big, breathtaking moments. Quirky movements are constant; Gabe did double tours saluting the audience, head bobs were frequent along with flexed feet leaps. The work is shrouded in mystery as Gabe and the men seem to be running from something. At times Gabe shows frustration. I’m not sure of the story here; maybe it represents fear of Soviet authorities. Isabella and Gabe worked well together, particularly dancing side by side with Isabella dancing with great emotion. Ensemble work made use of heavy diagonals of the supporting casts, pronounced throughout. The last section was the most successful with frenetic pace and pulsating movements.

Sometimes musicians are as entertaining as the dancers. I sat near the pianist Goribol; he was really feeling the last part, lip synching the notes as he slammed the keys at a rapid pace. On stage, Isabella performed supporting fouettes to the frenetic music. Then Isabella jumped into Gabe’s arms to an unexpected and abrupt ending.

The work has various segments that are difficult to piece together into a cohesive package. The only constant is the folksy, informal nature of the work. Lacking unity, it is a jumble of steps. Some of the music is slow at times, making the dancing tedious; I enjoyed the last uptempo section the most. Songs of Bukovina is a nice, enjoyable work. However, it is not particularly memorable; not much stands out after seeing it Friday and Saturday aside from the impressive folk-style costumes from Moritz Junge.

ABT Fall Season 2017: More of the Same: Isabella Boylston and Gabe Stone Shayer.

Isabella Boylston and Gabe Stone Shayer. Click for more photos.

As I wrote in my review last fall, Ratmansky’s Serenade after Plato’s Symposium 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 Friday and Saturday included Herman Cornejo, dancing with great precision and timing, the bearded James Whiteside Friday and clean-shaven James Saturday, with high jumps and a nice double tour, pirouette sequenceDaniil Simkin with a funky inside out series of chaîné turns and his trademark barrel turns. Blaine Hoven, Alexandre Hammoudi, Calvin Royal III, Gabe Stone Shayer were also strong in this impressive performance. After numerous viewings, I think this is one of Ratmansky’s best short works.

By the way, Gabe is featured in two major works this fall, Serenade and Songs of Bukovina. Why is he still a member of the Corps and not a Soloist?

Her Notes was performed Thursday and Friday evenings. As I noted in my review last year, the work relates to composer Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s (Felix Mendelssohn’s sister) writing of the piano piece Das Jahr (The Year). Her Notes is choreographer Jessica Lang’s dance interpretation of the music from four months, featuring creative imagery representing written pages. Friday’s cast with Stella Abrera, Sarah Lane, Christine Shevchenko, and James Whiteside, was particularly good.

As much as I like Serenade and Her Notes, I’ve had enough after seeing each five times in the past several years. It is a shame that ABT does not have a more widely diversified rep in the fall season, making use of a limited number of works that have been performed recently.

The highlight of the week was Robbins’ Other Dances Thursday with Hee Seo and David Hallberg. The work is a pas de deux, to a Chopin piano score, created in 1976 for Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov for a New York Public Library Performing Arts benefit. I hadn’t seen it in many years and brought back memories of seeing Makarova and Baryshnikov on video many years ago. Hee and David danced with great joy, particularly in the mazurka sections. An obvious caveat applies: there will never be a couple that can match Makarova/Baryshnikov in the role (see the remarkable YouTube video below).

Next week features Millepied’s new work, Ratmansky’s Souvenir d’un lieu cher, which debuted last Met season, and Millepied’s Daphnis and Chloe. I wasn’t overwhelmed with Souvenir in July but was willing to give it another chance. Not so with Daphnis last fall. After three viewings, I found it long and tiresome. There won’t be a fourth viewing for me.