ABT Review: The Brahms-Haydn Variations

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.