Ratmansky Seasons Highlights ABT First Week

Alicia Alonzo, former American Ballet Theatre great and founder of National Ballet of Cuba, passed away Thursday. Coincidently, ABT performed Theme and Variations that evening, a work that George Balanchine created for her and Igor Youskevitch in 1947 at Ballet Theatre (precursor to ABT). ABT Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie gave a short speech before the performance commemorating her career, noting her modesty as she would say “I don’t want to be remembered, I just don’t want to be forgotten.” McKenzie finished his remarks: “Thank you Alicia. This one is for you. You will not be forgotten.”

Unfortunately, with Sarah Lane and Joseph Gorak as leads, the company did not present a distinguished rendition of the work in tribute of Alonzo. When the casting first came out in the summer, I thought the selection of Joseph as lead was puzzling. While he has a great line with supple feet that work well in some roles, he is not a great jumper or turner, skills that are necessary for the male lead in Theme and Variations. Partnering is also not his strength as I noted in a 2013 ABT Nutcracker review of him and Sarah. Those issues were exposed in this treacherous work as he struggled through his solos and partnering. His double tour/pirouette combination was weak as he had several stumbles as he traveled substantially to the left and had to shut down the series prematurely. His double pirouette to a rond de jambe to fourth position series was not sturdy. Partnering had an abrupt and strained quality. Ending the work on a down note was a botched shoulder sit, a rudimentary step. He could not lift Sarah high enough to put her rear end squarely on the top of his shoulder; she slid down his chest as he held her awkwardly by her hips as the curtain finally fell. Sarah’s solo work was generally fine without any glitches. However, she had a tense, strained look throughout.

The Saturday evening performance was much improved. Joseph’s tour/pirouette combination was more stable and he finished with the music, although this is not his strong suit. The partnering sections were smoother with a greater degree of purpose and energy. The shoulder sit was completed without mishap, although not smooth. 

In both performances, the Corps and Soloists were effective as they moved in synch.

Cassandra Trenary, Christine Shevchenko, Calvin Royal III, Herman Cornejo, Stephanie Williams, Blaine Hoven, Luciana Paris, Skylar Brandt, A Gathering of Ghosts, October 19, 2019

Twyla Tharp’s A Gathering of Ghosts, which debuted Wednesday, is her first for ABT in 10 years and celebrates Herman Cornejo’s 20th anniversary with the company. Regrettably, the work is an imperfect vehicle to display the talents of one of the great dancers of his generation. This is not one of Tharp’s best works. For starters, the costumes by Norma Kamali are bizarre with Herman in a tight jumpsuit with silver decorations; Blaine Hoven in a dress; Calvin Royal III in a lounge lizard jacket with loose-fitting pants; Aran Bell with a glitter top with black tight shorts; Christine Shevchenko in a bell-bottom jumpsuit; and Catherine Hurlin in an outfit more befitting of an Oakland Raiders cheerleader. 

If there is a message provided by the characters (Ghosts such as Louis XIV (Blaine); Marie Antoinette (Stephanie Williams), Murasaki (Joo Won Ahn), Greased Lightning (Catherine Hurlin), Mme. De Staël (Aran Bell), with Herman as the Host), it escaped me. As confusing as it was, there were several interesting segments. Herman had several solos that showed off his great artistry with smooth pirouettes, double assemblés, effortless leaps done in various moods ranging from informal, impatient, to intense. Herman is a one of a kind dancer and he can make an imperfect work enticing (take a look at my YouTube video below on what makes Herman unique). His work with Skylar Brandt was also notable, with several big and twisting lifts and a tango that references his Latin roots. Zimmi Coker provided energy as a Consort with Calvin Royal and Christine Shevchenko also providing a spark, with crisp movements.

At the end, dancers lit up the stage with flashlights as Herman adorned a large cape as he bowed to the audience standing in front of the dancers.

I was lukewarm on Alexei Ratmansky’s The Seasons when it debuted in the spring Met season, but the work came alive Thursday and Saturday evening. The Seasons is an explosion of movement, multifaceted with great nuance. The 40-minute work rewards multiple viewings to take in the large number of dancers and segments. The Seasons is among the best of Ratmansky’s ABT works, which includes Shostakovich Trilogy (2013), Sleeping Beauty (2015), and Serenade after Plato’s Symposium (2016).

Aran Bell as Winter had a robust performance including a clean tour/pirouette combination as in Theme and Variations. With a commanding stage presence and crisp technique, the future is bright for the 21-year old Soloist. Catherine Hurlin also stood out in the Winter section with several tricky turn segments. The Spring dance featured James Whiteside, Zimmi Coker, and Skylar Brandt (photo at top). Zimmi and Skylar have a similar all out, high energy style that is exciting. Isabella Boylston and James were effective in a soothing pas de deux representing a mix of seasons.

The Seasons is a reworking of Petipa’s 1900 ballet that was one of his last productions before his retirement. With a score composed the work from Alexander Glazunov, Petipa constructed a plotless ballet that featured characters such as Snow, Frost, the Faun, and the Rose in celebration of the seasons. Ratmansky’s version features original choreography while retaining almost all of the original character names “…though the monikers are designed to serve more as abstract ideas than literal representations,” according to the program notes. The work is “…a declaration of love, expression of gratitude and gift to the company that has been my home for the last decade,” says Ratmansky.

Next week features new works from James Whiteside and Gemma Bond Wednesday, Friday, Sunday and a 20th anniversary celebration for Herman on Saturday evening.