American Ballet Theater at the Guggenheim!

Tonight I went to another Works & Process event at the Guggenheim museum, this one focusing on the upcoming season of my favorite ballet company in the world, American Ballet Theater 🙂 We were treated to brief excerpts of four of the works they’ll be putting on, including, most excitingly, a brand new ballet choreographed for ABT by New York City Ballet principal dancer Benjamin Millepied called “From Here On Out.” I was hoping Millepied would be there to talk about his work, but he wasn’t; instead the composer commissioned to create the score — prodigy / wunderkind / kid genius Nico Muhly, and ABT’s orchestra conductor Ormsby Wilkins were there. Muhly really cracked me up. He’s 26 years old, recently graduated with his MFA from Juilliard (Columbia undergrad), and is already a highly sought after composer — I mean this is an orchestral work for the largest dance company in the country! He was so cute, so excited about this piece. Since I don’t know much about music, most of what he said was like overhearing a conversation in another language: the piece is a pasacaglia with a baseline melody with repetitions, the variations and entrances of which can be disguised, like a trick, which can be very provocative, etc. etc. He described the musical repetitions with variations as being like several NY city blocks, all of which span the exact same distance but which vary in terms of their flavor depending on neighborhood, which I thought was a nice little analogy. Wilkins, the conductor, told us the music to this piece was so amazing, so compelling, we should make several trips to the ballet this season to see each and every one of its performances. That way, he exclaimed excitedly, we could actually watch the ballet the first time, then the second, third and fourth sit back and listen to the sheer genius of the music! Or, if we preferred, each time we saw it, we could keep one eye on the stage, and both ears on the music!

“Yes!” Muhly shouted, grabbing the air. Since he was so young, he explained further, he was really nervous that this would be the end! Every work his last! “I mean, this may be the last ballet I ever do; I had to put everything I had into it, everything!” he said gesticulating wildly and nearly smacking moderator Wes Chapman right in the face. Anyway, we saw a very brief excerpt of the dancing, and it did look very lovely, with lots of wave-like movements, very watery, flowing, and some beautiful partnering. I can’t wait to see, oh, I mean HEAR it in full!!!

They also had some excerpts from “The Leaves Are Fading” created for ABT in 1975 by Antony Tudor, a ballet comprised of several pas de deux telling the story of a male / female relationship, at various stages. I’ve never seen this one before and I’ll be interested to see what it looks like on the big stage in costume and in full. From the excerpts I saw, it looks pretty, but without a lot of originality in the partnering — a lot of the lifts I’ve seen before and then again and again and again. I guess it is from 1975. Whenever I see a romantic pas de deux, I can’t help but compare it to something by MacMillan, and he always far outshines whatever else I’m watching. To me, he was just the master of the passionate, poetic pas de deux and I fear I’ll never feel so moved by anyone else’s work again. He was so original; no lifts, no movements were repeated, and nothing was something learned in a basic partnering class — everything was completely unique — every shape, every passionate or frenzied embrace an original form. Anyway, the nice thing about this portion of the talk was that they had two of the original dancers from the first ever production discuss what it was like to work with Tudor; they also showed some slides of that 1975 performance. The dancers — John Gardner and Amanda McKerrow — said Tudor wanted them to strive for pureness and simplicity, told them not to “put anything on top of the movement,” to keep it “simple and clean.” I interpreted this as meaning no acting, no passion, no intensity, which is likely one reason it didn’t do much for me. I like passion and drama; I like pieces that mean something and that allow a dancer to make choices that give us an in on that meaning. We’ll see how Marcelo and Julie do with it…

Then there was an excerpt from Agnes de Mille’s “Fall River Legend,” about the tragedy of Lizzie Borden. And last, but the antithesis of least, was an excerpt from Australian choreographer Stanton Welch’s “Clear.” I have to say after Fall For Dance I was getting a bit disillusioned by ballet, thinking it, in comparison to all of the other amazing dance I saw, the form most lacking in relevancy, meaning, urgency and ability to make one think (more on that later). But “Clear” reminded me of what is so compelling about just watching something abstract that is beautiful, even if you can’t decipher the meaning. “Clear” is a male-centric ballet, with only one ballerina who’s only onstage for small portions of the ballet. And the men dance so beautifully. You just get so lost in the sublime movement. I guess you don’t normally think of men as delicate and beautiful — you think of them as virile and daring and strong, carrying a ballerina high above their heads all over stage then doing a bunch of injury-defying twisty leaps, but you don’t often see a group of men dancing together and just looking so beatific. So perhaps there is actually a gender element, a challenging of convention that I’m finding provocative in this piece. But regardless, I can’t wait to see it in full at City Center. I can just watch it again and again and again and get so lost in its beauty.

One last thing: afterward, during the reception I met Barbara, who comments frequently on my blog and on The Winger! I’m so glad she came up and introduced herself to me, along with her daughter. It was really fun chatting over wine and little finger foods about such things as how we felt about seeing David Hallberg perform for the first time: Blown Away! She’d gone to see another dancer who was out sick and reliable David took over. She hadn’t known who he was but was immediately was so taken by him that she came right home and Googled him and found our blogs 🙂 And now she’s more hooked on ballet than ever! Yay! We also agreed that Blaine Hoven, who performed in two excerpts tonight, is amazing and is soon going to be promoted. I especially love how he moves his upper body; the way he’ll scoop his shoulders forward and you can see the wave ripple all the way down to his hips. Most ballet dancers with their classical training are so straight in their upper bodies that contemporary moves like that are all but impossible. Blaine definitely has something special. Anyway, it was so great meeting and hanging out with you guys, Barbara! Thanks so much for introducing yourself to me!


  1. Tonya, it was delightful meeting you too! I agree with all your comments. I’ve never been a huge Tudor or DeMille fan (altho I love her books and heard her speak once, a real character) and I simply love MacMillans choreography. I could see his R&J over and over. The sample of Clear has me really looking forward to seeing the full piece. I’ll see Herrera and Carreno on the 25th – yummy. And yes, yes, yes about Blaine – look forward to seeing his progress. I’ll look for you at City Center.

  2. Blaine has huge amounts of contemporary training. He began his career as a gymnast and jazz competition dancer which has certainly helped him move in his incredibly unique way. He also has one of the best brains for choreography I’ve ever seen. The way he picks up and retains everything is uncanny.

  3. That’s really interesting, Matt! Haha, I should have known! Thanks for telling us!

  4. Tonya-
    Have you heard anything about this discrimination lawsuit ABT is facing? I can’t find anything about it other than the same presss release on a million different sites…

  5. Hi Selly — funny you should bring it up! I saw this article about it on the NYTimes Dance page this morning and was getting ready to read it when I spotted a review of one of the performances I’d seen at Fall For Dance, read that, and ended up fuming over the critic’s nastiness so much so that I completely forgot to read the “discrimination” article! Thanks for reminding me! Anyway, here it is:

  6. Thats the same one I’ve read. I actually think its kinda funny.

  7. I finally have my internet back and can comment, I was so pleased so see such illustrative comments about Nico Muhly. I ADORE his music, I’ve been listening every since Alex Ross mentioned him on his blog years ago–I think I actually once posted a You Tube link to his work “It Goes Without Saying.” I’m so jelous you got to go see him speak and watch ABT at the Guggenheim!

    When Blaine comes back and takes classes in Mobile, everyone always says “Holy Baryshnikov” under their breath!

  8. Hi Ariel! Oh wow, I’ll have to listen to Nico’s music now. He was really quite a character and worked up a great deal of excitement in me to see this new ballet! People say that about Blaine! Wow!

  9. Hi tonya! Love the blog! Did Michele Wiles perform at Guggenheim as well? I read an article recently about her and her diet as a ballerina and she mentioned something about performing at Guggenheim…Wow, I wish I got to see these wonderful dancers!!

  10. Hi Cathy — thanks! Yes, Michele was there. If I can remember right, she danced in the “Leaves Are Fading” pas de deux and in a little excerpt from “Fall River Legend,” which she was fabulous in — I can’t wait to see that performed in full!

  11. I’m so envious!! I’m not even in the States at the moment, so I’ve got no chance of seeing it. It should be great- Matt Murphy’s photos on the Winger certainly looked gorgeous and fascinating, to say the least!

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