ABT Marathon Weekend Wrap-Up

Just finishing my City Center-spectating season and am so sad. I hate this time of year. My favorite dance company is gone and I won’t be seeing them again until May. Oh well.

I went to the last three performances (Friday night, Saturday matinee, Saturday night); here are my highlights:

(photo of Herman Cornejo by Joe McNally from ABT website; all headshots from ABT)

I really loved all of the dancers who performed my favorite short ballroomy ballet — Tharp’s “Sinatra Suite” — but yesterday Herman and Misty Copeland (in headshot above) in particular took my breath away. Herman was the closest thing to Baryshnikov that I’ve seen, in terms of the actual movement (he has the smallest body of the three men who danced the role — other two were Jose and Marcelo — thus the closest in body type to Baryshnikov). The piece was choreographed on Baryshnikov and some of the movement, like the quick, jumpy weight shift in the first song, looked the cleanest on Herman; whereas Marcelo, for example, almost couldn’t move fast enough and missed a beat. But what Marcelo and Jose may lack a bit in that department, they more than make up for in the over-the-top personality they give to the role, particularly in the “That’s Life” song. In fact, everyone seemed to be able to do the “That’s Life” cocky shithead guy very (almost frighteningly) well; it’s the other three songs: “Strangers in the Night,” “All the Way,” and “My Way,” where they seem a little more bland, seeming to play the same guy three times. To me the first song (“Strangers”) is about two people just meeting and falling for each other, the second (“All the Way”) actually falling in love, the third (“Life”) having a problem moment, and the fourth (“My Way”) his saying he needs to go it alone, then the fifth, the male solo danced to “One for My Baby,” evokes his missing her. It seems like all the men danced to each of those songs besides “Life”, played each of those roles, the same way: all classy and romancy, giving only cocky “That’s Life” guy something unique.

Misty danced the female role better than I’ve ever seen it done, including by Elaine Kudo, who danced the original with Baryshnikov. That girl had personality galore and was not about to let the guy get away with anything. Go Misty! The others seemed to let the guy push them around too much. But again, I focus on “That’s Life.” She didn’t seem to do anything breathtaking in the other three duets. It’s funny, ballet dancers normally dance dreamy in-love princes and princesses, temple dancers and warriors, fairytale characters and their knights in shining armour — you think they’d be able to do a contemporary romantic routine?…

Anyway, Misty also floored me with her performance in Tharp’s “Baker’s Dozen,” which I ended up seeing a total of four times. In my final viewing of it yesterday, Misty danced the part of the flirty girl who keeps hopping on poor Craig‘s unsuspecting back. She was so fun and playful, proved to have just as much charisma as Craig, and she just has a natural jazz body. If I was Twyla, I’d definitely choreograph everything new I did from here on out on Misty; she is THE female Tharp dancer.

Also, when I first saw this ballet I wrote that I felt the company wasn’t putting everything they had into it, but suspected that may be because it was a brand new one for them. After having seen it numerous times now, I know I was right. They’re doing so much better, they’re really nailing the teasing / sexy / cool / jazzy / clownish / playful / swingy nature of it all. What a fun ballet! Craig still stands out, but in a ballet like this that requires solid acting skill, it’s almost unfair to compare anyone else to him, he’s such a natural. If he wasn’t a ballet dancer, I’m positive he’d be enjoying a very successful Broadway career.

(do not ask why these photos are varying sizes; I’m simply copying them from ABT’s website and have no clue what kinds of codes they’ve written in or what kind of codes my blog software is somehow putting in! It just so happens that pictures of Marcelo come out the largest, I swear! Above are Marcelo and Julie in “Leaves”)

Yesterday, I had my first ever viewing of Antony Tudor’s 1975 ballet, “The Leaves Are Fading,” which the company has revived for this season. Wow, it was really beautiful, albeit in a bittersweet kind of way. It began with a woman coming out onstage wearing a long, green ballroom dress. She walked around as if deep in thought, reminiscing. She left and several male and female dancers entered all wearing pinky-peach costumes — the women in flowing summery dresses, the men in blousy tops with sweet gentlemanly little silk scarves. The group danced lyrically as an ensemble then broke into duets, each seeming to symbolize a different time in a relationship — young innocent love, then slightly older and more fraught with angst, then more mature; and Marcelo and Julie, my favorite partnership (have I said that before? :) ) danced the main, more mature couple. They dance so beautifully together, she just floats in his arms so effortlessly, so romantic, so poetic. The backdrop and wings were painted various shades of green, as if to evoke a field, and the pink costumes made the dancers almost look like flowers at points. At the end, green dress woman re-enters, her presence framing her memories, coming to terms with them, making clear they are about a past youthful love that no longer exists but will always remain part of her. Fittingly teary end to my own emotional farewell to ABT season! It was so lovely you just get caught up in the images, in the feelings they evoke. They didn’t have many performances of this ballet and I only got one chance to see it, so I hope they put it on again next year. I’d really like to see it again.

Finally, this year the company revived Agnes de Mille’s “Fall River Legend,” based on the true life story of Lizzie Borden, who killed her parents with an axe after their severe abuse of her. I saw this ballet on Friday night with Apollinaire, who loved it. Go here for a little write-up on that (read the “Note,” at the end of this post; also read the post for her review of Ballet du Grand Theater du Geneve, which I saw with her (and really liked!) but haven’t had a chance to review yet). Anyway, I personally didn’t care much for the de Mille. I feel that she only presented a partial story, leaving out the parental abuse that’s necessary to make sense of Lizzie’s actions. The ballet begins with Lizzie’s being sentenced to hang for her crime, then flashes back to her life. The flashback begins with her father being very loving toward Lizzy, then a sister dies and a stepmother enters the scene, who doesn’t much seem to like Lizzy, but doesn’t seem particularly horrible to her, and the father still seems to be loving albeit traumatized by the sister’s death. All of a sudden Lizzie is shown fighting the urge to hack up her dad and stepmom, then eventually succumbing to it. The rest of the ballet (the main part) is devoted to Lizzie being remorseful and haunted by what she has done, slowly accepting her fate. I agree with Apollinaire that Gillian Murphy was just amazing in this role — she perfectly captured the awkward outcast, making me both feel sorry for her Lizzie and fearing her. But, without the choreographer’s devoting any time to the family’s abuse of her, all of that great acting was unfortunately reduced to melodrama.

Lastly, I saw Benjamin Millepied’s “From Here on Out” again yesterday and it did grow slightly on me the second time around. I’m still far more in love with the Nico Muhly musical score though and can’t wait to get my hands on a recording of it. Again, I particularly liked the final third of the ballet, when the crescendo really starts to build. I feel like Millepied was really getting started just as he was ending. I really liked the second cast that I saw, led by Isabella Boylston and Cory Stearns. Isabella in particular was perfect at those angular abstract contemporary moves — I almost thought I was seeing NYCB (who does more abstract contemporary ballets) at points!; Isabella’s ideal for contemporary.

Well, I’ll be excited to hear what others, for example, in Berkeley, (for example, Jolene!!!), have to say about the new Millepied as well as the new Elo, “Close to Chuck.” Sad as I am about ABT leaving NY now, the good thing is they’re a touring company, so you don’t have to be in NY to see them. Go here to check their touring schedule. These are the greatest dancers in the world (Tidwell was once one of them, remember :) ); please do not pass up the opportunity to see them if they come near your neck of the woods!

12 Comments

  1. I am SO EXCITED about seeing ABT this weekend, as I’ve mentioned many times before. :) I know Misty was reviewed as being “Tharpian”, but seriously in my mind, I just picture the glamorous Elaine Kudo and can’t imagine a shorter woman playing her role. If I had to pick a cast for this, I’m more gravitating towards watching Herman and Misty dance it… I definitely can’t afford to see both casts.

    It sounds like “That’s Life” is becoming more of a stereotype!! Not good… It must be easier to play a severe stereotype and sort of fun to play the jerk. 😛 It’s just one song out of many, and I think they are all equally great dances.

    In “Nine Sinatra Songs”, “My Way” is danced by all the couples so it’s swirling with multiple bodies like a ballroom competition. It’s pointed though, that every couple is literally doing “their own thing”, doing completely separate things from the others. I remember even at one point, a couple got separated because they were interrupted by another couple – not sure if this was a choreographed moment b/c the girl gave a quick smile, but it was luscious nonetheless. It gives such a different interpretation, it’ll be interesting to see what I come away with.

  2. Well, I can’t wait to hear what you think about whomever you see, Jolene! Anyone else in San Francisco area too! Nine Sinatra Songs sounds so sweet; I wish so much ABT would do it. I think they probably only do the Suite because they need something short to accompany Clear and Baker’s Dozen, but I really wish they’d consider doing the whole Nine Songs next year. “My Way” makes so much more sense the way you described it. Have fun this week!

  3. I think Stella will be made principal soon and Misty will be soloist, if she isn’t already.

  4. Misty is fabulous, and just got promoted to soloist at the end of this summer actually. I saw her in Sleeping Beauty and her delivery was beautiful & powerful. She actually started her training at the ballet studio here in town (San Pedro, CA)

  5. the person who died in fall river was her mother, not her sister…that might help clarify the story a bit.

    I really loved it.

    I thought Simone Messmer was incredible in Bakers Dozen, and of course Craig was fabulous.

  6. Thanks, Delirium – that would make more sense. I thought since she was so young it was the sister, but all dancers are young of course :)

    Yeah, I was so thrilled when Misty was promoted to soloist — I really hope she’s a principal someday!

  7. I can’t wait to see them when they come to the Kennedy Center!
    Thanks for the detailed write up.

  8. btw–did you see Marcelo is injured?

    No news on what, how bad, etc. But he pulled out of a guesting gig in LA (i think it was LA) in december

  9. I can ‘t wait to hear what you think, Maria!

    Thanks, Delirium — Barbara emailed me this morning about it. I hope it’s not too bad.

  10. hm… had to go back and read what you thought about Baker’s Dozen and Millepied’s ballet. Wow, I was REALLY underwhelmed, to be completely honest. If Baker’s Dozen has gotten BETTER and was actually worse before… the audience’s reaction was clear as well. Everyone missed out on the comedy until later on in the piece, it’s like it took the audience about 20 minutes to feel even comfortable enough to laugh.

    Millepied’s as well. I mean, did he think that this piece was going to be emblazoned into people’s memories? Is that what makes a great piece? Is it to make a piece memorable? This piece was just so… forgettable. My instinct says there wasn’t anything special about it.

    I much prefer ABT doing classics, and utilizing their star power. Tonya, I really wished you could have seen Tharp’s “movin’ out” on broadway, did you?? I mean, THOSE are tharp dancers, who just KILL every moment of every piece that they perform, and it’s so delicious to watch.

    ok now I have to read what you thought about Elo’s piece. :) It had its moments, mesmerizing, but boy in the first part, there were a lot of awkward coughing in the audience. i would say that this was my favorite piece out of the three.

    enough about my rant! I think Jen’s going to review it on our blog, so be on the lookout for it –

  11. I saw “Movin Out’ and loved it! I saw it a long time ago and don’t remember who was in it, but I really loved it.

    Yeah, Baker’s Dozen really had to grow on me. I saw it I think four times in all and the latter two I was enjoying it so much more. It definitely didn’t hit me over the head the first time I saw it. It’s funny, I initially wondered if it was that ABT didn’t really get what Tharp wanted here, but then since they improved (and since Elaine Kudo staged it for them), I figured they just needed to get their feet wet. I still think it’s hard for ballet dancers to do certain jazzy things — bending your back, etc. — ballet dancers are used to being so upright. I’d like to see Tharp’s own dancers do more — so far, I’ve only seen them do a Broadway show.

    And thank you, Jolene, for backing me up on the Elo / Millepied!!! I have NO IDEA what Millepied was thinking but all the critics seemed to love him. i don’t get it at all — I totally agree that, while it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t at all memorable. To me the music was so much more interesting and I just wanted to close my eyes and listen. I too thought Elo was more interesting. i felt like the movements were at least interesting, even if weird, that he was at least trying to say SOMETHING with that piece. One critic — I think either Gottlieb or Lobenthal — said there was a concept behind it. I’m so glad you felt the same way about the Millepied — I thought there was something wrong with me!

  12. haha, that’s sort of how I felt as well! I’m just wondering what all this fuss is about and even if we were watching the same ballet.

    odd, you’re the second person who’s told me they felt like closing their eyes in the millepied piece… that’s not a good sign. 😛

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