MORE ON AMERICAN BALLET THEATER'S AVERY FISHER SEASON

Daniil Simkin and cast in Benjamin Millepied’s Everything Doesn’t Happen at Once in Gene Schiavone photo, courtesy of ABT; all photos by Gene Schiavone (except for Arron Scott headshot below and bottom picture).

Just to let people know, as the photos shows above, the guy who was flinging himself into the group lifts in the first cast of the Millepied was Daniil Simkin; in the second cast it was Arron Scott (below). The program notes only gave a special mention to the two dancers doing the pas de deux and a lot of people were asking who the main soloist was.

Anyway, here are a few more reviews:

Here is James Wolcott on opening night gala (and our fab Shun Lee dinner afterward :) ), here is Apollinaire Scherr’s FT review; and here are more of Apollinaire’s thoughts on her blog, Foot in Mouth. I’m surprised there aren’t more reviews — this was a pretty big season, with three world premieres — but that’s all I can find at the moment. (Update: Robert Greskovic’s WSJ review just went up; thanks to Meg for letting me know.)

Re the Wolcott write-up: I forgot to mention the models — Iman and Veronica Webb, who, instead of A.D. Kevin McKenzie, thanked the gala sponsors and introduced the program — screwing up Benjamin Millepied’s name. It wouldn’t have been such a big deal if they wouldn’t have been so giggly over it. It seemed like they were reading their notes for the first time and were really unprepared. I really don’t know how to pronounce his name either — I’ve always said the last two syllables to rhyme with plie (without the “l”) but have been told that’s wrong. But damn did ABT get a lot of press for signing them on. Just Google “ABT Fall 2009 Season” and it’s all about Iman.

(Gillian Murphy, Cory Stearns and Eric Tamm in Aszure Barton’s One of Three)

Anyway, I saw four of the six programs, saw the Ratmansky and the Millepied ballets four times and the Barton three, and they each grew on me the more I saw them. The Saturday matinee was my last performance and I found it by far the best. I felt like the dancers were finally comfortable with the new dances, knew what they were all about, and really made them meaningful. I described the ballets here.

Oh and regarding SanderO’s comment on that earlier post: yes, I do need to see the story in the dance. The dancer and choreographer won’t pull me in at all if they don’t each tell me some sort of story. That doesn’t mean the ballet has to be a traditional full-length dramatic novel or something with a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end, inciting incident, rising action with crises 1,2, and 3, climax and resolution, etc etc. but there needs to be some kind of story; there needs to be some intention in the abstraction. A lot of critics use the word “evocative” — a dance needs to be evocative of something, and I just mean the same thing. If there isn’t something meaningful going on, there’s no reason for me to see it. I can appreciate the neat geometric patterns and pretty images, but that’s not enough to make me go.

Anyway, I saw more in Millepied’s Everything Doesn’t Happen at Once on further viewings. At first I thought it was kind of everything but the kitchen sink the way Apollinaire kind of describes, but after several viewings I saw more of an evolutionary, battle of the sexes theme throughout, which becomes a more literal battle by the end. The piece starts with the stage looking swimming-pool like with the dancers making broad strokes with their arms. The stage gets over-crowded and eventually someone in charge — looking rather conductor-like, kind of throws his arms up and dismisses everyone.

Then, there’s a pas de trois (two men one woman), which becomes a double pas de trois (same), which turns into the central pas de deux (man-woman). Throughout there seems to be struggle going on — in the pas de trois the men kind of manipulate the woman around, until she’s practically on her side. In the central pas de deux is in places tender, in places more angsty as if the girl is trying to get away from the guy or fight him in some way, and he is struggling to hang onto her.

By the end, the scene has evolved into a kind of battlefield with marching music and the ballerinas doing those Balanchinian marches en pointe. Except they’re more unsettling than cutesy, like in Balanchine. This is the part where Daniil / Arron gets tossed into the crowd, throws himself with wild abandon at the groups of men, who catch him mid-split, then gets caught up with a bunch of grabbing girls.

Interestingly, the audience laughed when this role was danced by Simkin — I think because he is small and a bit long-haired and it kind of looked like he was afraid he’d be taken for one of them and was trying like hell to assert his masculinity. (I think it would have worked better had the girls been chasing him and then he flings himself into the groups of guys rather than the other way around, but not a big deal).

But no one laughed when it was Arron. It looked far more serious with him in the role — it looked like he was practically getting raped by that rabid group of girls.

Also I noticed with Arron that after the rabid group of girls leaves him alone, he kind of internalized the tauning; there was now an invisible fist punching him all about. It really looked like he was getting beaten up by that thing. But the fist was invisible so it was like he’d been driven mad. It was very unsettling, and I think, with the music and the rest of the action, this feeling is more of what Millepied was going for — not all the high air flips, crazy long spins, and windmill jumps that Simkin is known for and did here. Simkin’s character made the end of the ballet more playful than battle-like.

There’s also a short section where there’s all this marching music and there’s more centerstage chaos with all 24 dancers out there at once and suddenly a group of dancers standing at one corner break into partners and go waltzing through the crowd. But it’s really short-lived, like even courtship is a battle.

I don’t know — that’s what I saw on further inspection. But I could be making it all up. It’s kind of fun with abstract ballets (the ones that have a lot going on in them anyway) to make up your own story. I mean, the way dances get made anyway, as I learned at a Guggenheim event last night featuring ABT’s efforts to adapt ballets to different stages (including this small one in AF Hall, meant for concerts), is that things get changed depending on space, depending on the logistics of the stage, depending on dancers. Whoever knows if the end product is what the choreographer originally had in mind anyway.

I don’t think Millepied’s was a perfect ballet — I found a lot of the bird-like patterns from his recent NYCB ballet, Quasi Una Fantasia, to be out of place here – he didn’t need all that; he should have focused more on the battle — but I found his the darkest, the most thematically clear and the most absorbing.

Stella Abrera and Gennadi Saveliev in Alexei Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas.

The Ratmansky grew on me, as did the Barton. On the last day, Michele Wiles danced the main female character (in the long white ballgown) in the Barton and I loved her. She gave the character a real story. When she comes out onstage she is all bitchy and glamorous, but Michele it’s really an act; she is seeking attention from the main man (in that cast Blaine Hoven) while trying to maintain her haughty demeanor so as not to be shown up by him if he dismisses her. At one point, she extends her arm out to him, as if he’s supposed to kiss it but he turns and runs offstage. She crumbles. It’s heartbreaking.

I also really loved Craig Salstein, Jared Matthews and Daniil Simkin in Barton’s second cast (Matthews and Simkin alternated parts opposite Salstein). They danced a section in the second part and all three made it clear (Salstein most so) that they were in a little competition for the girl’s attention. The girl (Luciana Paris), meanwhile, was just dancing on her own, in her own world, paying them no mind at all. It was hilarious.

But back to Michele Wiles for a minute: a wonderful ABT patron gave me her ticket for a company class, which she couldn’t attend, and Michele seemed so sweet — smiling out and waving at people during the class and even during warm-up.

Also, can some choreographer please please please create a little solo or some kind of dance just for Gillian Murphy! Please! During that company class, during the center floor work when the dancers divided into groups and did turns in a diagonal down the center, Gillian blew everyone completely away. She was like a tornado. But a technically perfect tornado! Everyone in my section literally began to laugh and shake their heads in amazement. She needs something to showcase her technical brilliance and athletic prowess. C’mon ABT!

Each of the dancers brought their own special thing to the Ratmansky. Christine Shevchenko (an up and coming corps member) was gorgeous with the role created by Julie Kent (danced opposite David Hallberg). She was more lyrical than Julie, with flowing, expressive arms that resembled Natalia Makarova in Other Dances. Julie’s arms were more staccato. Hee Seo, who completely blew me away as well, did a combination of the two — by turns feathery and lyrical, and modern and staccato. Alexandre Hammoudi and Jared Matthews both danced David’s original part and they were very different than David. Both connected with their ballerinas much more — when they were left alone onstage they clearly looked about for her, wondering where she was, then accepting they were alone and falling into their solo.

David Hallberg. I can never get enough David Hallberg. He didn’t look around for his ballerina when she left him, but when she returned to the stage, he danced well with her. But when she was offstage, she was out of sight, out of mind with him — he was too busy making Ratmansky’s movement wholly his own. He seems to be a rapidly maturing artist, playing with the music, playing with rhythm, giving some things more emphasis than others. When I first saw him dance this role I thought his “character’s” movement was more modern than classical, but I think that was just because of the way he did one section where he keeps pushing out with his hands, like he’s stopping the air, or stopping something from getting too close. He slowed down that movement a lot, really emphasizing the arms, and then did some ensuing footwork at the speed of light, whereas the others did everything in equal measures -so it didn’t have the same look.

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Jared Matthews and Maria Riccetto in Some Assembly Required, photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

ABT also put on Clark Tippet’s Some Assembly Required from 1989, a male-female pas de deux evoking a lovers’ quarral replete with difficult-looking angst-filled lifts, struggling pushes and pulls, then more tender making up. It went on a bit too long; some middle parts that were repetitive could have been taken out, but the cast I saw — Jared Matthews and Maria Riccetto did very well with it. Jared is dancing and dramatizing better than ever before, imo.

And the company also did Robbins’ Other Dances, another male-female pas de deux (this one pretty famous) that was choreographed on Baryshnikov and Makarova. I saw both casts — Marcelo Gomes and Veronika Part, and David Hallberg and Gillian Murphy. I liked both — although I think I honestly prefer Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia’s at NYCB. Gonzalo has a smaller body, more like Baryshnikov’s, and I think some of the gestures — like the placing the hand behind the head, kind of primping, looked sweetest on him. Ditto for Tiler. David is dancing very aggressively these days. He’s making the absolute most of every movement — it can be stunning at times, and at times it seems a bit overdone, which it seemed to me a tad here.

I also think that joke on the Kirov dancers getting dizzy and losing their footing because they don’t spot-turn doesn’t come across as such to new audiences. When Marcelo and Gonzalo did it, many in the audience honestly thought the dancers screwed up for real, not on purpose. David really didn’t do the joke because he’s a cheat :) I’m kidding — he did, but he spun, stopped, got dizzy, shook himself out of it, and started the next phrase all in the blink of an eye, so you didn’t even notice he “got lost.”

Gillian was good but it didn’t seem to be a dance that showcased her talents to their fullest. I’ll say it again — I really think she is the most athletic and technically one of the best female dancers in the world and she desperately needs more roles that prove that!

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5 Responses to MORE ON AMERICAN BALLET THEATER'S AVERY FISHER SEASON

  1. Melanie says:

    I loved seeing Julie Kent and David Hallberg together in the Ratmansky piece. I thought they reacted to each other quite nicely, in a way that really worked with the space. It really looked like they were smiling at/with each other.
    I wish I could have seen multiple casts of these pieces. Thanks for the review!

  2. Meg says:

    It's so nice to hear about all the different casts…I love reading about how things change when different dancers are performing a role. Thank you! :)

    I was also surprised at the seeming dearth of reviews, but a review just went up in the Wall Street Journal (and not even behind the pay wall, which is nice) if you haven't seen that yet. And hopefully there'll be a review at some point in the Observer. If nothing else, Robert Gottlieb is never boring.

  3. SwanLakeSambaGirl says:

    Thanks for commenting, you guys! Thanks for linking to the WSJ review, Meg.

  4. AnneCoburnWhitmore says:

    I'm I'm I'm
    I'm still speechless over the fact that you got to go to an ABT company class ! — that almost hurts more than me not getting to a single performance !
    [...actually, it DOES hurt more. ;( ]
    ;;tears;;

  5. AnneCoburnWhitmore says:

    I'm I'm I'm
    I'm still speechless over the fact that you got to go to an ABT company class ! — that almost hurts more than me not getting to a single performance !
    [...actually, it DOES hurt more. ;( ]
    ;;tears;;