BWW Dance Review: Pushing the Boundaries of Ballet with AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE
For a limited two week engagement at the David H. Koch Theater, the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) kicked off its fall season with spectacular pieces that truly push the boundaries traditionally found in classical ballet. On the evening of October 21st, the program featured Twyla Tharp's audience favorite The Brahms-Haydn Variations, the world premiere of Her Notes by the acclaimed Jessica Lang, and the company premiere of Daphnis and Chloe with choreography by Benjamin Millepied.
The evening opened with Tharp's The Brahms-Haydn Variations. This is a high energy dance that features a cast of 30 dancers that fills the stage with a great deal of activity. It was just beautiful! I enjoyed the different spatial patterns. It never felt like the stage was overcrowded despite the fact there was such a large cast. I actually appreciated that there was so much to look at. It was very pleasing to the eye as the dancers moved effortlessly across the stage with such grace.
Next was the anticipated world premiere of Her Notes. Lang, who is described as "visual artist whose medium is dance," takes elements of design and transforms classical ballet choreography into something that is artfully crafted. I loved it and it was visually exciting! The opening scene featured the dancers in a cluster of beautiful shapes in silhouette behind a sheer screen with a small window. I appreciated the contemporary influences with an essence of both Taylor and Horton techniques that made a few cameo appearances. I also enjoyed the elements of comedy that lit up the audience's faces as you could hear the giggles throughout the theater. This again pushed the boundaries of traditions found in classic ballet. The choreography consisted of touching, a lot of time spent on the floor, and use of nontraditional groupings of men and women in a number of duos and trios. This new work is just fantastic! Lang, a graduate of Julliard, student of the beloved Bessie Schonberg, and a 2014 Bessie Award winner, just proved why she is one of the most sought after choreographers. And kudos to Lang for working with female composer Fanny Mendelssohn on this project. Bravo!
The program ended with the company premiere of Daphnis and Chloe by Benjamin Millepied. It tells the tale that is inspired by the Greek novel by Longus of the young lovers Daphnis and Chloe. Millepied constructs an interesting work using the dancers' bodies to re-create frieze-like figures of Greek vases along with suspended color-infused geometric shapes across the stage. The opening scene projects the shapes on a screen, giving the cool effect of looking into a kaleidoscope. I also appreciated the live chorus that accompanied the orchestra.
As opposed to their extended annual spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House, the company's fall season tends to be on the more contemporary side rather than the traditional evening length ballets audiences are accustomed to seeing. But I applaud ABT for producing and showcasing such innovative work! The fact that they featured pieces by two female choreographers plus a number of new works highlights how the ballet world is changing and adapting with the times. Pushing the boundaries shows their ability to be innovative, relevant, and imperative to the continued and long-lasting history of classical ballet.
Photo Credit: Marty Sohl