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BWW Review: AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE Is as Versatile as Ever in a Mixed Bill

According to a 1998 review of ABT by Jack Anderson in The New York Times, publicists for the company in the early days used to call the troupe ''a museum of the dance.'' Anderson commented that this is a good phrase to describe the company "provided one realizes that great museums can encourage new art as well as preserve old". I heartily concur. As I've mentioned before, I always remind my ballet students that we can hang a Rembrandt or a Picasso on a museum wall for posterity, but each generation of dancers must be capable performing both the old and the new if we are to keep our history alive. Fortunately, true to ABT's founding mission "to develop a repertoire of the best ballets from the past and to encourage the creation of new works by gifted young choreographers," this national treasure continues to present accurate historical reconstructions as well as new works by today's choreographers.

The quadruple bill I saw on October 23rd 2015 at the Koch Theatre in Lincoln Center was a perfect example of this commendable commitment. The order of the ballets was altered, presumably because Lily Wisdom replaced Gemma Bond in After You and therefore needed time for a costume change before The Green Table. (Unlike what happened at the New York City Ballet performance that I reviewed last week, ABT saw fit to include slips of paper in the playbills noting changes for the evening rather than relying on a garbled announcement. Bravo!)

After You, with choreography by Mark Morris to music by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, ended up being the opener. The piece, balletic yet contemporary, is a good choice for that spot. A septet of musicians playing live in the orchestra pit did an excellent job. The ladies danced on pointe and Morris proved himself knowledgeable about how to give them steps that looked deceptively effortless and not at all strained. The interweaving patterns and the lifts worked well also. My only complaint is that the costumes, in varying shades of orange and pink for both the men and the women, were jumpsuits with wide legs. Why hide the technique of the magnificent ABT dancers? I would have liked to see those assiduously well-trained legs!

Le Spectre de la Rose took us back in time to 1911. Choreographed by Michel Fokine to Carl Maria von Weber's "Invitation to the Dance", the sweetly romantic tale was originally performed by Tamara Karsavina and Vaslav Nijinsky. A program note let us know that the scenario was inspired by two lines of a poem by critic and "Giselle" librettist Theophile Gautier, "I am the spirit of the rose/ That you wore last night at the ball". Sarah Lane, as fine an actress as she is a dancer, did a convincing job as The Young Girl. Herman Cornejo as The Rose wooed her with all the tenderness that young love deserves. Even so, I probably wasn't the only one wondering whether all that we've read about Nijinsky's legendary high-flying leaps in this ballet reflects what actually happened back then or not. I couldn't find a decent video on YouTube. I did, however, find one of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Marianne Tcherkassky at Wolf Trap in 1976. Amazing! Cornejo has a respectable jump, but I wouldn't call it legendary. It doesn't match what Baryshnikov did and presumably not what Nijinsky did either.

Valse Fantasie was the Balanchine offering of the evening, a world premiere for ABT of Mr. B's joyous1953 ballet for a lead couple and four women. I am always impressed with how well ABT dances Balanchine, and this performance was no exception. Also, Glinka's gorgeous waltz music was played at just the right tempi throughout by the American Ballet Theatre Orchestra under the baton of David LaMarche.

The Green Table, the Kurt Jooss masterpiece about the futility of war, was the perfect closer. Once again, ABT excelled at keeping dance history alive. This ballet, subtitled "A Dance of Death in Eight Scenes", dates from 1932 when Jooss himself danced the role of Death. Pianists David LaMarche and Daniel Waite gave the compelling score just right weight and nuances. The couple seated next to me had remarked upon reading the description in the playbill that the ballet didn't sound like something they would like, but they were mesmerized from the moment the dancers in their masks and gloves first began discussing war issues at the conference table. So was I, as I always am when I get a chance to see this iconic ballet.

The ABT fall season runs through November 1st. If you're in town, don't miss this chance to see the versatile world-class ABT, "America's National Ballet Company", in action.

Photo by Marty Sohl

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