BWW Review: American Ballet Theatre's 2017 FALL GALA Celebrates Kevin McKenzie's 25th Anniversary
On October 18th 2017 at the Koch Theater in Lincoln Center, the American Ballet Theatre's Fall Gala celebrated Kevin McKenzie's 25th anniversary as Artistic Director. The evening's delightful triple bill also included two films and some heartfelt speeches of gratitude for McKenzie's work during a quarter of a century as well as the presentation of the Melville Straus Leadership Award to Valentino D. Carlotti, Co-Chair of ABT's Finance Committee.
The opener, after a charming introduction by ABT Principal Dancers Stella Abrera and David Hallberg, was the World Premiere of Jessica Lang's The Gift. Billed as a "silver jubilee celebrating 25 years of leadership", the work featured ABT Apprentices along with young dancers from the ABT Studio Company and ABT's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (JKO) School. As the curtain rose, we heard the recorded voices of some members of the cast talking with endearing passion about how they feel on stage. Lang's choreography to excerpts from Corelli's "Concerto Grosso Op. 6" showed off the remarkable prowess of the next generation of ABT dancers. I look forward eagerly to seeing them as they mature into full-fledged artists, especially the JKO students. They are already a tribute to McKenzie's foresight in founding JKO in 2004. The legendary Cynthia Harvey now directs the school.
Following that was a showing of a film about Project Plie, ABT's outreach program that was launched in 2013 "to expand its diversity and inclusion efforts, while also raising awareness of the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the classical ballet community." The project has by now reached thousands of youngsters in 35 cities. You can watch the film here: http://www.abt.org/BeTheBridge/<
Next up was the World Premiere of Songs of Bukovina, choreographed by ABT's Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky to a score by Leonid Desyatnikov. The music was also a World Premiere, played live with admirable expertise by piano soloist Alexey Goribol. Calvin Royal III replaced the injured Alban Lendorf as the principal male. Christine Shevchenko was his partner, stepping in for Isabella Boylston. Royal and Shevchenko were exquisite. Not only that, but the ensemble danced Ratmansky's intricate patterns flawlessly. McKenzie has called Ratmansky a "genius". This work showed me why McKenzie feels Ratmansky deserves the accolade.
The evening's second film, Kevin McKenzie's 25th Anniversary, featured the most memorable highlights of his tenure. Near the end, a close-up of a winsome would-be ballerina, probably six years old, elicited a collective "Aw!" from the audience and underscored the significance of the JKO School as part of McKenzie's legacy.
The last offering, Thirteen Diversions choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon to music by Benjamin Britten, was notable for inventive lighting by Brad Fields. Misty Copeland in a featured role proved once again that she is a world-class ballerina. She serves as an inspiration to all the youngsters whose lives are now touched by Project Plie's mission to promote diversity and inclusion. Kudos to piano soloist Barbara Bilach and to the entire ABT orchestra, masterfully conducted by Charles Barker.
Here's to many more years of excellence by ABT under the direction of Kevin McKenzie. "America's Ballet Company" is fortunate indeed to have him at the helm.
Photo by Gene Schiavone, Thirteen Diversions, courtesy of ABT