BWW Reviews: ABT's Ballets for the Bard
American Ballet Theatre's Shakespeare Celebration on July 2nd delved into magical mishaps while bidding adieu to dancers Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews. The evening began in a lush wonderland of Frederick Ashton's The Dream and ended with the choppy waters of Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky's The Tempest. Driven by patriarchy, both ballets presented hierarchy and tradition as precariously shifting power schemes.
Ashton's telling of Shakespeare's tale considered the character's experiences. Per the program notes, Ashton initially stated, "It shall be called Bottom's Dream." This lens delved into relational interplay. Even Fairyland has its discord, though mostly at mortals' expense. The conflict with King Oberon and Queen Titania emerged over caring for a little boy, but manifested in egotistical whimsy. Xiomara Reyes' flighty but forceful Titania took refuge with her fairies while James Whiteside made for a restless Oberon, playing puppeteer with Craig Salstein's Puck.
Oberon's love potion mischief quickly went awry due to Puck's winsome but inept loyalty. In maneuvering Puck's inadvertent love triangles, Whiteside became a loitering emcee overshadowed by his own kingdom. A bit wobbly in his own variations, Whiteside capitulated focus to Reyes, Salstein, and the lovers - Helena (Gemma Bond), Hernia (Nicola Curry), Demetrius (Sterling Baca) and Lysander (Roman Zhurbin). The four lovers easily took to the challenge of classicism and slapstick in their variations, which had the audience laughing fully. Reyes took a spunky, irreverent turn with Kenneth Easter's dopey Bottom. In unlucky charms, Whiteside and Reyes' pas de deux tilted in her favor. Whiteside's beautifully extended arabesques, in tandem with Reyes,' compromised his partnering to highlight her strength and poise.
From the ethereal verdant forest the company descended to shipwrecked sorcery with Ratmansky's The Tempest. In the opening pas de deux, Cory Stearns' Prospero and Yuriko Kajiya's Miranda elicited sighs of delight from the audience with their harmony and lyricism. Imbued familial affection in Prospero and Miranda's movement straddled romanticism at times. Ratmansky countered that dynamic by swiftly introducing Jared Matthews' Ferdinand as Miranda's intended love. The ballet magnified the power of choice as Prospero's love for his daughter forced him to choose forgiveness. In doing so, he found both liberation and justice. Prospero's mastery of dark magic did not unravel in mayhem as in Ashton's tale. Stearns portrayed Prospero as exacting and skillful (despite his Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean appearance) in his dealings with spirit Ariel (an elastic Gabe Stone Shayer) and witch Caliban (a mournful Blaine Hoven). Stearns and Kajiya displayed a powerful movement dichotomy: purely classical but freely flowing. Their sustained energy allowed the story to flood into motion rather than waiting for it to unfold, as with Whiteside in The Dream. Ratmansky conceded plot clarity in a broader story scope. For instance, glittery muppet-like creatures as chorus injected extraterrestrial fantasy and torment. But he captured the highs and lows of the characters. All the dancers, led by Stearns' deft trajectory from stormy vengeance to joyful emancipation, achieved vivid identities. They set sail from the island with the audience's gaze also turned to a hopeful future.
Smartly programmed, ABT's Shakespeare Celebration brimmed with gleeful charm and dramatic conquest. Ashton and Ratmansky's abilities to theatrically present hallmark stories without hemorrhaged nuances unified the program. Side by side, the works coexisted in neighboring worlds (or kingdoms) in an aesthetic stratosphere. Whatever these worlds, ABT has a home there. The bard awaits their return.
Photo: Cory Stearns in The Tempest by Gene Schiavone.