BWW Review: American Ballet Theatre
Our national ballet treasure, American Ballet Theatre, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. The 2014-2015 season is abundant in new works, classical masterpieces, and signature American Ballet Theatre masterworks.
On Saturday evening, October 25, 2014, the company presented three representative works from its vast and varied repertory. Sinfonietta is one of Jirí Kylían's earliest and loveliest ballets. First presented by Nederlands Dans Theater in 1978, the ballet received its American Ballet Theatre premiere on January 25, 1991 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Set to Leos Janácek's rich and rousing Sinfonietta, the ballet's buoyant optimism is exemplified by the many jubilant grands jetés in which the company soars across the stage. Sinfonietta is set against a rural landscape backdrop and the dancers are dressed in pastels. Everyone in this cast delivered shimmering beautiful performances.
New York is grateful to see again a signature work of American Ballet Theatre, Antony Tudor's masterpiece, Jardin Aux Lilas, also known as Lilac Garden. This performance was staged by former American Ballet Theatre principals Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner. The ballet was first staged for the Rambert Ballet Club at the Mercury Theatre in London on January 26, 1936. Ballet Theatre (as American Ballet Theatre was formerly named) first presented this ballet on January 15, 1940 at the Center Theatre, New York City. It was one of Tudor's first ballets ever staged in the United States. The ballet is set in the Edwardian era. A young woman, Caroline, is betrothed to The Man She Must Marry but does not love. On her wedding eve, she tries to say goodbye to Her Lover at a reception in a lilac garden. The former lover of The Man She Must Marry, An Episode in His Past, is also at the reception. The emotionally charged interaction between the four principals and ensemble is set to Ernest Chausson's poignant Poème for Violin and Orchestra. Tudor's choreography, with its lush layering of emotional content is dense, expansive, and profoundly moving. The setting is moonlit and gorgeous. Devon Teuscher as Caroline was heartbreakingly beautiful, Veronika Part as An Episode in His Past was spine-chillingly gorgeous, and Cory Stearns and Roman Zhurbin as the male leads were equally wonderful. Young dancers in ABT II, American Ballet Theatre's junior studio company, grow up learning Tudor roles. It was exciting to see former ABT II dancers reprising and now fully realizing the same roles with the parent company.
Jerome Robbins created his first ballet, Fancy Free, for Ballet Theatre in 1944 to an original score by Leonard Bernstein. They were both only twenty-five years old at the time, as was the set designer, Oliver Smith. Robbins danced the role of one of the sailors at its premiere. Fancy Free is a seminal all-American ballet about three sailors on leave in New York City that influenced not only American ballet but also American cinema and theatre. It was an instant hit and was soon developed into the 1944 Broadway musical On the Town with music by Bernstein, choreography by Robbins, and direction by George Abbott. The 1949 film of the same name starred Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. The musical On the Town is currently enjoying a revival on Broadway. Fancy Free is never dated. It remains as fresh and exhilarating as ever even though it is a World War II period piece. Saturday night's perfect cast was sublime in their dancing and acting. The ever-magnificent, high flying Herman Cornejo, the sexy and charismatic Marcelo Gomes, and the handsome all-American male Cory Stearns, now a principal dancer and dancing with all of the authority of that status, were brilliant as the Sailors. The Passers-By were Stella Abrera, Julie Kent and Karen Uphoff. These lovely ladies were sultry and feminine in their dancing and their acting was a delight.
The Tudor and Robbins works are the backbones of American Ballet Theatre's legacy that keeps the word theatre in the company name. It was wonderful to see these historic ballet masterpieces presented with such loving care and artistry.