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Saturday, October 29, 2016

ABT Fall Season

Blaine Hoven, Calvin Royal, Gabe Stone Shayer in Serenade After Plato's Symposium, @Andrea Mohin

The ABT's fall season is  so different from their overstuffed, predictable spring season. Their brief, eclectic fall season is always interesting, often amazing, sometimes frustrating. You can admire the diversity of their fall repertoire compared to their spring season and still wish that they mastered one style instead of tackling so many. I caught two performances this season. Wanted to catch more, but oh well.


Good news: Ratmansky's Serenade After Plato's Symposium is a keeper, one of the best things he's done for ABT. The ballet has structure, it has a a theme, and most importantly, it has charm and musicality. The score (Bernstein's 1954 violin concerto) is a beautiful piece of music. Ratmansky captured the spirit and camaraderie of this philosophical society perfectly. The male-male partnering was playfully homoerotic without ever crossing the line from (forgive the pun) platonic into erotic. Ratmansky did cater too much to the trickster tendencies of the ABT dancers by putting a bunch of virtuosic steps for each of the men, but even that had a purpose -- it brought a sense of competition to this otherwise utopian community. When the lone female (Devon Teuscher) appeared onstage it felt like a complete disruption of the harmony of this group. She danced briefly with Marcelo Gomes and left as soon as she arrived. The other men seemed to resent her presence -- bros before ho's.

The finale of Symposium is a joyful celebration of this little society. The men each take turns with mini-variations. One guy (Daniil Simkin the first night I saw this, Jeffrey Cirio the second night) wowed the crowd with super-fast barrel and chaine turns. The seven guys lined up downstage center, shrugged their shoulders, the girl reappeared at the side, and curtain. These boys will be okay. Ratmansky is always great at drawing out performances from dancers -- Calvin Royal in particular stood out for his regal, imposing stature, and Gabe Stone Shayer had maybe the most impish goofy part. But really, the whole cast of boys was great. Devon Teuscher didn't have much to do except look hot in a toga.

Cast of Monotones II, photo @ Andrea Mohin
Other welcome returns to the repertory: Ashton's Monotones I and II. These two brief ballets are set to the haunting music of Erik Satie and have none of the trademark Ashton quaint charm. They demand total muscular control and a willingness to dance in a spacesuit. It's about shapes, poses, geometry. ABT's performance wasn't perfect. ABT's dancers aren't trained for the exposed adagio dancing of these mini-masterpieces. I saw some wobbly legs from both the Monotones II trio (Isabella Boylston, Stella Abrera, Joseph Gorak) and the Monotones I trio (Veronika Part, Thomas Forster, Cory Stearns), but the dancers treated this ballet with respect and were able to transmit the beautiful, mysterious otherworldliness of the ballet.

Moira Shearer, Margot Fonteyn and Pamela May
I wish I could say the same about their revival of another Ashton masterpiece, Symphonic Variations. The sextet of dancers, good as they were, just weren't able to capture the lean, taut severity of Ashton's choreography. Here is a picture of the original cast. Look at Moira Shearer, Margot Fonteyn and Pamela Mays' posture. They could be dancing a Balanchine B&W leotard ballet. Fonteyn in particular has the stern, implacable look of a Greek goddess. ABT's dancers got through this ballet but treated it like they'd treat Fille mal gardee: they smiled throughout, their arms were held daintily as if this were Les Sylphides. I was surprised that Wendy Ellis Somes was the stager -- you'd think she would have coached the dancers to harden their look. The girls (Luciana Paris, Christine Schevchenko, Cassandra Trenary) were worse in this regard than the boys (Cameron McCune, Calvin Royal, Alban Lendorf). The steps were there, but the minimalist flavor of the ballet was gone.

Balanchine's Prodigal Son also returned to ABT's repertory. This early masterpiece on paper looks to be a good fit with ABT -- unlike so much of Balanchine's canon it's an overtly theatrical work. Some acting details that tend to get lost at NYCB were so vivid here. For instance, the shenanigans of the Son's buddies were more individualized and striking. But ABT and Balanchine are still an odd fit. Even though Prodigal is story and character-driven, it's still Balanchine, which means it demands a kind of on-the-note musicality that ABT's dancers simply don't have. Danil Simkin wowed with his jumps and acted the role well. His crawl back to his father was as debasing and humiliating as it's supposed to be. And Veronika Part's long legs and movie star looks were definitely sexy to watch. But both of them were occasionally rhythmically slack and also didn't have the taut musculature that's so important in Balanchine. I admired Part for the way she used her arms in the Siren's signature coiling motion and she obviously rehearsed a long time with that cape. However her phrasing is too slow and deliberate -- the slicing through the air of the Siren's legs failed to make their full effect as a result. They get an A for effort.

I didn't get to see as much as I wanted this fall. I missed Jessica Lang's Her Notes and Benjamin Millepied's Daphnis and Chloe. ABT is a company best taken in small doses though. When asked to dance choreography designed on other company styles you realize they really are a jack of all trades, master of none.

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