The Opening Night Gala

Opening Night Gala
American Ballet Theatre
City Center
New York, NY
October 18, 2006

by Susan Reiter
copyright 2006 by Susan Reiter

A brisk evening that clocked in at just over two hours, including intermission, and featured un-excerpted performances of both Twyla Tharp works in the season’s repertory made for a gala that was anything but staid and run-of-the-mill. There were two standard pas de deux included to satisfy those who expect an evening of tutus and fouettés when they come to this kind of event, but otherwise this program set an appropriate tone for the repertory-rich season it introduced.

All of the principals were present and accounted for, except for Angel Corella — not scheduled to perform until the second week — and Ethan Stiefel, who is returning from injury and also cast for the second and third weeks.

The first movement of Balanchine’s “Symphonie Concertante,” making a most welcome return to the repertory, started things off on a grand scale, although the heart of the ballet is in the second movement. This opening movement, with its regimented presentation of the 16-member corps de ballet, six soloists and two gleaming principals, bears echoes of “Symphony in C,” but doesn’t achieve the same degree of gleaming eloquence. There’s something endearingly staid, a bit four-square by Balanchinean standards — although the brief slower interludes, when each ballerina enters with her own trio of encircling attendant soloists , are magical.

Michele Wiles danced to the violin solos, and Veronika Part to the viola. Both seemed to be still testing out the roles, performing a bit too carefully, but displayed elegant long lines and clear attack, marred only by Part’s slight bobble during the very exposed cadenza. The corps was also overly meticulous, but the six soloists were deliciously crisp and buoyant.

The first of the evening’s Tharp works was the revival of “Sinatra Suite,” custom-made for Mikhail Baryshnikov and Elaine Kudo — two exceptional Tharp interpreters — in 1983, and not performed by ABT since the following year. It’s wonderful to have a ballet that offers Herman Cornejo — perhaps the company’s purist virtuoso technician, who performs with such appealingly modest demeanor — a role that can be identified with him. He’s pictured on the season’s brochures and program cover in the work, and certainly is in many ways an appropriate heir to Baryshnikov. But in this initial performance, he and Sarah Lane gave the work a once-over-lightly approach. Not comfortable enough with the deceptively tricky partnering, and not yet capable of making it the rich character study it can be, they were sweet and charming — but there is much more to mine here than that. Adapting material (and songs) given to four different couples in the earlier “Nine Sinatra Songs,” the 15-minute suite encompasses passion, tension, world-weariness — as well as old-fashioned romance.

If someone were casting the longer work, Cornejo and Lane could be candidates for “Something Stupid” — the one for the sweet, slightly insecure innocents. One awaits what they will bring to the roles once they have lived inside them for a while. Once left alone, Cornejo did imbue the final solo “One for My Baby” with exceptionally phrased turns and a nice quality of rubato. But this is also a character solo that reeks of regret and worldliness within its understated technical challenges, and that aspect did not come through strongly enough.

In the interest of previewing the season — and allowing Julie Kent to display her ability to ooze with slow, liquid beauty through hyper-extended positions — the duet from Lar Lubovitch’s “Meadow” was included on the program. Marcelo Gomes was the stalwart partner, and the whole thing looked very dreamy and other-worldly in its glowing, murky lighting, accompanied by Gavin Bryars’ haunting faux-medieval vocalizing.

Paloma Herrera and Maxim Beloserkovsky performed the “White Swan” adagio with melancholy eloquence. To this mind, the only reason to present the tacky, musically undistinguished “Diana and Acteon” pas de deux is because José Manuel Carreno was born to dance it. So as long as he can do it with such amazing ballon, gusto and daring — while looking fantastically hunky in a beige tunic — they may as well bring it on. He saves the ballet from silliness and delivers his precise bravura feats with endearing charm and graciousness.

Tharp’s “In the Upper Room” closed the program, in a performance that had its moments but somehow did not accumulate the full level of sheer excitement the work can achieve. Gillian Murphy and Stella Abrera, who open and anchor the work, were transcendant. Murphy in particular now looks as at home in this “stomper” Tharpian milieu and Kathleen Moore, who was truly great in this work when it first entered ABT’s repertory. There have been changes in the first cast of male “stompers” and their material was not a persuasively performed, although by the time they came to the bare-chested trio near the end, they were firing form all cylinders. Luciana Paris and Yuriko Kajiya were exceptionally fast and precise in the flashing footwork that blazes across the stage like a beam of light, but somehow didn’t reach the expected level of “let–it rip” ferocity. David Hallberg and Herman Cornejo were calmly brilliant amid the increasingly frenetic action, and the smoke effects were perfectly timed and coordinated — just enough to sheathe the upstage area in murky gloom, and to create a golden mist midway through, thanks to Jennifer Tipton’s glorious lighting.

Photo: Herman Cornejo, by Joe McNally.

Volume 4, No. 38
October 23, 2006

copyright ©2006 Susan Reiter



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