Mixed bill, uniform quality

“Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes," "Dark Elegies," "Fancy Free”
American Ballet Theatre
City Center
New York, NY
November 4, 2006

by Carol Pardo
copyright 2006 by Carol Pardo

In its penultimate performance of the 2006 City Center Season, American Ballet Theatre presented three works of top-drawer choreography: Mark Morris’ “Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes”, Antony Tudor’s “Dark Elegies” and Jerome Robbins’ “Fancy Free”. All three ballets showed stars, principals, soloists and members of the corps de ballet on a surprisingly equal footing, thus flattening the hierarchy so entrenched in the full-length ballets seen in the spring at the Metropolitan Opera House and providing a more comprehensive sense of the state of the company.

Delicacy defines “Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes”. Part of that delicacy springs from the fact that the choreographer does not impose his personal vocabulary on dancers trained in another, but treats the piece as an opportunity to explore classical ballet and brings the two dance dialects together. Part of this comes from the music, thirteen etudes for piano by Virgil Thomson, that rushes by, fleetly, as do the dancers and their solo opportunities, which provide tantalizing glimpses of the dancers as they materialize from the group and flow back into it. Even the costumes, in fluid fabric tinged with blush pink, and the bronze of the backdrop reinforce the tone of the whole. The dance would inhabit an entirely different world were the costumes stark white against a solid blue cyclorama. I assume that “Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes” was revived as part of the 25th anniversary celebration of the Mark Morris Dance Group. I hope it, and the specific world it brings to the stage, will remain in repertory, no anniversary required.

“Dark Elegies” presents another community, this one sunk in grief at the death of its children. Tudor’s ballet is one where the position of the fingers, spread out or held together, can make an emotional statement. (In one instance, I couldn’t decode the choreographer’s intentions because of a dancer’s hands.) A repeated motif is elbows bent just enough to heighten their angularity like a broken doll (an image which merges both death and childhood). In her solo, Michele Wiles holds bends her head in a way that brings to mind a spirit bowed in mourning, a nursing mother beholding her child and a Madonna. The moment was particularly powerful coming from a dancer who went through a period of seeming to grin her way through every role. The final solo, danced by Carlos Lopez, requires him to turn seemingly on his ear. That momentum grows into a vortex which sucks in the entire community as it wheels almost frantically around. Looking back after a blackout, that unrestrained force reads as the necessary final externalizing of pain, without which the final scene, quiet and measured, cannot announce resignation to, if never acceptance of, loss.

Lopez appeared again as the sailor who gets stuck with the tab in “Fancy Free”. His cohorts on leave in New York in 1944 were Herman Cornejo, out to party, and Marcelo Gomes, on the prowl for girls, two different ideas of what constitutes twenty-four successful hours on dry land. That I would differentiate the two so distinctly is a tribute to the dancers. It is also a tribute to how a perfectly danced first scene can carry the rest of the ballet, for I haven’t seen such clear characterizations or such unforced but danced camaraderie among the three sailors in decades. Once the women appeared, things started to go down hill. This is not solely the fault of the dancers, though Stella Abrera did not convey all the anger inherent in her martial denunciation of the sailor’s behavior. 10And Julie Kent, in her pas de deux with Gomes danced it as though the girl vamped a new sailor every night of the week. The innocence of discovery and possibility was missing. Also contributing to the decline from the perfection of the first scene were changes of tempi in the pit and slack and muddy rhythm both on stage and in the orchestra. And without that rhythmic response, that snap, crackle, pop, “Fancy Free” goes limp, its fun and immediacy gone. Happily though, the power of that first scene kept total disappointment at bay. And that first scene crystallizes what American Ballet Theatre can do with well-programmed mixed bills that give everyone a chance to show what they can do.

Front page photo of Jose Manuel Carreño. Ethan Stiefel, and Angel Corella in "Fancy Free" by MIRA.

Volume 4, No. 39
November 6, 2006

copyright ©2006 Carol Pardo



©2006 DanceView