“Symphonie Concertante,” “The Dream”
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, NY
May 26, 2007 (matinee)

by Susan Reiter
copyright © 2007 by Susan Reiter

If ABT assigned marketing-friendly titles to its programs the way NYCB now does, it could call this one “Two Hours of Bliss” and not be accused of false advertising. Pairing George Balanchine’s glistening, crystalline “Symphonie Concertante” and Sir Frederick Ashton’s sublime “The Dream,” it offers, in the works of these two choreographic geniuses, deeper satisfaction than most evenings at the ballet can lay claim to. The ensemble gets to surge and sigh with not only stunning patterns but emotional depth, and individual dancers get to explore the profound possibilities of classical technique at its most refined and metaphorically potent.

“Symphonie Concertante” may not rank up there with Balanchine’s highest level of inspiration, and it suffers in comparison with some of the other works in his canon with which it occasionally invites comparison. The twin ballerinas, each allied with a solo instrument, recall “Concerto Barocco,” and the women here are presented in a more matter-of-fact way than in that earlier work, in which the two truly seem to weave themselves inside the music. “Symphonie Concertante” is a more stately, less divinely inspired work than Balanchine’s best-known and most enduring Mozart ballet, “Divertimento No. 15." But its architectural beauties and hauntingly evocative middle movement are wondrous, as is the way Balanchine balances grandeur and intimacy.

Ideally, the casting of the two ballerinas should afford contrast, much as the music juxtaposes and intertwines the mellow richness of the viola and the more febrile vigor of the violin. Michelle Wiles (violin) and Veronika Part (viola), who performed on this occasion, certainly constitute a contrasting pair. But both were overly studied and retrained in the crisp intricacies of the opening movement, perhaps constrained by slightly slow tempo. But in general, ABT ballerinas have too often seemed to approach this ballet as an assignment, struggling to stay inside a placid comfort zone, rather than as an opportunity to take a riskier plunge into the music. Wiles certainly has the technical chops, and had the slight edge in crisp allegro attack here, but her straightforward placidness suggested she was in a different ballet, divorced from the heart-stopping delicacy of the Mozart score. Part’s luxuriant phrasing and sigh-inducing expressiveness of her upper body and head were matched by her clarity of attack and musical awareness. She just needs to relax and sink into the ballet further.

Maxim Beloserkovsky could have used a touch more eloquence and gravitas in the second movement, with its delicate intimations of mortality. The six demi-soloists were delivered exceptionally lucid and sensitive performances, whether providing a sisterly frame for one of the ballerinas, forming a protective bubble within which they floated, or setting the brisk, buoyant tone for the galloping joyousness of the final movement. Part and Wiles shed some of their restraint in this finale, but there is still a higher level they could attain here.

“The Dream” is such a cornucopia of rapturous delights that one can never tire of seeing it. ABT is generously offering four casts this season, and one could happily enjoy even more excuses to see it. The filigreed refinement with which Ashton employs classical technique, and the heights of expressiveness he conveys through it, never cease to amaze. Even the quartet of lovers, whose gentle slapstick and mockingly melodramatic reactions provide terrifically humorous moments, are at the same time exemplifying lovely classical deportment, and at all times one can observe rhythmically alert and teasing footwork going on beneath Helena’s and Hermia’s calf-length, full skirts.

Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg were making their debuts in the crucial and glorious roles of Titania and Oberon. Hallberg has qualities that make him an ideal choice for roles, such as this one, originated by Anthony Dowell, and it was fascinating to observe his initial foray into the ballet. The Apollonian harmony of his line, the unaffected clarity of his phrasing, gave him the innate authority for this ruler of the supernatural realm. In addition, he has been making astute use of his eyes to enhance his dramatic portrayals, and has mastered a similarly flashing intensity of gaze to Dowell’s. He shaped the often quirky bends and dips of the choreography seamlessly, but does not yet have quite the luminous expansiveness that some of the darting positions require. Hallberg’s dancing does not quite attain the creamy flow that was so innate to Dowell’s magic, but he already makes this role very much his own.

His scenes with Carlos Lopez’s feisty, robust Puck were dramatically vibrant. Lopez makes his character an earthy, impudent rapscallion and steers clear of all traces of cuteness. One can sense his delight in the mishaps and confusions of the mortals in whose affair he meddles.

Murphy, who is going from strength to strength this season and clearly opening herself to greater dramatic insight (she is performing in every full-length ballet as well as both of these works), created a captivatingly capricious Titania, giving into the abandon of the upper body that is such a hallmark of this role. She does not quite have the range of expressiveness and daring to suggest the wildness, even the touch of danger, in this most womanly of roles; her inherent sunniness could be tempered with a bit more shadow. But she already employs her steely technique and eloquent feet with subtlety in service of character and situation. The tension and yielding of the heart-stopping culminating duet were palpable, as one felt Titania’s pride and determination give way to the perfect harmony, and sensual abandon, of love.

Alexei Agoudine capered with fanciful delight as the transformed Bottom, and one oculd feel his anguish when the magic of his dream was gone and he was r educed to his boyish, bumbling self. Jennifer Alexander was a blissfully simple-minded Hermia, and Karin Ellis-Wentz a real spitfire of a Helena, with Gennadi Saveliev and Roman Zhurbin providing charming bluster and spiffy timing as their lovers.

The ensemble of fairies — evoking the otherworldly power of the great romantic ballets in the incantatory opening sequence, skittering around in Titania’s orbit, or hovering above to observe the follies of the human entanglements — provided the magisterial framework within which this most perfect of narrative ballets unfold.

Photo: Herman Cornejo as Puck. Photo by Fabrizio Ferri.

Volume 5, No. 21
May 28, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Susan Reiter

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