ABT's Triple Bill

"Kingdom of the Shades scene from 'La Bayadere,' ” "Dark Elegies," and "Rodeo"
American Ballet Theatre
Opera House
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, DC, USA
January 9, 2007

by Alexandra Tomalonis
copyright 2007, Alexandra Tomalonis

One of the few constants in American Ballet Theatre’s performances over the past few decades, and one of the most beautiful things about the company, is the respect with which the dancers perform Antony Tudor’s ballets. This was evident again at the company’s opening performance Tuesday night, when dancers too young to have met Tudor danced his “Dark Elegies” with a depth of emotion that made the work seem new.

Tudor made “Dark Elegies” for London’s Ballet Rambert in 1937; the ballet moved with Tudor to New York and has been danced by ABT since its first season in 1940. Set to Mahler’s “Kindertotenlieder” (“Songs on the Death of Children,” sung by Troy Cook, in costume and seated on a bench at the side of the stage) and danced by a small ensemble dressed in generic peasant garb, the ballet is one of the earliest attempts to fuse modern dance (in this case, German expressionism) with classical ballet that does no harm to either genre.

Not surprisingly, the emotional tone throughout is dark, but the ballet goes far beyond the usual “death is sad” ballets to Mahler songs. The dancers’ sadness is specific. We don’t know each person’s story—which children have died and how—but we see a variety of reactions to grief, from anger to tender remembrance to resignation. Tudor used the restraint of ballet to harness raw emotion: arms held stiffly at the side rather than in classical positions or overtly emotional gestures, jetés so clear and pure they cut through the bleak atmosphere like knives. It’s a beautiful ballet and received beautiful performances from its small cast.

Michele Wiles can be stiff in dramatic roles, but here the erect carriage read as dignity and suppressed sorrow. Julie Kent was bowed by grief, her pliant body tenderly supported by Isaac Stappas. Jared Matthews and Hee Seo were both extremely impressive in the third and fourth songs respectively, the most angry dances, expressing the mourners’ inexpressible pain. Carlos Lopez danced the fifth solo with a resignation and dignity that spoke to his own situation as well as the community’s. The six dancers in the small supporting cast were as in tune with the work as the soloists and helped make the ballet’s point: the community shares the grief and supports those who grieve.

“Rodeo” is another old ABT standby. Created by Agnes de Mille (who danced the lead) for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1942, the ballet has been in ABT’s repertory nearly continuously since 1950 and, dated as its message is (a tomboy gets her man by putting on a dress), the ballet is still fun. This performance was a bit rusty, and some of the comedy was overdone, especially in the opening scenes, but by the end, the dancers looked as they were thoroughly enjoying the ballet, and so did the audience.

As the Cowgirl, Xiomara Reyes isn’t gawky and awkward, and much of the physical comedy of the role was underplayed, but she expressed the Cowgirl’s growing pains and rejection very well, and is one of the few dancers I’ve seen who looks terrific in the screaming yellow polka dot dress the Cowgirl has to wear for the Big Dance. As the Champion Roper, Sascha Radetsky was a charmer and totally won over the audience, as well as the Cowgirl. Radetsky is a welcome throwback to an earlier age. He’s not a particularly strong technician, but he knows how to fill a role, and he had the house during his tap dance. Isaac Stappas could use a bit more authority as the Head Wrangler, and Jennifer Alexander was a pretty, though rather contemporary, Ranchowner’s Daughter.

The evening opened with a very pallid rendition of the “Kingdom of the shades” scene from Marius Petipa’s “La Bayadère” which has been a company showpiece since Natalia Makarova staged it in 1974. The famous entrance of the corps de ballet was done very correctly, but the dancing did not sing, and emotionally muted performances by Paloma Herrera and Jose Manuel Carreno made for a tepid performance. Of the three Shades, I liked Stella Abrera’s strong and beautifully phrased account of the second variation, but was disappointed in Veronika Part’s rather jerky third Shade. Misty Copeland was a last minute substitute for Renata Pavam in the first variation and is so different in style level from the other two dancers that their pas de trios looked disheveled.

Front page photo of "Rodeo" by Rosalie O'Connor.

Volume 5, No. 3
January 15, 2007

copyright ©2007 Alexandra Tomalonis

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