"Dark Elegies"

"Symphonie Concertante," "Dark Elegies," "In the Upper Room"
American Ballet Theate
City Center
New York, NY

November 2, 2006

by Gay Morris
copyright 2006 by Gay Morris

“Dark Elegies” made a fleeting appearance Thursday at City Center. Only one other performance of Antony Tudor’s great work was scheduled during American Ballet Theatre’s fall season. However brief its presence, “Dark Elegies” is always welcome. Its quiet truth grows with each viewing, and the ABT dancers give the ballet the kind of committed performance it deserves. The company is to be commended for sustaining Tudor’s vision at a time when so many works from the past are blurred or altered.

Tudor was still in his twenties when, in 1937, he set Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (“Songs on the Death of Children”) to poems by Friedrich Rückert for London’s Ballet Rambert. But despite his youth, his understanding of Rückert ’s poems was profound. He was fortunate, too, in having Nadia Benois to design two backdrops of a storm-lashed coast, and costumes in subdued colors—dresses for the women, pants and shirts with rolled sleeves for the men.

Melissa Thomas, a member of the corps de ballet, led the opening dance. With her round, pretty face and large eyes, she looks hardly more than a child herself. This casting suggested the grief of an older sibling rather than that of an adult. Thomas gave her initial gestures a stunned reticence. There was little emotion in her outstretched arms or her reaches overhead. Then as the dance advanced she became more emphatic, as if the act of moving enabled her to express her anguish.

Julie Kent and Isaac Stappas had the central duet and they performed it with harrowing intensity. Kent appeared haggard with stress, Stappas stoic, his own grief suppressed in order to give strength to the woman. He supported her as she fell back in sorrow, he lifted and held her as she curled into herself, her head in her arms. Then, at one moment, courage seemed to abandon them both ; they collapsed together, before gathering themselves to continue on.

Sascha Radetsky emerged from the group to dance his own quiet loss. In the solo’s most powerful moment his hands fluttered out from his heart, as if the center of love had departed from his body. As the dance ended, he curled, kneeling, at the center of a circle, the community revolving around him. The next solo, danced by Hee Seo, was agitated, disturbed. The men sheltered her protectively, as she rushed from one place to another. Finally Jesus Pastor poured out his anger at the tragedy that had befallen his community. He slapped his thighs, kicked, stamped, threw himself to the ground. The stage darkened to blackness as the dancers wheeled. Then a morning light slowly dawned and the original storm tossed backdrop was replaced by a gray, but calmer scene. The community gathered itself together in mutual support, resignation, acceptance, and perhaps the beginning of healing.

“Dark Elegies” was surrounded by two very different works on Thursday, Balanchine’s “Symphonie Concertante” and Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room. The program opened with “Symphonie Concertante,” which ABT is reviving this season after a long absence from the repertory. Irina Dvorovenko and Gillian Murphy were the dual ballerinas, with Maxim Beloserkovsky as their partner. For the most part the man is there to lift and carry, which Beloserkovksy accomplished efficiently. Pairing Murphy with Dvorovenko served primarily to point up the latter’s weaknesses. Dvorovenko is a dancer who leads with her head, her body following along after it.  She flirts with the audience, assuming various expressions of coquettery, she snaps her head to reinforce a final musical beat, she smiles brightly. All of this covers for a technique that is often muddy, her turnout incomplete, her silhouette smudged.

Murphy, on the other hand, leads with her body, her head a rational part of the whole. She is a dancer of such bodily intelligence, each phrase a small essay on the possibilities of one particular combination of steps. Murphy has always been a virtuoso, and it would be tempting to use virtuosity simply to call attention to herself. Instead, she uses her abilities to test the myriad ways movement can be shaded for expressive ends. In the last year or so, she has acquired another attribute—wit. I wonder if it didn’t emerge from her encounter with Tharp’s “In the Upper Room,” which ABT revived last year. One critic commented that Murphy has so complete a mastery of the ballet, she now owns it. Her pleasure in its intricacies and ingenuity, its humor and dance commentary is palpable. She seems to have transferred that pleasure to her dancing of Balanchine, as well.

It is a pity that Michele Wiles has not been able to find the same qualities in Tharp’s work. Last year Murphy and Wiles alternated in the same role of the sneaker-clad lead in “In the Upper Room,” and Wiles danced the part at Thursday’s performance. She still looks uncomfortable in the ballet, as if she doesn’t understand its underlying motivation, doesn’t get the humor, can’t let herself go. Her worst moment on Thursday came in a sextet where all the dancers unaccountably grinned, as if to tell us that what they were doing was a great joke. The smiles were blatantly fake but fortunately didn’t last long. Soon everyone was back to being themselves.

Kristi Boone, taking the role of the second sneaker-clad woman, was much more at home in the vernacular infused movement than Wiles. But Marcelo Gomes, usually an interesting dancer, looked as if he had wandered in from “Swan Lake.” He did the steps but it was like speaking a language he didn’t really understand. Not so his two compatriots, Jared Matthews and Patrick Ogle, who relished every athletic feat and the boundless energy the dances demanded. Herman Cornejo, another of the leading dancers, also met the choreographic challenges with gusto. Paloma Herrera, stepping in for Sarah Lane, who was originally scheduled as the leading woman on pointe, danced, as she should, with exactness and ease. Gennadi Saveliev, often acting as Herrera’s partner, was another lost soul in this very American ballet. He was smiling by the end, but it may have been more from relief than anything else.

Front page photo: Julie Kent and Grant Delong in "Dark Elegies," by Gene Schiavone.

Volume 4, No. 39
November 6, 2006

copyright ©2006 Gay Morris



©2006 DanceView