Volume 76, Number 23 | October 25 - 31, 2006

American Ballet Theater
2006 City Center Season
Through Nov. 5
City Center
West 55th St. btwn 6th and 7th Aves.
(212-581-1212; nycitycenter.org)

Photo by Gene Schiavone

Mark Morris’s “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes” is one of the standouts in ABT’s hit or miss 2006 City Center season.

Ballet’s heavyweights return to City Center

By Susan Yung

American Ballet Theater kicked off its three-week fall season at City Center on Oct. 19 with a premiere by Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo, titled “Glow – Stop,” set to music by Mozart and Philip Glass. Like his commission for New York City Ballet’s Diamond Project last spring, Elo’s new ballet displayed a fascination with speed and virtuosity.

Elo took full advantage of the dancers’ superb skills throughout “Glow – Stop,” whose red velvet costumes were designed by Zack Brown. Familiar ballet pirouettes and leaps were mixed in with Elo’s quirky off-kilter profiles, cantilevered lifts, and fidgety gestures. The pace was frenetic, broken up by an occasional moment of stillness or a prolonged balance. At times, a bit of panic surfaced in the fervor to piece together by rote one unusual pose after the other, without an inherent logic or formula. Herman Cornejo and Marcelo Gomes best dealt with smoothing over the patched-together phrases, but it’s difficult to sustain interest in relentless spins and leaps, no matter how good the technicians.

Twyla Tharp’s duet, “Sinatra Suite” (1982), featured Jose Manuel Carreno and corps member Luciana Paris. It is one of Tharp’s most familiar concert performance works, albeit an unsatisfying example of her choreographic skill. Carreno cut a romantic figure, but he seemed too happy for the occasion, and not wolfish enough. The woman is more cipher than character, underscored because Paris — here unmemorable — greatly excelled in the next night’s Tharp selection.

Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky danced Tharp’s “Known By Heart (“Junk”) Duet,” which aptly showcased the pair’s theatricality.

The company also performed Kurt Jooss’ majestic “The Green Table.” David Hallberg, as Death, looked even crisper and scarier than last year. Though the dance premiered in 1932, this ballet remains as politically and choreographically relevant as anything on stage right now.

Friday night’s program offered a clinic in great, plotless ballet choreography by three masters whose respect for music is evident in their oeuvres. George Balanchine’s “Symphonie Concertante” (1947) led off the evening. Its formal white tutus and tiaras felt out of place at City Center, where ABT’s repertory tends toward the modern, and it is too large a cast for this stage. But the ballet, set to Mozart, clearly depicted the clarity and complexity of Balanchine. Julie Kent and Paloma Herrera capably led the cast of 22 additional women, plus Gennadi Saveliev. The two lead women partnered one another, Saveliev, or most interestingly, all three danced together in intricately woven sequences. Clusters of dancers moved in separate phrases at the same time, until they all clicked like a machine in the final movement. It was a big part for Saveliev, who performed adequately, but still lacks top-notch finish and confidence.

Next came Mark Morris’ “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes,” to music by Virgil Thomson, which ABT premiered in 1988 and revived this season. Morris is widely acknowledged as one of the most accomplished contemporary choreographers, but this relatively early ballet (his company is celebrating its 25th anniversary), particularly programmed in context with Balanchine and Twyla Tharp, shows why he stands tall among the best. He established distinctive motifs (jumping into fifth position, wrists crossed overhead) that integrated the disparate sections, skillfully mixed dynamics, and created eye-catching but unforced shapes. Sometimes a foursome performed a phrase, but Morris enriched it visually by having one dancer add a turn instead of a simple step, and somehow manages to make every exit interesting to watch. Santo Loquasto’s elegant cream and pink jersey costumes bolstered the elegant, modern sensibility.

Tharp’s “In the Upper Room” (1986) followed, which was performed last year by ABT as well. This giant, adrenaline rush of a dance to Philip Glass’s music featured Yuriko Kajiya and Luciana Paris, both new in roles, as the perfectly synchronized duet; a vampy Irina Dvorovenko; Sascha Radetsky; Misty Copeland, and the young Blaine Hoven, who managed to assimilate remarkably well to Tharp’s highly demanding style. The piece could use more rehearsal, but nevertheless, it should be required viewing for ballet fans.

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