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American Ballet Theatre: Kaleidoscope, Dark Elegies, In the Upper Room

by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 1, 2005
New York City Center
130 West 56th Street
(Audience Entrance is on West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
(Entrance for Studios and Offices is on West 56th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
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New York, NY 10003
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About the Author:

American Ballet Theatre: Kaleidoscope, Dark Elegies, In the Upper Room

American Ballet Theatre
www.abt.org

Fall Repertory
At City Center
www.citycenter.org

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Rachel S. Moore, Executive Director
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Ballet Masters:
Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova,
Georgina Parkinson, Kirk Peterson

Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
Susan Morgan, Press Associate

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 1, 2005


Kaleidoscope (World Premiere): Choreography by Peter Quanz, Music by Camille Saint-Saëns (Piano Concerto No. 5, opus 103), Scenery by Robert Perdziola, Costumes by Holly Hynes, Lighting by Brad Fields, Pianist: Barbara Bilach, Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Maria Riccetto, Jesus Pastor, Zhong-Jing Fang, Jared Matthews, and the Company.

With Holly Hynes' colorful long tutus and Robert Perdziola's very "kaleidoscopic" backdrop design, abstract and muted, this new, classically staged, Peter Quanz ballet was imaginative and intriguing, however, not very exciting. This ballet does not bring the visual magic of Les Sylphides or the drama of a Balanchine Jewels, but it does bring choreography that actually has dancers intertwining like the viewing of a kaleidoscopic lens. Shapes flourish, fuse, fragment, and flicker, just like those in brightly colored glass lenses. Holly Hynes' costumes became the "glass" design in the lens.

I was particularly taken with the final movements of the Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 5, so rapturously performed by he ABT orchestra, with Barbara Bilach on piano and Ormsby Wilkins in the orchestra pit, and the visual effect of lines of dancers with arms in multiple and mesmerizing figures. Yet, I did not feel riveted by this ballet, nor wanting for more. Kaleidoscope may be a ballet that needs to be experienced in sequential seasons to notice the details in choreography and creativity. The lead dancers and Company gave artful performances, and Brad Fields lighting was quite effective in this persuasive premiere.

Dark Elegies (Revival, 1940): Choreography by Antony Tudor, Staged by Donald Mahler, Music by Gustav Mahler (Kindertotenlieder), Décor by Nadia Benois, Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Singer: Troy Cook, Conductor: David LaMarche, Performed by Melissa Thomas, Melanie Hamrick, Isaac Stappas, Jared Matthews, Hee Seo, Carlos Lopez, and the Company as The Chorus. This ballet was first performed by Ballet Rambert in London in 1937 and by ABT in 1940 in New York. (Program Notes).

A story of loss of children, sung onstage in German by Troy Cook, dressed in the same peasant pants, suspenders, a pastel solid costume, and danced by women in equally pastel, earthy tones, was not what one may term enjoyable. In fact, I found this ballet depressing and incredibly slow-moving, given the nature of the earlier premiere. The evening needed energy, which the final work provided, but that review is below.

The fact that this ballet entered ABT repertory in 1940, and this is the first time I seem to have seen it performed, leads me to believe that it was never considered an audience-engaging work, nor even an audience-desired work. Mahler's Kindertotenlieder seems to drone on endlessly, and the level of grief that one would expect with such a horrific theme was absent in some religiously repressive rite. This ballet did not exude the passion of a Graham, mythologically-based, tormented woman or women, nor the simplicity of tone, such as in Pavane pour une infante défunte, but rather a bland collective mourning without the mesmerizing method-acting.

All dancers, in wrapped heads and long skirts, with men in the suspender motif, were perfectly in mood and moment, and, of course, Antony Tudor's choreography is always fascinating to experience. It seemed, however, that such subject matter needed more angst and pathos, more sensuality and clarity. David LaMarche, as always, brought out the maximum from this difficult score. Nadia Benois' scenery has been more captivating in other works, and Donald Mahler's staging seemed suited to the score.

In The Upper Room: (1988): (See October 29, 2005 Review). Choreography by Twyla Tharp, Music by Philip Glass (Recorded), Staged by Keith Roberts, Original Costume Design by Norma Kamali, Lighting originally by Jennifer Tipton, Performed by Stella Abrera, Gillian Murphy, Ethan Stiefel, Eric Underwood, Isaac Stappas, Erica Cornejo, Sasha Dmochowski, Maria Riccetto, Craig Salstein, Laura Hidalgo, Herman Cornejo, Paloma Herrera, and David Hallberg. This dance was first performed in 1986 at Ravinia Festival. It was first presented by ABT in 1988 at Orange County Performing Arts Center. (Program Notes).

It was after this final work that the ABT fans jumped to their feet in hearty applause. There was much less fog onstage than on the previous viewing (See October 29, 2005 Review), and the cast was la crème de la crème. Gillian Murphy was incredibly radiant, and Stella Abrera, as has been recently noted, is a must-see dancer these days, with exuberance and freshness. Ethan Stiefel, Eric Underwood, and Isaac Stappas were literally airborne, as dancers were flipped over shoulders, between legs, and en air. Erica Cornejo seems to be double-jointed, and I look forward to seeing her dance, one day, Odette/Odile, as her limbs seem to do whatever she requires of them.

Then, like magical momentum, we were treated to Craig Salstein David Hallberg, and Paloma Herrera, with the latter two in some of the most dynamic and daring dance seen onstage in years. Norma Kamali's striped, black/white, casual, unisex costumes, with red toe shoes and socks, looked so much more exciting with the lesser amount of stage fog, although the fog itself gave the eerie, yet contemporary creativity warmth and wonder. I happen to have this Philip Glass score on CD, and the volume building, in sets of three or four repetitive notes, was matched with three or four dancers in aerobic action. This ballet is certainly one that will thankfully re-appear often in ABT repertoire.

Kudos to Twyla Tharp. Kudos to Kevin McKenzie.


Stella Abrera and Herman Cornejo in Twyla Tharp's In the Upper Room
Photo courtesy of Gene Schiavone

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