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American Ballet Theater's Opening Night Gala Highlights Antony Tudor, "Company B," and Choreographic Debut Of Craig Salstein

by Tonya Plank
October 21, 2008
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)
New York, NY 10019
212.247.0430

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American Ballet Theatre
American Ballet Theatre (office)
890 Broadway
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www.abt.org

On October 21, 2008, American Ballet Theater opened its season of contemporary ballet at New York's City Center. As is usual with galas programs, the company put on a variety of dances, many excerpts from fuller ballets to be performed during the two—week season.

First on was George Balanchine's "Theme and Variations," one of the choreographer's celebrations of Imperial Russian ballet, replete with majestic Tchaikovsky music, resplendent tiaras, glittering tutus, and athletically astounding high-jumps containing multiple turns. Marcelo Gomes and Paloma Herrera performed the leads. It took the far-too-quiet audience members (many of whom showed up late, taking their seats after the opening piece) too long to appreciate the difficulty of Gomes's several, continuous twisting jumps, but eventually applause broke out. Gomes is a leading man-type and partnering is his forte, but his large size made clear just how fast the music was played; he had a small bit of difficulty keeping up with some extremely fast footwork.

Next was a portion of "Romeo and Juliet," by Antony Tudor, whom the company is celebrating this season (as last year marked the centennial of his birth). Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg performed the sorrowful scene where Romeo, banished from Verona, leaves Juliet. Tudor's "Romeo" is very different from what many New Yorkers are used to, that choreographed by Sir Kenneth MacMillan; Tudor's is far more dramatic, without the many flourishes, choreographic variety, and breathtaking lifts, but instead filled with dramatic action that can be understood through movement choices. Here, there are many yearning arabesques where the dancers lean toward each other, balancing on the tip of their toes, nearly falling forward, longingly, but seemingly unable to reach the other. It was filled with passion and sadness.

The next piece performed, in full, was "Time," a short but very well-constructed and moving ballet choreographed by well-liked soloist with the company, Craig Salstein, making his New York City Center choreographic debut. It was a solo danced by Michele Wiles, and originally made in December 2007 for "Dancers Responding to AIDS." It was soft and lyrical but had modern elements as well, such as short, staccato movements of the arms and legs, and a frontward leaning arch, with arms extending up and back, like a bird taking flight, reminiscent of Alvin Ailey or Martha Graham. Wiles danced with a sorrowful passion; it was hauntingly beautiful. As its name and the group it was created for implies, it evoked a woman struggling hard to extend her time here on earth. Wiles would reach upward toward the heavens, but in vain, and she kept brushing her right leg backward, as if trying to brush off a negative thought, a harsh reality. Later, she would dance with fluidity and grace, in acceptance. The movements would repeat throughout, like they would psychologically in someone who is grieving: denial, anger, acceptance, denial, anger, acceptance. Brief as the piece was, it shows that Salstein has originality, understands how to build structure, how to use movement to move the audience emotionally and to convey a psychological state or idea. In this way, "Time" was perfect for opening a season celebrating Tudor, one of the most dramatic dance artists, one of the masters of using movement to convey psychological states. Salstein has the makings of a very successful choreographer.

Following "Time" was a brief excerpt from Jiri Kylian's "Overgrown Path," which the Czech choreographer, whom Tudor considered an artistic grandson, made in tribute to Tudor. The excerpt, titled "In Tears," and danced by Julie Kent, Gennadi Saveliev, and Jared Matthews, was too brief and too subtracted from the whole work, to make much sense of. Kent is carried about, all over the stage, clearly in despair, by the two male dancers. At times she covers her eyes with her hands as if not wanting to see what is there. The movement surely created an atmosphere of sorrow, but because it was too divorced from the larger work, on its own it made little sense.

Ending the first part of the program was a short pas de deux from "Don Quixote" the only classical ballet on the program. It's somewhat curious why the company decided to put this one on, but a classical dance where both dancers – here Jose Manuel Carreno and Xiomara Reyes — can demonstrate their virtuosity, is always a delight, not to mention a crowd-pleaser.

Following intermission, was Paul Taylor's by turns fun and frivolous, moving, and haunting "Company B," performed in its entirety. It's a jazzy modern piece (no toe shoes) set to several 1940s-era songs by The Andrews Sisters (like Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B from which the dance gets its title). Both song and dance are cute, fun frolic but only on their surfaces. In the background from time to time a line of men walk in slow motion, marching, legs lifted high, their bodies at the back of the stage, in shadowed silhouette. Some of them hold what appear to be guns. Some hold their arms up as in surrender. They are going off to war (timely then, during the era of the songs, timely now). You almost don't notice them. At points, a sweet romantic duet will take place center stage, and one of these men will join the dancers, flying happily about the stage, along with them, at times performing athletic marvels, like barrel turns, then suddenly slam to the ground, as if shot. At other times, one of those men will have a solo, or be part of a duet. But in the end, he always falls, however subtly. It's only then that you realize the dance – the solo or pas de deux – has been merely a dream, or a memory. The man is now gone. Because of the marked contrast between fun, play and love on the one hand, and death in the line of battle on the other, the background war theme is all the more heart-rending.
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