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Susan Weinrebe
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American Ballet Theatre: Les Sylphides, Afternoon of a Faun, Le Corsaire Pas de Deux, In the Upper Room

by Susan Weinrebe
October 29, 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)
New York, NY 10019

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American Ballet Theatre: Les Sylphides, Afternoon of a Faun, Le Corsaire Pas de Deux, In the Upper Room

American Ballet Theatre

Fall Repertory
At City Center
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

Susan Weinrebe
October 29, 2005

Les Sylphides: (1940) Choreography by Michel Fokine, Music by Frederic Chopin, Orchestrated by Roy Douglas, Staged by Kirk Peterson, Scenery by Alexandre Benois, Lighting by David K.H. Elliott, Conductor: David LaMarche, Performed by Maria Riccetto, Melanie Hamrick, Veronika Part, Maxim Beloserkovsky, Marian Butler, Simone Messmer, and the Company. Performances given by the kind permission of the Fokine Estate. (Program Notes)

Think of classic, concert ballet, with troupes of tulle clad ballerinas forming living tableaux for heroic solos and passionate pas des deux, the essence of Romantic ballet, and you have Les Sylphides as choreographed by the great Michel Fokine and danced by American Ballet Theatre artists.

With gossamer wings and floaty hands stroking the air like the delicate beating of maiden hearts, the ensemble of ballerinas poses, arrayed upon the stage, as the voluptuous red curtain rises upon a quintessentially romantic setting, a ruined castle and forest foreground.

Though basically a plotless ballet, the notion of a young man seeking perfection amid ghostly forest sylphs, is at the heart of Les Sylphides. Thus, this perpetual gem allows the principals to demonstrate pure technique and attitude without having to further a story line.

Chopin's nocturne, waltzes, and mazurkas, so intricate and swelling and lushly played under the baton of David LaMarche, originally inspired the title, Chopiniana for the ballet. No doubt the gorgeous music also inspired the exceptionally ethereal arm work throughout, and elevations were textbook, as the soloists demonstrated why Les Sylphides has been a perennial program favorite for nearly a century.

Afternoon of a Faun (1953): Choreography by Jerome Robbins, Music by Claude Debussy, Staged by Jean-Pierre Frohlich, Setting and Original Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Lighting recreated by Perry Silvey, Costumes by Irene Sharaff, Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Stella Abrera, David Hallberg. Performed by permission of The Robins Rights Trust. (Program Notes)

Choreography by Jerome Robbins modernizes and relocates the faun. Instead of a forest, the setting is a ballet practice room complete with skylight, windows and barres along the "walls" of a room constructed within the parameters of the stage. The audience becomes both voyeur and participant as the mirror into which the beautiful, self-absorbed faun peers in order to appreciate his satisfying reflection.

The brilliant conceit of transposing the faun into a dancer well suits what the audience sees. Dancers appear as the epitome of physical perfection as we watch them use their tuned machines of bodies to offer dance, that most ephemeral of arts. And that layered connection is apt since the physical beauty and muscular integrity they offer each time they perform is as fleeting as the performance itself.

Perhaps the audience was seeing history in the making with Ms. Abrera and Mr. Hallberg advancing their status in the company. Certainly the flawless execution of their parts as faun and nymph pleased the audience, not to mention their interpretation of two characters whose paths cross but do not affect one another.

The beautiful styling and lifts of the partnering in the main of the performance, was essentially a pas de un executed by two people. It succeeded both as dance, and as acting, apparently as effortless as every silky, cool move this stylishly matched pair made.

Le Corsaire
(Act II Pas de Deux & Coda):
Choreography after Marius Petipa, Music by Adolphe Adam, Arranged by Riccardo Drigo, Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Paloma Herrera and Angel Corella.

Thrilling barely describes the electrifying sensation created when Angel Corella bounded onto the stage and then again when Paloma Herrera made her dazzling entrance in the heady selection from Le Corsaire.

From entrance to multiple curtain calls, this technically exquisite and well-partnered duo exuded the assurance to dance with bravura, taking risks that only performers in any art seek when they are at the height of their powers.

Mr. Corella attained elevation and suspension that made me think an x-ray of his feet might be in order to determine whether they more resembled those of a creature of flight than a man! A tour de force of pirouettes, pointe work, jetés, chaînés completed with authoritative exuberance nearly brought down the house, especially when Mr. Corella, with piratical abandon, carried Ms. Herrera, his rescued slave girl, aloft across the width of the stage, using running steps.

At curtain call, Mr. Corella gave the audience more of what it wanted when he leapt from behind the curtain to accept their adulation for his untrammeled performance.

In The Upper Room: (1988): Choreography by Twyla Tharp, Music by Philip Glass, Staged by Keith Roberts, Original Costume Design by Norma Kamali, Lighting originally by Jennifer Tipton, Performed by Kristi Boone, Michele Wiles, Sascha Radetsky, Blaine Hoven, Patrick Ogle, Misty Copeland, Marian Butler, Yuriko Kajiya, Arron Scott, Luciana Paris, Carlos Lopez, Irina Dvorovenko, Gennadi Saveliev.

Following the second intermission, when the audience was waiting for Twyla Tharp's nine-part ballet, smoke began to pour from behind the curtain. Since this special effect was noted in the program, people didn't seem fazed until the curtain was raised upon…. Dancers in the foreground could be seen, but those just steps behind (I guess) could barely be discerned through the haze. Supposing that this was the intent behind the smoky miasma, I waited more patiently than several sets of people who got up and left, but I felt sorry that I could not see much and sorry for the performers dancing their hearts out (I guessed), unseen.

Eventually, the smoke cleared and the tricky and technically demanding movements that are Twyla Tharp's loose-limbed trademarks, could be appreciated for the marathon in which she had the dancers running.

Clad in black and white striped, easy-fitting shirts and pants, the dancers looked stylishly ready to go. Some of the women wore "kiss-me-sailor" red toe shoes, panties, and leotards peeking out of their shirts. As the movements progressed and the score by Philip Glass become more insistent, quickening the tempo and urgency of the pace, dancers pared down to pants or leotards.

Using every bit of the stage including cardinal and ordinal directions, sets of dancers "jogged" on and exited, in between being lifted, turned, slung along the floor, flipped and caught, reversing movements and body parts mid-gesture.

Anyone who has ever enjoyed the choreography of a Tharp dance can immediately recognize one when they see one. The heel digs and head nods and running in place so common to her work, acted as markers along the way of In the Upper Room, as pairs of dancers, then trios, and then a squad realigned themselves using a broad spectrum dance vocabulary. Racing towards entrances and exits, the dancers sprinted towards a near breathless finish that brought the audience to its feet.

Stella Abrera and David Hallberg in Jerome Robbins' Afternoon of a Faun
Photo courtesy of Marty Sohl

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