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Robert Abrams
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American Ballet Theater
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American Ballet Theatre - Without Words, workwithinwork, Within You Without You: A Tribute to George Harrison

by Robert Abrams
November 9, 2003
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
American Ballet Theatre (office)
890 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

American Ballet Theatre - Without Words, workwithinwork, Within You Without You: A Tribute to George Harrison


City Center
New York, New York

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director

Ballet Masters
Guillaume Graffin, Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova,
Georgina Parkinson, Kirk Peterson

Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
Farah Lopez, Manager, Press and Marketing

Robert Abrams
November 9, 2003

Without Words was a daring contemporary dance superbly executed by eight dancers and two musicians.

This work was a celebration of the moving body, more so than a celebration of either the body or movement by itself. The choreography gave the dancers a chance to be sculptural when they were still, and to show directionality when they were moving. The dancers filled the whole space of the stage. At several points, they seemed to float in the air.

This dance was the contemporary ballet equivalent of Rumba in tempo and sensuality. It was like one long caress, rolling like the tides. The second section was uptempo from the first, but had the same movement tonality. The third section was again slower. In addition to an effective macrostructure organized around tempo, the work utilized effective variations with the number of dancers on stage. Initial sections had two or three dancers on stage, where later sections used all eight dancers. At the every end, the lights faded on two, and then one, dancer. This kind of variation was reminiscent of similar variations used by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet.

The dancers were never out of balance. Their lifts were continuous with their grounded movements. The dancers often felt like fluid pieces of a puzzle in constant search for a solution. This search took the dancers into intricate orbits.

The lighting popped the dancers out from the deep blackness of the backdrop. Images projected on part of the backdrop mirrored the dancers' poses. This projection wasn't strictly necessary in that the dance would have worked just as well without it, but it did serve as a subtle use of multimedia that added one more positive element to the work.

Without Words was worth the price of admission by itself.

Choreography by Nacho Duato
Music by Franz Schubert
Scenery and Costumes by Nacho Duato
Photography by Nancy Ellison
Lighting by Brad Fields
Lighting concept by Nacho Duato
Dancers: Stella Abrera and Julio Bragado-Young, Ashley Tuttle and Danny Tidwell, Gillian Murphy and Carlos Molina, Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky
Violincello: Scott Balantyne
Piano: Barbara Bilach
Projection consultant: Bo Eriksson Design
Costumes executed by Barbara Matera
First performed October 29, 1998

workwithinwork was a modern dance accompanied by high frequency strings. Except for a couple of short passages, the dancing was uniformly frenetic.

The dancers often seemed disconnected from each other. It was clear that the choreographer intended this effect. Each danced segment was danced with great intensity, followed by complete disinterest as the dancers exited the stage at a walk.

This work was all about motion, by contrast to Without Words.

I thought this work was well done, but I didn't like it. I tried to like it, but I couldn't. It was kind of like a bad first date: the sort where you think to yourself, "She is attractive, but I have this feeling it isn't going to work out." It may be true that one almost never gets usable feedback after a first date gone wrong, but I'll try to do better than that. I think the character of the dancers' exits sent a subconscious message that their dancing was just an act. The choreography felt like it was mostly on one level: I tend to prefer dances that have a clear macrostructure. The dancers seemed emotionless. I realize there is a whole school of "post-modern" or "downtown" dance that prizes such emotionless dancing, but I think it defeats dance's core purpose: to express the joy and passion of the act of dancing itself - you don't have to be happy, but at least one ought to feel something when dancing. I thought that perhaps there was a little too much overuse of a jerky kind of port de bra (arm movements). There was nothing wrong with the jerkiness per se, but for my tastes there was too much of it. I also found the music to be irritating at times.

There were some aspects of the work I liked. At one point, a dancer performed the characteristic jerky arm movements to bee like frenetic music. Then he stood still for a time while the same music continued. He turned around. Stood still. Turned around. He repeated this sequence a few times, working against the rhythm of the music (in contrast to the fast jerky motions which worked with the rhythm). I thought it was an amusing, deadpan inside joke that, most likely, only someone who dances would get.

The dancers performed with the same high quality balance they showed in Without Words. They had excellent reach with their arms. Some of the slower sections were very pretty. This was difficult and demanding choreography that they danced with ample self-assurance.

Choreography by William Forsythe
Staged by Jill Johnson
Music by Luciano Berio (Duetti per due violini, vol. 1 1979-83)
Staging and lighting by William Forysthe
Costumes by Stephen Galloway
Lighting designed by Brad Fields
Original lighting design conceived by William Forsythe
Dancers: Stella Abrera, Kristi Boone, Misty Copeland, Erica Cornejo, Paloma Herrera, Gillian Murphy, Ashley Tuttle, Michele Wiles, Angel Corella, Marcelo Gomes, David Hallberg, Carlos Lopez, Jared Matthews, Ethan Stiefel, Eric Underwood
Recording of music performed by Verena Sommer and Maxim Franke
First performed October 16, 1998

Within You Without You: A Tribute to George Harrison was a series of works by different choreographers performed to a range of George Harrison's music. There was a lot to like here, especially since it ended with a number that clearly expressed the joy of being a dancer.

In Something, Angel Corella performed a very impressive solo. He executed a quad spin on one foot that had the audience cheering. At least I think it was a quad spin. I wasn't counting, so he may have gone around five times. He was fully in control whether he was moving fast or slow. There was a moment in the choreography where he was slowly walking backwards that was reminiscent of Grupo Corpo.

In I Dig Love, Gillian Murphy, Ethan Stiefel and Herman Cornejo showed very nice partnering. Herman Cornejo was particularly impressive. Their partnering worked best when they were dancing as a triple, perhaps because the choreography gave them more to work with during this part of the dance. I thought the music would likely make for a great West Coast Swing, but it wasn't bad as a ballet either.

In While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Stella Abrera and Isaac Stappas danced gymnastic choregraphy with great musicality. The choreography was perfectly rhythmically matched to the music, unlike I Dig Love. (Don't get me wrong: I liked I Dig Love, but I thought that it either should have followed the rhythm more closely, or worked against the rhythm in a more extreme manner.) Both Abrera and Stappas were superb in ground work, upright dancing, lifts and aerials.

In Isn't It a Pity?, slow walks across the stage framed one dancer in his loneliness at the front of the stage. After a while, the choreography made a seamless transition to a new solo dancer in the middle row of walkers in the middle of the stage. After a while, this initial walking motif melted off the stage to be replaced by three women dancing in sync. Later on, a fragment of the walking motif reappeared. The choreography gained energy as it progressed leading up to a big finish, followed by a coda of the walking, and then a fade out on the original solo dancer, now looking hopeful of happiness. This work was a well done abstraction of the message of the song: breaking each others hearts and the like.

The dancers were dressed in purple-maroon cK Calvin Klein jeans. The jeans gave the work a casual feel, the color of the jeans made it look like art, and the dancing made the whole presentation look beautiful.

In Within You Without You, Ethan Stiefel and Julie Kent danced. Mr. Stiefel exerted every muscle as he moved. He was as supple as a well muscled snake charmed by Ms. Kent. He wasn't performing belly dancing (which is where the supple as a snake reference comes from), but the character of the music and the dance still make the compliment appropriate. Whether he was in the spotlight or moving outside of it, he was very compelling. Ms. Kent's role in this dance was much smaller, but she filled it with grace.

In My Sweet Lord, the full cast progresses from left to right (audience's perspective) across the stage, sometimes in pairs and sometimes alone. The dancers were smiling. They were leaping. They were just being dancers showing in their outward bodily expression the inner reason we dance. (Or at least the inner reason I dance. I realize there are some ballet fans out there who do not dance themselves, but to them I would say that you should not be intimidated by the high level of skill you see at ABT. Pick a style, take some lessons and get out on the floor.)

As the work progressed, fluid groups started to dance across the stage together. It was like watching a segment of the line of dance - going in the correct direction no less. The work ended with a single dancer at the end of the stage and a picture of George Harrison projected on the backdrop for a few moments.

Choreographically, this dance was a simple idea choreographed and danced extremely well. It was an extremely fitting ending to a great collection of dances in tribute to George Harrison and his music - and a fitting ending to a great evening of dance as well.

Choreography by David Parsons, Ann Reinking, Natalie Weir, Stanton Welch
Music and lyrics by George Harrison
Costumes by Catherine Zuber
Lighting by Brad Fields
Jeans by Calvin Klein
Something (Welch): Angel Corella
I Dig Love (Weir): Gillian Murphy, Ethan Stiefel, Herman Cornejo
While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Reinking): Stella Abrera, Isaac Stappas
Isn't It a Pity? (Welch): Erica Cornejo, Maria Riccetto, Veronika Part, Sarawanee Tanatanit, Michele Wiles, David Hallberg, Carlos Lopez, Carlos Molina, Dartanion Reed, Craig Salstein
Within You Without You (Weir): Ethan Stiefel, Julie Kent
My Sweet Lord (Parsons): Full Cast

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