American Ballet Theatre
Seven Sonatas, Known By heart, Duo Concertant, Everything Doesn’t Happen at Once
1st February 2011
Receiving its UK Premiere, Seven Sonatas launches American Ballet Theatre’s first programme of triple bills during this tour to London. Choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky it’s a piece for three couples who flow and ebb through the Sonatas. In particular Xiomara Reyes & Herman Cornejo sparked off each other and into the audience, she with her natural turning, expressive hands and strong feet and he with his wit and character, not to mention his control in the high jumps. David Hallberg was elegant, refined with beautiful extensions and perfect feet. An exemplary partner. The dancers are dressed in white & gold; flowing dresses for the girls, tights and fitted top for the men.
Julie Kent has beautiful feet but it puzzled me that she was the only dancer without pancaked shoes; they shone out because the general hue was golden. Hallberg’s solo, with its many extensions into arabesque shows off his incredible line and he is later joined by Kent, who points to him, runs towards him and jumps one-footed onto his thigh. The three girls waft onto the stage with spinning hands, and all six return for the finale which ends with all of them kneeling, the girls slowly leaning into the floor. It’s a beautiful, rounded piece to start the evening.
Gillian Murphy’s unflattering khaki coloured leotard costume in Twyla Tharp’s Known By Heart highlights one of the reasons you should see this company – they are very athletic, strong & muscly which gives them a raw stage presence and a magnetism you don’t often see in the UK. Murphy has some lovely jazzy steps which do suit her and she is partnered by Blaine Hoven (Ethan Stiefel is injured) who is dressed head to toe in grey – his outfit doesn’t suit him either. There’s a mix of Calypso drums and a lot of sliding on pointe. There are funny moments as the music winds down, Murphy departs stage left and Hoven is left pointing towards the space where she was. Junk music by Donald Knaack is an acquired taste with a lot of clacking going on. The piece ends with Hoven crouching away from Murphy; she is resplendent stage front.
Balanchine’s Duo Concertant is a strange one. Lots of standing by the piano, watching the violinist (David LaMarche & Ronald Oakland respectively) and then bursts of dancing. Cory Stearns is coltish, recovering very, very well from a tricky situation and Paloma Herrera has beautiful feet and balances. Both are dressed in black and blue – hopefully not a metaphor as I thought I saw blood on Stearns’ otherwise pristine white sock at the end. In the pas de deux Stearns is a strong, attentive partner and at the end, in the puddle of bright light they both use their expressive arms effectively. Duo Concertant doesn’t really suit the company, or at least these two dancers, and it seems a puzzle as to why it was included when a ballet with greater contrast might have kept the mood buoyant.
They saved the best ‘till last. Benjamin Millepied’s UK Premiere of Everything Doesn’t Happen At Once looks like a multiplication of Fractals & E=MC2. It’s a powerhouse of a ballet for 24 dancers. After the interval, the dancers warm up on stage in full view – no curtain, backdrop or wings. Lines of dancers around the stage begin to move as the light brightens and the back row moves towards you like revolving spotlights. Dressed in black, with blue undersides, the men have open waistcoats and the girls leotards overlaid with chiffon in a flattering style with no tights. But black and blue, again ! Lovely to see Gemma Bond back in the UK, and mention too to Thomas Forster & Mary Mills Thomas who both drew out the phrasing. Kristi Boone & Christine Shevchenko both have their own style which adds depth to the steps in a very watchable way. Look out for them ! To music by David Lang, some of the steps are sassy and salsa tinged, sometimes the girls are lifted high on shoulders and sometimes a pas de trois emerges softly, with languorous poise at odds with the return of the clanking music that’s becoming another recurring theme. Two dancers prowl around the edge of a circle, eventually meeting in a lightbox. Their pas de deux ending with them pulling apart, but together.
Groups of dancers flow through and around one another and Millepied is a master at exposing stillness around one dancer – in this case Daniil Simkin who appears from the side of the stage, runs towards a group of men, jumps and is caught almost invisibly, unexpectedly freezing time and space. The girls are sometimes feisty with lots of pointe work and great synchronised turning from the men. Simkin gets a solo where he employs a no-hand handstand and other fireworks, with the ending (rather like the Blue Boy from Les Patineurs) left spinning on his own as the curtain drops, garnering him a fantastic reception and deservedly so.
The dancers are on great form. The music isn’t always going to make your ears sing & I would have liked more contrast between the pieces and fewer recurring themes but I recommend the two new pieces, especially Millepied’s because it’s so accomplished and, well; beguiling.
American Ballet Theatre @ Sadlers Wells : Programme One – Thurs & Fri. Programme Two – tonight, Sat (2.30 & 7.30) & Sun.
Each Programme lasts 2 hours 30 minutes.