American Ballet Theatre, Programme One, Sadlers Wells, London

American Ballet Theatre

Programme One

Seven Sonatas, Known By heart, Duo Concertant, Everything Doesn’t Happen at Once

Sadlers Wells

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.

two dancers on stage

Stella Abrera & Gennadi Saveliev in Alexei Ratmansky's Seven Sonatas Photograph : Gene Schiavone

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.

two dancers on stage

Stella Abrera and Cory Stearns in Everything Doesn't Happen At Once by Benjamin Millepied Photograph : Rosalie O'Connor

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. 

dancers on stage

Daniil Simkin in Everything Doesn't Happen At Once by Benjamin Millepied Photograph : Gene Schiavone

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.

group of dancers on stage

Melanie Hamrick in Everything Doesn't Happen At Once by Benjamin Millepied Photograph : Rosalie O'Connor

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.

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5 Responses to American Ballet Theatre, Programme One, Sadlers Wells, London

  1. Marie February 2, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

    Thank you for this great review – I was also there for opening night last night & thought it was an evening filled with wonderful performances – I loved the Twyla Tharp piece, my only criticism is that it was – sadly – far too short! Duo Concertante seemed to sound the one ‘wrong note’ in the programme – not that it wasn’t beautifully executed, but it just fell flat for me. I was stunned by Everything Doesn’t Happen at Once – having no prior expectations, not having seen any of Millepied’s other works, I was totally blown away!

  2. Tarzan Dan February 4, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    Brilliant shots from Gene and Rosalie… thanx for sharing 🙂

  3. Claire Rees February 4, 2011 at 11:49 pm #

    I’ve just returned home from tonight’s performance of programme one. I went because a review in the Evening Standard described it as having ‘dragged towards a disappointing close’ and I couldn’t believe this of such a renowned company. I wonder if Sarah Frater was even there? My mind is still boggling and I can’t get my thoughts in order to be coherent here, but I’m hoping to manage a review of my own and to send it to Sarah Frater. I’m told the composer Sibelius said there will never be a statue erected to a critic. Anyway, ABT were absolutely stonking, both dancers and choreographers. I even got the autograph of Daniil Simkin at the end! (Did I get his name right?). I also want to write to the marketing department for selling us crap programmes – no content at all, nothing written on any of the pieces, and no biographies to speak of, photos only of principal dancers, not of those dancing on this tour – and some of the ones lower down the ranks were beautiful! Wouldn’t be fair to name the one or two whose names I remembered because they were all brilliant. I wish I had gone last night as well and wish I could see that performance again. I’ll definitely keep my ear closer to the ground for the next time. And thank you for the review at the top, I agree with pretty much everything. Only complex piece was the Duo Concertante, but then Stravinsky’s music is really complex and to add choreography to a piece not originally intended for it (I think that’s the case) is really difficult. I thought it was done very well. I loved the opening sequence! And I have to say Hammoudi’s (is that his name?) little jumps were spectacular!

  4. May February 6, 2011 at 1:44 am #

    Saw their last performance of the programme – we had a really good couple in Duo Concertant: Misty Copeland and Alexandre Hammoudi and it was one of the best performances of this work I’ve ever seen, and that’s including those given at NYCB and Royal Ballet. It actually was a highlight of the evening – shows how different it can be with different performers. NB I do find that this work doesn’t always gel well with seasoned, eminent dancers and sometimes the younger ones are more comfortable with it. I knew Copeland to be an elegant and subtle artist with beautiful technique (hope she gets a promotion to principal soon) but Hammoudi was a revelation – more solo roles for him please!

    I get the feeling that Friday’s audience got a better deal with the Balanchine and Millepied’s works than maybe the opening night audience did – again, a case of being so different with different performers. I thought Millepied’s stuff (have seen his other works for other companies) is maybe not quite there yet with the likes of Ashton/Forsythe/Macmillan (wouldn’t really be fair to compare with Balanchine) but he is sort of at the level that Wheeldon and Ratmansky are now – I’d like to see him trying more steps to find his own language – at the moment he seems better at producing effects eg Daniil Simkin’s leaps and solo than actually dances. EDHTHAO (that long title!!) is entertaining but not always a comfortable fit with his choice of music, which can drone on and sometimes make the ballet drag….Simkin is a brilliant dancer and has charisma, and seemed to end up the star of the ballet rather than the leading couple, although they were brilliant too. My question is, will the ballet look as good with a different man dancing Simkin’s role?

    The major surprise/shock to myself was how underwhelmed I was by the Tharp piece and I normally LOVE her work – had to check that the credits were really true! It seemed a bit of a mishmash of different styles (literally, junk – as befits the nickname for the piece and its music) that felt a pit pointless, almost like just a pretty and comic frivolity for a gala. Then I checked the notes and found that it indeed was from a longer ballet and not an isolated work. This felt to me like the piece that didn’t fit the programme. Hoven and Murphy were good – he was particularly good despite the costumes and choreography, but for Murphy the piece just looked like it was a warm up exercise for her and she never got a chance to show her strengths. Once again, here’s my plea for the Royal Ballet or some major company to sort out the copyright to the divertissement act of “Mr Worldly Wise” that she created for Bussell, Mukhamedov and Kumakawa at the Royal Ballet (that act was mainly danced by Deborah Bull, Leanne Benjamin, Stuart Cassidy and William Trevitt and the corps) -now here’s a bit of Tharp that can definitely be lifted out of context and look stunning.

  5. May February 6, 2011 at 1:55 am #

    P.S. The story of Duo Concertant – well,if you discount the phrase that Balanchine often said, something akin to “don’t act, just dance it” (obviously this wouldn’t be right for his Coppelia, Miidsummers Night Dream, Firebird, Swan Lake, Nutcracker, etc!) there does seem to be a little story – I always thought it looked like two dancers or young adults at a concert who then get wrapped up in the music and then fall in love with one another, or maybe they are a couple to begin with and the music they start to get absorbed and fascinated by makes them feel more and more emotional and tender with each other. It was created for Peter Martins and Kay Mazzo (and she didn’t have a massive number of works done for her) so it almost seemed like it wasn’t a big piece with fireworks as it was done for the Stravinsky Festival but it was an intimate, tender piece for Mazzo to call one of her own – I’m just guessing. Or maybe he just had a Festival slot to fill and both Mazzo and Martins were free to work on it!!! I am told that a lot of his popular pieces came about just because he needed to put something on to fill a slot!