American Ballet Theatre – Programme Two, Sadlers Wells

American Ballet Theatre

Programme 2

Theme and Variations, Jardin Aux Lilas, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Company B

Sadlers Wells

Tuesday 2nd February 2011

two dancers on stage

Jardin aux Lilas

In some ways Programme Two seemed, on paper at least, to offer the better selection of short ballets than Tuesday nights Programme One.  True, it has greater diversity, ranging from a tutu extravaganza through long dresses and a lot of restraint to Americana.  But the dancing let them down.  Programme One may have been very samey in content, but the dancers seemed more at ease with that style and were easier to watch.  There were exceptions though.

Theme and Variations needs to be well drilled & well rehearsed.  Patterns and formations should be clear, defined and sharp.  I didn’t see that.  I saw fudged lines, principal dancers Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg decidedly on edge with the choreography (though Murphy did a better job overall) and a messy corps who looked ruffled by windy fingers. I would love to see Hallberg dance this with Tamara Rojo; can you imagine their dual commas as the music swells, feet in perfectly arched unison ?  I think Hallberg would have an easier time of it in the lifts too, especially the shoulder sit at the end.

two dancers on stage in arabesque

Paloma Herrera and Marcelo Gomes in Theme and Variations. Photo Hidemi Seto

If the hits from the first Programme were the two ballets at either end – the (crustless) bread, if you like – then tonight’s winners were the peanut butter & jelly filling of the sandwich. The evening was saved by the two middle ballet’s – the utterly ravishing Jardin Aux Lilas and the crowd-pleasing Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.  Both were blessed with great dancers and could have gone on forever.

Antony Tudor’s Jardin Aux Lilas, with its complex emotions and story that needs to be told, albeit with restraint, was perfection itself.  It’s all about timing and implication.  Julie Kent, as Caroline : faultless.  She is le dernier cri du chic – or drop dead elegant. Cory Stearns was much better suited to the role of Her Lover than last nights awkward Duo Concertant.  Kristi Boone, as An Episode in His Past was exquisite with buttery feet.  The whole ballet, from the sets to the lighting to the dancers themselves, coated the audience in a sublime mix of rapt attention and blissful delight.  Peter Cazalet’s compatible costumes and scenery designs provide just the right amount of emphasis.

dancer in high jump

ABT in Company B

Herman Cornejo & Xiomara Reyes shot from corner to corner in ever more astonishing feats of daring in the peachy & grey Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, choreographed by George Balanchine.  Heaven on earth.  Reyes blazed a blistering trail; Cornejo lit the touch paper – where were the fire extinguishers ? Reyes’ turns were of such sheer force that they seemed to surprise even her ! Cornejo has sprezzatura in spades. This pair have a rare chemistry on stage and it makes them a joy to watch & they received the best audience reception of the night.

dancers in white tutus on stage

Scene from Theme and Variations Photograph : Gene Schiavone

And then there was Company B.  Why ?  Granted, Misty Copeland, slightly lawless in the Rum & Coca-Cola section with the boys slavering over her hypnotic hips should be run on a continuous loop, and Sascha Radetsky’s Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy to the title (Company B) was a delight, but the rest ?  Incarnadine baggy trousers on dancers ?  No.  Socks and plimsols ?  No, on both counts.  Fashions may be heading towards pebble, sand & ochre hues but they don’t sing from the stage.  They had it easy with The Andrews Sisters songs; dancers usually have no words to play with & must tell the story themselves, but why bring a non-ballet piece about 1940’s America to a London audience in 2011 ?  I’m sure it works at home, but I’d wager that fewer ballets danced with greater accuracy could have worked better for their dancers; and if it works for them, it’s surely going to work for the audience.

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3 Responses to American Ballet Theatre – Programme Two, Sadlers Wells

  1. May February 7, 2011 at 2:31 am #

    Sounds like this was a good show overall! I went today and although it was well performed, I must say the highlight for me was seeing two young company members in the Tchaikovsky pas de deux – corps member Isabella Boylston and soloist Daniil Simkin. They are obviously both very talented – Boylston’s rendition as polished as any veteran principal……why is she not yet a soloist??! …and of course Simkin’s leaps and turns have been compared with Baryshnikov ( I’d also add Kumakawa ). It wasn’t flawless – nothing major, just a few very teeny slips and near misses – but I really liked it more than the “flawless” performances I’ve seen done by the veteran principals and some very big stars. Why? – they both looked so happy to be performing and their enthusiasm and verve were just infectious, especially at the beginning of the male solo, where Simkin really looked overjoyed to be doing those leaps – it made you want to get up and dance , and left you smiling! And when they did some of the tricky bits (Simkin has called it “back hurts from catching the fish dives”) I loved that he had this expression of “whoa! Wait till you see what comes next!” on his face which really made you sit up in anticipation – even if you know the pas de deux inside out. Haven’t seen such enthusiastic performers for ages. Maybe it’s time dancers stopped trying to be so flawless and make it all look so easy – such that the audience sometimes takes it for granted – and give us a sense of the danger or difficulty that they are executing. Anyway, thanks to Isabellaferve and Daniil for providing me with the highlight of the season so far!

  2. May February 7, 2011 at 10:30 pm #

    P.S. There’s something odd about Company B being mounted on a ballet company………I saw this done by Paul Taylor Dance Company when it was fairly new and of course it didn’t have balletic multiple pirouettes and jetes en tournant as they were contemporary dancers, and the whole thing felt very fresh, jolly, energetic with, of course, the undercurrent of the war that it constantly mentioned as a backdrop. (and one dancer gets shot in mime). I just felt the work seemed very underpowered because the dancers didn’t get to do the contemporary dance steps that Paul Taylor’s dancers did….didn’t feel the same. The atmosphere for Company B then was so electric that the audience were actually clapping along to the last dance and there were encores and bows (with rhythmic clapping along to music). I know this doesn’t add much to the experience of someone watching ABT dance it, but just to say Company B can be an extremely powerful work, whether khaki costumes or not…just trying to recall but I think the costumes were less “pretty pretty” but actually suited the dancers better, whereas I thought “Gap advert” when ABT’s dancers came on! As to why they chose this, I can only guess that Company B was extremely popular when they put it on in the US – the simplistic (and prob unfair) theory is that many troops are in Iraq and Afghanistan and it rouses patriotic feelings, many in the US grew up with the Andrews sisters’ songs so the audience likes it, but most likely because PTDC is so charismatic in it that other company directors can’t help thinking, I want that too.
    By the way, when Paul Taylor made it, he said he wanted to do something different from his recent works – “I wanted a happy work for a change, and the Andrews sisters always made me feel happy when I put their music on” …….when it premiered in 1991, and came to Sadlers Wells subsequently, was Sept 11, bin Laden and US/UK troops being killed overseas still a long way away…even inconceivable.