Duets, the Garden of Villandry, Seven Sonatas and In the Upper Room by American Ballet Theatre

In the Upper Room ABT

Curtain call by American Ballet Theatre for In the Upper Room

I attended an evening of mixed repertory by American Ballet Theatre at the newly renovated New York City Center and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Duets (1980) by Merce Cunningham was first on the program with the principal dancers taking on the challenging movements of Cunningham’s technique. It was interesting to watch ballet dancers perform the work which requires a strong ballet technique to execute it but only lends that as its point of departure. In addition, the choreography is performed independent of the music, John Cage’s “Improvisations III” and movements are determined by chance operations which do not lend themselves to the anticipation and preparation that ballet movements generally provide. I thought the company did a great job executing this work with impressive positions, though I felt it lacked dynamics of speed, sharpness and attack.

The Garden of Villandry (1979) by Martha Clarke, Bobby Barnett, and Felix Blaska was an exercise in the pas de trois. Dressed in turn-of-the-century garb, these dancers shared a love triangle of sweeping movements and gentle lifts, all in close proximity. A piano, violin and cello ensemble also lived on stage, adding an intimacy to this work.

Seven Sonatas (2009) by Alexei Ratmansky was a touching story in love. Three couples danced to seven sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti performed on stage by Barbara Bilach. It was noticeable that the choreography was contemporary with its dynamics from the chase to the still moments of joy, flowing through it all.

And then there was Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room (1986). I had seen this work once before (with Paloma Herrera in the lead role – incomparable) and knew that I had to see it again. The hypnotic music by Philip Glass, the smoke, the entrances from the back, the costumes (and stripping), and, of course, the movement make for a remarkable piece. The energy is so high and the music so driving that it feels like you’re stuck in this moment of elation and can’t come down. One is entranced by the exhausting and repetitive moves, the transitions, the spacing, the unique directions for ballet, and the lifts. From the tight petite allegro to the grand and elegant arabesques, one is aware of every single movement going on onstage, even if one does not realize it. The roar of the crowd confirmed my friend’s thoughts, as she sat there watching and wondering, “Is everyone enjoying this as much as I am?”

All in all, it was one of the best nights of dance I have seen all year.

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