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On October 30th, 2005 American Ballet Theatre presented three ballets choreographed in the early 20th century, i.e., Michel Fokine’s "Les Sylphides", Antony Tudor’s "Dark Elegies", and Kurt Joos’ powerful anti-war ballet "The Green Table", in Sunday matinee performances at the City Center in New York City. All three performances succeeded in the ABT’s continuing efforts to present a varied program of dance extending from the Romantic period to contemporary dances.
"Les Sylphides" is an effort by Fokine to pay homage to 19th Century ballet (especially the Romantic ballet "La Sylphide"), while removing all semblance of narrative and providing a look at dance movement in abstract form. Accordingly costuming is clearly Romantic, whereas dancers perform en pointe with techniques that are late and post Classical, and no semblance of narrative remains. The hauntingly familiar music is by Frederic Chopin, as orchestrated by Roy Douglas. Stella Abrera, Erica Cornejo, and Zong-Jing Fang along with David Hallberg provided delightful solo and duet dances in the 'Nocturne' and longer 'Waltz', as well as in the shorter 'Waltz', 'Mazurkas', and 'Prelude'. Abrera’s and Hallberg’s 'Pas de Deux' was stunning in its intricacies and presentation. The performance of the 'Ensemble' (Corps) was equal in quality providing Fokine’s delightful complement to the above.
Antony Tudor’s "Dark Elegies" is performed as a movement narrative to Gustav Mahler’s five songs, "Kindertotenlieder", as sung in this performance by Troy Cook. With women in simple dresses and almost Mennonite like hats, the movement illustrates beautifully each of the songs, as set by Tudor’s choreography in three scenes. The 'Laments' were danced beautifully by Kristi Boone, Julie Kent, Grant DeLong, Jared Mathews, Hee Seo and Carlos Lopez within a setting complemented by Tudor’s subdued choreography for a chorus which adds six dancers. The movements invoke deep emotions, including fear and anxiety in the tempest that rages, and the almost pedestrian exits that conclude the dance. Of special note were Kristi Boone’s solo work in the first 'Lament' and Julie Kent’s and Grant DeLong’s duet in the second.
Kurt Joos’ "The Green Table" is a powerful anti-war ballet, inspired in post WWI Europe, that eventually caused him the find an exit from a mainland Europe being torn apart by the Nazis war posturing in the mid to late 1930’s. He fled to England, while his performers, many of them Jews, fled to disparate places that would accept them, e.g., Chile. First presented in 1932 the ballet seems even more relevant today, providing analogous depictions of everything from the current U.S. Congress, to Dick Cheney, to Haliburton, and to Cindy Sheehan. Joos’ delightfully book ended the work with his choreography of 'The Gentlemen in Black' convened around the 'Green Table', complete with masks and oh so evocative posing. Isaac Stappas danced a fearsomely imposing 'Death', embodying Joos’s cyborg-like qualities totally. Blaine Hoven totally captured the sense of hope and glory in 'The Standard Bearer', and Julio Bragado-Young was totally scurrilous as 'The Profiteer.' The characters I saw as 1930’s Cindy Sheehans were beautifully captured in both Kelly Boyd’s 'Young Girl' and Melissa Thomas’ 'Old Mother'. Kevin Dreyer’s implementation of the Joos/Anna Markard lighting design makes Stappas’ terrifying 'Death' ubiquitous, appearing and disappearing magically and seemingly at will, eventually capturing 'The Standard Bearer' and all else. 'Death' destroys all, including people’s will, while 'The Gentlemen in Black' continue their endless debate around 'The Green Table'. The music for this ballet is by F.A. Cohen, then a Jew in a rapidly developing scene of anti-Semitism, and is comprised of piano scores that vary from ones delightfully close to lyrical ‘ragtime’ to ominous foreboding bass, all performed flawlessly.
ABT will present all of these ballets in various programs over the next two weeks, and all deserve the attention any lovers of excellent dance.
Donald K. Atwood, MFA, Ph.D., firstname.lastname@example.org