ABT Looks Forward

October 7, 2009


Last night’s Opening Night Gala took a dive into the deep waters of new works, and surfaced in triumph. After the spring season of mostly looking back, tonight’s program showed how invested ABT is in choreographers of the future.


Alexei Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas seemed to spring him loose from literal narrative (On the Dnieper, Russian Seasons) so that he could weave a web of human relationships carried along by a stream of Scarlatti,played beautifully on the piano by Barbara Bilach. He used the six dancers for the individuals they are, with Stella Abrera and David Hallberg giving endless nuance to their characters. Fluid weavings, beautiful steps, luscious musicality were interrupted by an alert look to the left or right, giving just a hint of paranoia. In a gorgeous duet between Abrera and Gennadi Saveliev, she thrusts her arm out as though reaching for a life outside the cozy romance. At another point Hallberg looks offstage as though he might be followed by a stalker. But more than these moments was an almost epic sense of what can happen among a community of people. Seven Sonatas is Ratmansky’s Dances at a Gathering: It’s exquisitely right for the music; it’s inventive; it’s about people; it has a faith in relationships as a theatrical entity. And you want it to never end.

In One of Three, Aszure Barton started with some very neat moves for Cory Stearns—coiled, snaky, then suddenly expanding upward. Whenever the men came onstage, especially as soloists, this quirky movement came back. But somehow Gillian Murphy, looking positively architectural in a blindingly white dress, seemed like she was in a different, more stately ballet. Misty Copeland, however, looked right at home. I liked the math of this piece: eight men and three women. At one point three rows of three played with the similarities and differences of what they were doing. Only one of the nine was a woman: Paloma Herrera, who guided and conducted the men. But this was not Barton’s strongest work.


The third premiere was staggeringly good. Benjamin Millepied created drama out of rhythmic suspense and unexpected stillnesses in Everything Doesn’t Happen at Once. It had the same sculptural quality that I loved in his Quasi Una Fantasia for NYCB last spring and the same courage to be slow (see my blog on that ballet here ). But this piece goes even further with its seething masses and daring partnering. I used to think Millepied was dependent on Robbins and Wheeldon, but he has developed his own edgy style. It’s not cute or fun or fast—the dancers don’t even smile. It’s some other mood—not really dark, but kinda mysterious and entirely contemporary. The abrupt endings of phrases, to the punctuated silence of David Lang’s bold music, gave it real kinetic excitement.


And Millepied used the lighting (by Brad Fields) to throw crazy shadows on the big imposing wood walls of Avery Fisher Hall to help the commotion along. Between that and the welcoming casualness of letting the dancers warm up in front of the audience (because of no stage curtain), it was almost OK to have the performance in a concert hall.


Stella Abrera and Gennadi Saveliev in Ratmansky’s
Seven Sonatas. Photo by Gene Schiavone.