We all walked out of the Metropolitan Opera House on a high from basking in the glorious history of American Ballet Theatre. On Monday night, 24 excerpts from 23 ballets were rolled out before our eyes (and ears, with the ABT orchestra playing live), interspersed with spoken comments and film clips. Watching the long series of excerpts was like opening treasure chests one at a time, peering into the gleaming jewels and rushing on to the next one. Although I’d seen almost all the ballets before, it was a chance to see choreography that I’d forgotten was so damn good. Needless to say, the dancing was often spectacular.
• Fancy Free: This excerpt of Robbins’ first stab at dancemaking gave us a chance to see how beautifully made this ballet is, and how the music and dance are at one. Marcelo Gomes’ sailor is so vividly energetic that it’s hard not to fall in love with him.
• Rodeo, the Corral section: I thought I was done with this uber-American ballet by De Mille, but this segment has a good-natured goofiness that defies the laws of ballet. Xiomara Reyes looked like she could raise a roof; she didn’t mind getting wild and wooley when her (imaginary) horse almost bucked her to the ground.
• Black Tuesday, “Brother Can You Spare a Dime”: One of the few Paul Taylor works danced by ABT, this one benefited from Daniil Simkin as the soaring beggar.
• Push Comes to Shove, Movement IV: Twyla Tharp made about 20 ballets for the company; this one is a great choice to represent both her complex choreography and Baryshnikov’s unforgettable vaudevillian wise guy. Herman Cornejo did a great job of slinking and oozing in between the crazy jumps and turns.
• The Bright Stream: Simkin was hilarious dressed in a romantic tutu, set on convincing Clinton Luckett that he’s a woman. Every gesture, from the awkwardly stiff arms to the galoomphing gallops were locked into Ratmansky’s brilliant gender-crossing choreography. The single joke refracts into mini-jokes with each new dip or twisted sashay.
• Manon, Act I Pas de Deux: Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes surrendered everything to the moment. The Massenet music bursts into blossoms of enchantment just as their erotic passion bursts into at attraction that blots out the rest of life.
• La Bayadère, Shades scene: OK, it’s not the most feminist moment in the history of ballet, but the accumulation of 24 identically tutu-ed women stepping into arabesque, taking a breath, and leaning back with arms framing the head, eventually blankets the stage with a transcendent peacefulness.
• Le Corsaire, Slave Variation, Act II: The plot of this ballet is ridiculously (if not offensively) racist and sexist and should be retired. But when a male dancer like Simkin opens his chest in a gorgeous attitude and spirals into spectacular leaps and pirouettes, I’m a sucker for it as much as anyone. Simkin has shed some of his boyishness and can now rip through the pyrotecnics with a more grounded charisma.
• Theme and Variations, Grand Polonaise: The strong Tchaikovsky Polonaise and new orange and sunny yellow tutus gave this parade-like ending an edge of optimism, deepened by the ampleness of classicists Sarah Lane and Joseph Gorak
• Grand Finale: Seeing ABT dancers of yore troop onstage to a Tchaikovsky march, mingling with the current dancers, was quite moving. I spotted Martine Van Hamel, Natalia Makarova, Lupe Serrano, Angel Corella, Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky, and Susan Jaffe.