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17.4.14

'Les Sylphides' and Ashton from ABT


Les Sylphides, American Ballet Theater (photo by Rosalie O'Connor)

American Ballet Theater is back at the Kennedy Center Opera House this week, only one year after its last visit. Before its main offering, Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky's choreography of Minkus's Don Quixote (April 17 to 20), the company is dancing a far more interesting triple-bill, seen on Tuesday night. It paired two classics of different kinds, Michel Fokine's Les Sylphides and Frederick Ashton's The Dream, with a brand-new work choreographed by ABT principal dancer Marcelo Gomes called Aftereffect. Of course, Don Quixote is fine and all, but I was really hoping to see the company's new choreography of The Tempest by Alexei Ratmansky.

Les Sylphides is a plot-less ballet blanc that Fokine created first in St. Petersburg, where it was known as Chopiniana -- in which form it was danced here by the Mariinsky Ballet in 2012. It is mostly about the corps de ballet, and thus it featured the outstanding discipline of the ABT's women, who moved with impeccable unity and precision through every graceful move and arboreal formation, down to the smallest arch of the back or port de bras, much of it en pointe. Relatively new principal dancer Hee Seo stood out among the soloists for her delicate solo in the Prelude (Chopin's Prelude in A major, op. 28/7). Stella Abrera, although lovely in the first Mazurka, was inhibited somewhat in the pas de deux by being paired with the less accomplished Joseph Gorak as the Poet, the only male dancer in the ballet. Fokine originally used an orchestration of these Chopin piano pieces by Glazunov, but ABT has reconstituted the orchestration by Benjamin Britten, which it commissioned in 1941 and was long thought lost. While perhaps not a masterful orchestration, it has lots of effects involving the harp, which added to the dreamy nature of the choreography.


available at Amazon
Mendelssohn, Ein Sommernachtstraum, La Chapelle Royale, Collegium Vocale Gent, Orchestre des Champs-Elysées, P. Herreweghe
(Harmonia Mundi, 2012)
In Aftereffect, Gomes created a sort of masculine counterpart to the willowy Les Sylphides. Opening with a burst of male energy, the choreography has eight male dancers, costumed in blue leggings and bare-chested, run across the stage. One dancer remains, convulsed by movements that are as much about agitation and restlessness as the first ballet was about stillness and floating. In an effect that recalls multiple-exposure series of photographs like those of Eadweard Muybridge, the lead dancer is eventually shadowed by a second, an augmentation that continues to include the entire group. It was intensely physical, at times whimsical, and even a little silly, in a good way, but it could have been danced in silence since it did not really match up to the music Gomes selected, the first movement of Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence, in the roughest performance of the night from the string players of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra.

Other Reviews:

Sarah Halzack, American Ballet Theatre puts on enchanting ‘Dream,’ but ‘Sylphides’ is lacking (Washington Post, April 17)
The most substantial work of the evening was The Dream, an adaptation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream), by Frederick Ashton, whose sentimental Les Patineurs charmed me last summer. Premiered in 1964, The Dream streamlines the play, drawing on only the central stories of the fairies and the four lovers. Ashton used Mendelssohn's charming incidental music, commissioned by King Frederick William IV of Prussia, when Mendelssohn was music director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Mendelssohn included and adapted his own brilliant overture for the work, composed by itself in 1826, when the composer was only 17. Ashton's choreography puts the pairing of Oberon and Titania at the center, danced here by the elegant couple of Julie Kent and especially Marcelo Gomes, who was a menacing King of Shadows, making for a gorgeous pas de deux. Herman Cornejo made a capricious, satyr-like Puck, in his acrobatic leaps and pointed legs, and Alexei Agoudine an oafish, faux-delicate Bottom, who often tiptoes around when he is delighted. Ashton makes the four lovers into broadly comic, mostly pantomime roles, providing plenty of laughs. Mendelssohn composed several charming vocal numbers in this music, for soprano, mezzo-soprano, and women's chorus, sung here in English by Melissa Mino, Jennfier Cherest, and the Arlington Children's Chorus. The singing was diminished just slightly by being piped in by speaker from another room, and there was one early entrance from the choir in the final number, which was righted by conductor Ormsby Wilkins.

American Ballet Theater's production of Don Quixote opens tonight and continues through Sunday afternoon.

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