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American Ballet Theatre - Fall Repertory - Les Sylphides, Pillar of Fire, Sinfonietta
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Review by Dr. Robert E. Zlokower
Originally Published on
October 21, 2004

Les Sylphides (1940): Choreography by Michel Fokine, Music by Frederic Chopin, Orchestrated by Roy Douglas, Staged by Kirk Peterson, Scenery by Alexandre Benois, Lighting by David K.H. Elliott, Conductor: David LaMarche, Performed by Gillian Murphy, Erica Cornejo, Maria Riccetto, Marcelo Gomes, Jennifer Alexander, Marian Butler, and the Company. Les Sylphides was presented in 1908 in St. Petersburg with the title Chopiniana. Performances are with permission of the Fokine Estate. (Program Notes).

Oh, if only Fokine were still with us, such rapturous and elegant choreography, long tulle tutus, and exquisitely orchestrated Chopin Waltzes, Mazurkas, Preludes, and Nocturnes. Ms. Murphy is quite well suited to this ensemble work, as its somewhat restrained manner is in sync with her studied interpretation of so many of her roles. The slight tilts of the head, the sublime silhouettes, and the Pas de Deux of Ms. Murphy and Marcelo Gomes all created a tour de force sorely missed in contemporary ballet. Ms. Murphy Erica Cornejo, Maria Riccetto, and Marcelo Gomes concocted a confectionary waltz with lilting visions and precise technique.

Alexandre Benois' woodland sets were outstanding. David LaMarche, the first of three Conductors for tonight's three-ballet Program, drew upon his orchestra for romance and buoyancy. Mr. Gomes has emerged as a superbly balanced dancer with new found affect, somewhat needed for this "dream of dreams", as he partners and woos three Sylphides. Les Sylphides should appear more often in Ballet Theatre Repertoire.

Pillar of Fire (1942): Choreography by Antony Tudor, Staged by Donald Mahler, Assisted by Susan Jones and Kirk Peterson, Music by Arnold Schoenberg (Verklärte Nacht), Scenery and Costumes by Robert Perdziola, Lighting by Duane Schuler, Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Maria Bystrova as Eldest Sister, Julie Kent as Hagar, Xiomara Reyes as Youngest Sister, Gennadi Saveliev as The Friend, Angel Corella as The Young Man from The House Opposite, and Kristi Boone and the Company as Lovers-in-Innocence, Lovers-in-Experience, and Maiden Ladies Out Walking. This tale of three sisters, one a spinster, one a lonely woman in love, and one a flirt, is set in 1900, when Schoenberg wrote the music used for this ballet score. (Program Notes).

Pillar of Fire, with its soul-piercing score and stark imagery, including two angular homes on stage left and stage right, that silently roll into the wings, and with a side space of darkness, inhabited by Angel Corella, in dark suit and slick hair, is breathtaking and mesmerizing. Julie Kent is the quintessential scorned lover, and her silent pain and angst are palpable. Ms. Kent is a "dancer's actor". She has theatrical and dramatic skills rarely seen on today's ballet stages. Xiomara Reyes, as the flirtatious sister, a true coquette, probably lifts her ruffed skirt 100 times in this one act ballet, as she draws her male prey in a see-saw effect from Hagar to herself. Maria Bystrova, as the spinster sister, is school-marmish, but nurturing. A perfectly cast trio of sibling rivalry.

Gennadi Saveliev, in a taut, tan suit, does little dancing and mostly acting, walking slowly among these women who circle the men. But, his performance is dynamic, determined, and daring. Mr. Corella, who bore a striking resemblance to Guillaume Graffin, with slicked back hair and dark suit, searched his soul between seduction and love. The Company as Lover-in-Innocence and Lovers-in-Experience was seen in the courtyard between homes and in rear stage woodlands. Kristi Boone had a somewhat larger role and presented it well. Kudos to Ormsby Wilkins for leading this rare and resonant score. Kudos to the cellist for the mournful solos. Schoenberg never sounded better. I look forward to re-visiting this work.

Sinfonietta (1991): Choreography by Jirí Kylián, Assistant to the Choreographer and Staged by: Roslyn Anderson, Music by Leos Janácek, Scenery and costumes by Walter Nobbe, Lighting by Joop Caboort, Conductor: Charles Barker, Performed by Jesus Pastor, Herman Cornejo, Gennadi Saveliev, Sascha Radetsky, David Hallberg, Marcelo Gomes, Angel Corella, Stella Abrera, Anne Milewski, Erica Cornejo, Marian Butler, Julie Kent, and Paloma Herrera. Sinfonietta was created by Jirí Kylián for the Nederlans Dans Theater in 1978. (Program Notes).

I have always been of the mind that orchestras should be seen as well as heard. In this instance, about 11 musicians with trumpets and cornets (neither listed in the Program nor onstage for a bow) stand at front stage side, against the red velvet curtains, and play at intervals in this unidentified Janácek score. Kylián's choreography is designed for a large ensemble in each of five movements, and, with the assistance of dancers, such as Angel Corella, Gennadi Saveliev, Marcelo Gomes, Herman Cornejo, Julie Kent, Paloma Herrera, etc., one would assume that this is a titanic and torrential piece, to be seen again and again. A collection of the finest ballet talent onstage at once. However, for me, Sinfonietta fell flat, as flat as the washed pastel scenery of low mountains in the distance. The pastel costumes also seemed to wash out the vibrancy that could have been harnessed with such collective energy and artistic passion.

This is not to say that Sinfonietta is not energetic. It lacks a theme, a connection, and affect. It does not excite or ignite interest and attention. And, with the blended costumes and generic hair, I could not maintain attention on these Principals, Soloists, and the cream of the crop Corps. The choreography involves dragging and winding and lifting and carrying, and alternating patterns of figures and partners. But, it is so repetitive and dizzying that my focus was not captured for long periods of time, a rare state of mind at ABT. Charles Barker did his finest with the score, and the music was pleasant. This ballet was pleasant, as well, but should not be a staple of future Repertoires.

Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes in Les Sylphides.
Photo courtesy of Marty Sohl

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at