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American Ballet Theatre: Duets, Known By Heart (“Junk”) Duet, Private Light, Company B
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American Ballet Theatre: Duets, Known By Heart (“Junk”) Duet, Private Light, Company B

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American Ballet Theatre

Fall Repertory
Known By Heart (“Junk”) Duet
Private Light
Company B

At City Center

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Rachel S. Moore, Executive Director
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Ballet Masters:
Susan Jaffe, Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova,
Clinton Luckett, Nancy Raffa
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
James Timm, Director of Marketing and Brand Management
Susan Morgan, Manager of Press and Online Media

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 12, 2011

(Read More ABT Reviews)

Duets (1980): Choreography by Merce Cunningham, Staged by Patricia Lent, Music by John Cage (“Improvisations III”), Design and lighting by Mark Lancaster, Performed by Kristi Boone, Thomas Forster, Leann Underwood, Patrick Ogle, Veronica Part, Vitali Krauchenka, Adrienne Schulte, Sean Stewart, Julie Kent, Jared Matthews, Devon Teuscher, Luis Ribagorda.

Once again, this work seemed so confining to these ballet artists. The cast tonight, compared to that of three nights earlier, included four new dancers, Kristi Boone with Thomas Forster, and Leann Underwood with Patrick Ogle. The addition of Corps and Soloists, replacing three Principals, did not add a more youthful energized dimension, but rather equal dryness to the previous night. Cunningham’s work, scored with clicking wooden instruments, is severe modernism. The dancers again seemed trapped, wishing to spin and leap, rather than shake and rattle. Of the six couples, once again Devon Teuscher and Luis Ribagorda bounded onstage to vocal delight. They seemed to defy the mood and explode with buoyant pulse. Veronica Part and Vitali Krauchenka literally put their best feet forward in trying to make this work attractive to a Ballet Theatre audience, hungry for ballet.

Known by Heart (“Junk”) Duet (1998): Choreography by Twyla Tharp, Staged by Stacy Caddell, Music by Donald Knaack, selections from Junk Music, Original Costumes and Design by Santo Loquasto, Lighting originally by Jennifer Tipton, Performed by Gillian Murphy and Blaine Hoven.

Gillian Murphy is an impassioned Prima Ballerina, and she can make any ballet or dance composition come to life. Tonight, partnering Corps dancer, Blaine Hoven, Twyla Tharp’s choreography was much more resplendent, less of a steel trap on the artists’ tendency to burst with exuberance. There was less camp with Mr. Hoven, than with Marcelo Gomes, a few nights earlier, and they played the work straight. However, the clicking metal score seemed to wear on the audience, especially after John Cage’s previous sound, and the applause was tepid. What was painful to watch was Ms. Murphy’s glorious connection with her fans at the curtain, greeting them at either side, knowing they yearned for so much more than was offered in this program.

Private Light (World Premiere): Choreography by Demis Volpi, Music arranged by Christian Kiss, Costumes by Katharina Schlipf, Lighting by Bonnie Beecher, Guitar: Christian Kiss, Performed by Simone Messmer, Cory Stearns, Sarah Lane, Joseph Gorack, Isabella Boylston, Melanie Hamrick, Christine Shevchenko, Gray Davis, Roddy Doble, Eric Tamm.

This World Premiere commissioned work was an astounding disappointment. It bore little resemblance to ballet OR modern, opening and closing with five couples kissing in a row, the women’s backs to the audience, leggy in short shorts, en pointe, and the men bare to the waist. It went on forever. Christian Kiss (his real name, not a play on words) sat onstage playing a small collection of gorgeous guitars and even more gorgeous Spanish music by Albeniz, classical music by Villa-Lobos, and pieces by Pat Donahue, Leo Brouwer, Mason Williams, and Carlo Domenici, in an eclectic mix.

Demis Volpi is twenty-five years old, a corps member with the Stuttgart Ballet, who began choreographing five years ago. If Private Light is any indication, he should focus on his dance career. The most shockingly inappropriate passage came in a semi-forced sexual scene, with a man luring and dragging a woman about. In fact, the entire work reeked of sexism, with women kept in tow with kisses and muscles. The contrast of the superbly talented guitarist, sometimes playing the most rapturous songs, like “Leyenda” by Albeniz, against the repetitive boorishness of the stage antics, was cognitive dissonance.

I kept wishing this were a guitar concert, with a fascinating ballet unfolding. Instead, we were presented with one of Ballet Theatre’s finest, Simone Messmer, in overwrought, agitated angst, and the impish Sarah Lane looking lost in Wonderland. Their respective partners, Cory Stearns and Joseph Gorak were more than wasted here in this chauvinist mayhem. In the ensemble, Isabella Boylston and Eric Tamm caught my eye, as they are always mesmerizing, even in the most un-artful moments. This commission was misconceived and misguided.

Company B (1991): Choreography by Paul Taylor, Reconstructed by Patrick Corbin, Songs sung by The Andrews Sisters, sentiments during WWII, Costumes by Santo Loquasto, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Lighting Recreated by Brad Fields, Performed by the Company.

Now here was tonight’s pièce de résistance. Again, like Taylor’s Black Tuesday, a few nights earlier, Taylor’s Company B is designed to suit both modern and ballet with equal aplomb. Ballet Theatre shone in the Andrews Sisters songs, each more divine than the previous one. Nicola Curry, who had been the adorable pregnant dancer in Black Tuesday, was, here, the incurable romantic in “I Can Dream, Can’t I?”. She exudes personality and flair, and this piece is choreographed for lyrical rapture. Mikhail Ilyin was engaging in “Tico-Tico”, but a bit forced, not so used to the limelight. However, he charmed the crowd with flirtatious abandon.

Sasha Radetsky’s “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B)” was filled with energy and muscularity, and Craig Salstein, as always, was outstanding in “Joseph! Joseph!”, with an ensemble of six. He dashed about the stage and rolled about the floor, chasing the girls, with Nicole Graniero catching my eye. Roman Zhurbin was also ebullient in this song. “Rum and Coca-Cola” was led by Luciana Paris with surprising sultriness and swiveling hips, and Devon Teuscher and Thomas Forster enchanted the crowd in “There Will never Be Another You”. The background image of falling World War II soldiers, a metaphor for military might, was not as poignant as the Taylor dancers have painted it on this very stage, but Ballet Theatre men did showcase the opposing forces of love and loss. Kudos to all.

Joseph Gorak in Volpi's "Private Light"
Courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

Luciana Paris in Taylor's "Company B"
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

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