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American Ballet Theatre: Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes, A Month In the Country, Symphony in C
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American Ballet Theatre: Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes, A Month In the Country, Symphony in C

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American Ballet Theatre

Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes
A Month In the Country
Symphony in C

Metropolitan Opera House

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Rachel S. Moore, Executive Director
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Ballet Masters: 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-Taylor, Manager of Press and Online Media

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 23, 2013

(Read More ABT Reviews)

(See an Interview about Spring Season Ballet Music 2013, with David LaMarche, Conductor)

Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes (1988): Choreography by Mark Morris, Staged by Tina Fehlandt, Music by Virgil Thompson (Etudes for Piano), Costumes by Santo Loquasto, Lighting by Michael Chybowski, Pianist: Barbara Bilach, Performed by Gemma Bond, Kristi Boone, Roddy Doble, Joseph Gorack, Nicole Graniero, Melanie Hamrick, Yuriko Kajiya, Joseph Phillips, Arron Scott, Eric Tamm, James Whiteside, and Stephanie Williams. First seen as an excerpt from a work in progress, ‘Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes’ was performed at a benefit in 1987. This was Mark Morris’ first work for American Ballet Theatre.

With Santo Loquasto's short cropped white tights (for women) and white pants (for men), and loose white shirts, the Company was again flawless and fanciful, just as I remembered this cast. Virgil Thompson's Poulenc-like piano score drove a series of playful vignettes. Joseph Phillips, in a featured role, presented fast-slow turns and walks, as well as one leg spins. Barbara Bilach’s piano solo was scintillating and soft, matching her notes to leaps and skips. Arms were busy, too, outstretched and uplifted. Joseph Gorak was also featured, with propeller like spinning sequences. The stunning balance work in this Mark Morris ballet energizes and catapults the male dancers around on one leg for what seems like supernatural minutes. The musicality is a joy, with each dancer exuding personality, almost giddiness.

The staccato chords are used by Mark Morris in quicksilver, engaging choreography, with each Thomson piano variation magnified for one understated element. That is, an echoing tempo, or phrase, or unusual combination of notes suddenly takes on a life of its own, in accented, virtuosic motion. Arron Scott, a rising star in the Corps, dances with bubbling enthusiasm, and Yuriko Kajiya, one of the most promising Soloists, embraces the moment with effusive lyricism. These Études, with “Fingered Fifths” and “Alternating Octaves”, would not be music I’d choose for stereo listening, but, here, as a score, these particular dancers bring them to life. Kudos to Mark Morris.

A Month In the Country (1976), a Ballet in One Act, recreated from Ivan Turgenyev’s play: Choreography by Frederick Ashton, Staged by Anthony Dowell and Grant Coyle, Music by Frederic Chopin, Arranged by John Lanchbery, Scenery and Costumes by Julia Trevelyan Oman, Lighting by John B. Reade, Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Solo Pianist: Emily Wong, Performed by Hee Seo as Natalia Petrovna, Roman Zhurbin as Yslaev, her husband, Arron Scott as Kolia, their son, Sarah Lane as Vera, Natalia’s ward, Roddy Doble as Rakitin, Natalia’s admirer, Simone Messmer as Katia, a maid, Sem Sjouke as Matvei, a footman, David Hallberg as Beliaev, Kolia’s tutor.

I chose tonight’s cast for A Month In the Country for the level of dramatic dynamism and depth of the lead dancers. This Ballet Theatre premiere did not disappoint. It’s a fleeting romantic tale of a wealthy boy’s tutor, Beliaev, who fills a lonely country estate with an air of debonair romance, with three women competing for some warmth. Unfortunately, Beliaev is not of warm persona, and all three are left wanting at the end. The young boy being tutored is Kolia (Arron Scott), the tutor is David Hallberg, the mother is Natalia Petrovna (Hee Seo), her husband is Vslaev (Roman Zhurbin), the maid is Katia (Simone Messmer), Natalia’s teenage ward is Vera (Sarah Lane), Natalia’s admirer is Rakitin (Roddy Doble), and Matvei, a footman, is Sem Sjouke. The music originates from three works by Chopin, composed for piano and orchestra. Julia Trevelyan Oman’s sets include lush pastel blues and greys with a fainting couch, a window to a garden, and chandeliers. Her costumes, as well, were transporting. The visual air of refinement begs a reading of the play.

Mr. Hallberg exuded some of the same distant ennui from a few nights ago in Onegin, as the tutor is so strongly desired for his daring and imagined machismo. He’s a youthful student, himself, however, unlike Onegin, and vulnerable. He’s surprised by Vera’s forceful attention, then surprised by Natalia’s jealousy, and even more stunned by Vera’s conniving trouble to compensate for her anger at being scorned. Even the maid dances with Beliaev. Mr. Hallberg characterizes the confusion and conflict of the tutor with depth of theatrics and his usual sumptuous, classically styled partnering. Ms. Lane, however, cannot seem to grow out of her impish demeanor, which lessened the effect of her flirtations. She’s a natural as a youthful character, but her facial and body gestures are rote and stiff. She needs to work on dramatic internalization. Hee Seo, in contrast, was seething with envy, even though she had a husband and “admirer” already on the scene. She danced with persuasive yearning and femininity. Ms. Messmer, as the maid, Katia, was filled with sexuality and earthiness, catching the tutor by increased surprise.

Mr. Zhurbin is the quintessential character actor, and here, as Natalia’s husband, Yslaev, he enacts the part with bluster and his own level of confusion. It’s the women here who have the wiles and wanton will. Mr. Scott is perfectly cast as the tutored son, as he’s physically diminutive but filled with energy and ebullience. Mr. Doble was an understated admirer, imbued with lust. Ormsby Wilkins conducted to maximize the eloquence of the three combined Chopin works, and Emily Wong brought out the powerful piano solos with brio. I hope this ballet will re-appear in upcoming repertory. Kudos to Frederick Ashton, and kudos to Anthony Dowell and Grant Coyle for their staging.

Symphony in C (1948): Choreography by George Balanchine, Music by Georges Bizet, Staged by Merrill Ashley and Stacy Caddell, Costume designs after Karinska, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: David LaMarche, Performed by Stella Abrera, Eric Tamm, Polina Semionova, Marcelo Gomes, Natalia Osipova, Ivan Vasiliev, Simone Messmer, Jared Matthews, and the Company.

This has always been one of my favorite Balanchine symphonic works, and seeing it here, at the Met Opera House, with American Ballet Theatre, was a new adventure in ballet. The work has been reviewed in this column, from across the Plaza, many times, and always with adoration for the performance. Tonight it was equally as thrilling, but different, more personality-focused than style-focused, more uninhibited, more robust. There are four movements in the Bizet Symphony, each repeating the theme, but in various repetitions. The male dancers are in black, the women in white tutus, and the air is classical and palatial. Stella Abrera and Eric Tamm led the “Allegro Vivo” first movement, with Ms. Abrera too restrained, too cautious. Mr. Tamm partnered with chivalrous ease. Polina Semionova and Marcelo Gomes partnered the “Adagio” second movement, with Ms. Semionova in deep leg bends, lowering herself up and down toward the floor. It was a magnificent interpretation, and Mr. Gomes, the quintessential partner, literally had her back. This was a languorous, sensual segment.

In contrast, Natalia Osipova and her on- and off-stage partner, Ivan Vasiliev, in the “Allegro Vivace” third movement, went wild, tearing up the stage in rapid spins and leaps into arms. The “Allegro Vivace” fourth movement brought out Simone Messmer and Jared Matthews, with Ms. Messmer in superb form, but under-partnered by the less than charismatic Mr. Matthews, who is better in solo than partnered roles. The repetitive and rapturous Bizet symphony is contagious and cohesive, as each of the four movements builds upon the earlier one. The Corps was perfectly synchronized, with huge smiles everywhere. Kudos to George Balanchine.

A note, I wish Ballet Theatre would describe the music in all programs with more detail, listing the tempos for symphonic movements (such as in Symphony in C), listing the exact compositions used for ballet scores, (such as in A Month In the Country), and more. It would add to audience awareness and enhanced appreciation of the respective ballets.

Hee Seo and David Hallberg
in "A Month In the Country"
Courtesy of Marty Sohl

Polina Semionova and Marcelo Gomes
in "Symphony in C"
Courtesy of Marty Sohl

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