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American Ballet Theatre: Theme and Variations, A Month in the Country, Piano Concerto #1
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American Ballet Theatre: Theme and Variations, A Month in the Country, Piano Concerto #1

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American Ballet Theatre

Fall Repertory
Theme and Variations
A Month in the Country
Piano Concerto #1

At David H. Koch Theater

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, Keith Roberts
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
November 7, 2013

(Read More ABT Reviews)

Theme and Variations (1947): Choreography by George Balanchine, Music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky (Theme and Variations from Suite No. 3 for Orchestra), Costumes and Scenery by Zack Brown, Lighting by Brad Fields, Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Polina Semionova, Cory Stearns, and the Company.

Balanchine’s Theme and Variations was grandly led by Polina Semionova and Cory Stearns, but the element of surprise partnered leaps and gravity-defying spins and torso tosses seemed missing tonight. Ms. Semionova is tall, refined, sophisticated, and Mr. Stearns is regal, but, together they don’t light dramatic fires. What this performance did light, however, were images of sublime fluidity, understated playfulness, and scintillating elegance. Their level of caution and restraint did, unfortunately, lower expectations for a finale in wild abandon. Zack Brown’s sunny new costumes added more vividness and heat than tonight’s lead, choreographic interpretation. In the ensemble, though, Yuriko Kajiya and Joseph Gorak proved ripe for their own lead turns, with sparkle, speed, and engaging personas.

A Month In the Country (1976), a Ballet in One Act, freely adapted from Ivan Turgenyev’s play: Choreography by Frederick Ashton, Staged by Anthony Dowell and Grant Coyle, Music by Frédéric 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 Julie Kent as Natalia Petrovna, Victor Barbee as Yslaev, her husband, Daniil Simkin as Kolia, their son, Gemma Bond as Vera, Natalia’s ward, Grant DeLong as Rakitin, Natalia’s admirer, Stella Abrera as Katia, a maid, Sterling Baca as Matvei, a footman, Guillaume Côté as Beliaev, Kolia’s tutor.

A star turn by Gemma bond as Vera, Natalia’s Ward, in tonight’s cast, turned Ashton’s A Month In the Country into a magnetic drama. Vera sees the ladies of this country abode flirting rapturously with Kolia’s (the family’s son) tutor, Beliaev, danced by guest, Guillaume Côté. Ms. Bond has tremendous promise, musicality, charm, and spark. Mr. Côté, Beliaev, danced with an interesting mix of ardor and annoyance, as each woman threw herself at this breath of hormonal heat. Julie Kent is Natalia Petrovna, the lady of the summer home, who seduces Beliaev through yearning embraces and relentless attention. Ms. Kent was the quintessential tragic heroine, a figure of unrequited love, rippling in internalized angst. Her wrists told the story, as she sobbed in dance.

Her boring, rejected husband, Yslaev, was performed by Victor Barbee, her actual offstage husband. He handled the performance with perfected humility and feigned confusion. Also on stage is Rakitin (Grant DeLong), Natalia’s first admirer, waiting for his moment. Mr. DeLong, often cast as Paris in Romeo and Juliet, was the quintessential extra, the suitor in waiting. Stella Abrera was a rambunctious maid, Katia, who takes a turn at grabbing Beliaev for herself. Daniil Simkin, as the son, Kolia, was his usual pyrotechnic self, spinning and jumping about. Sterling Baca was the footman. Tonight’s performance was a truly memorable one. Chopin’s music was also momentous, with Emily Wong on solo piano and Ormsby Wilkins in the pit.

Piano Concerto #1 (2013) Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, Music by Dmitri Shostakovich (Concerto No. 1 for Piano, Trumpet, and Strings, Op. 35), Scenery by George Tsypin, Costumes by Keso Dekker, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Pianist: Barbara Bilach, Trumpeter: Carl Albach, Conductor: David LaMarche, Performed by Gillian Murphy, Calvin Royal III, Skylar Brandt, Gabe Stone Shayer, and the Company.

Ratmansky’s Piano Concerto #1 had been premiered in the spring, in his trilogy of Shostakovich works, but tonight it stood on its own. This piece is highlighted by speed, Soviet ornamental décor, Keso Dekker’s bright red leotards, mixed emotional signals, and a bouquet of choreographic surprises. David LaMarche conducted with delightful and dynamic results, and Barbara Bilach and Carl Albach played solo piano and trumpet with flourish and fervor. Gillian Murphy and Calvin Royal III (from the Corps) were partnered with compelling charisma. Mr. Royal has grown tremendously into a statuesque, sensational stage presence. He’s strong, with long limbs, and eager to showcase his partner. Of course Ms. Murphy is a pro in all ballet genres, and here she was engaging, witty, dreamlike, propulsive, and sensual, all within the parameters of the moment.

Gabe Stone Shayer is following in the footsteps of Herman Cornejo, a dancer of short stature who seizes the stage with dizzying dervish. Skylar Brandt, as well, has her own style of dervish, as she spun like a music box ballerina, buoyant, breezy, and brisk. She always exudes notable magnetism when the spotlight has her in its sight. Ms. Brandt and Mr. Shayer, both in the Corps, are artists to watch. The ensemble was equally joyous and theatrical, depending on mood and music. Jennifer Tipton’s lighting shifts from smoky to sparkling. Kudos to all.

Polina Semionova and Cory Stearns
in Balanchine's "Theme and Variations"
© The George Balanchine Trust
Courtesy of Marty Sohl

Julie Kent
in "Ashton's A Month in the Country"
Courtesy of Marty Sohl

Gabe Stone Shayer
in Ratmansky's "Piano Concerto #1"
Courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

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