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American Ballet Theatre: The Brahms-Haydn Variations, Her Notes, Daphnis and Chloe

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American Ballet Theatre

The Brahms-Haydn Variations
Her Notes
Daphnis and Chloe

David H. Koch Theater

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Kara Medoff Barnett, Executive Director
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Clinton Luckett, Assistant Artistic Director
Susan Jones, Principal Ballet Mistress
Ballet Masters: Irina Kolpakova,
Carlos Lopez, Nancy Raffa, Keith Roberts
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
James Timm, Director of Marketing and Brand Management
Susie Morgan Taylor, Manager of Press and Online Media

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 21, 2016

(Read More ABT Reviews)

(See a Conversation with Conductor, David LaMarche, on the Fall Season Ballet Music.)

The Brahms-Haydn Variations, in memory of Peter T. Joseph (2000): Choreography by Twyla Tharp, Staged by Susan Jones, Music by Johannes Brahms (“Variations on a Theme by Haydn for Orchestra, Op. 56a”), Costumes by Santo Loquasto, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Isabella Boylston and Alban Lendorf, Skylar Brandt and Arron Scott, Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes, Christine Shevchenko and Joseph Gorak, Sarah Lane and Craig Salstein, Cassandra Trenary and Blaine Hoven, Luciana Paris and Roman Zhurbin, and the Company.

In this first night of my Ballet Theatre Fall Season, Twyla Tharp’s thrilling The Brahms-Haydn Variations opened the evening. With Ormsby Wilkins in the pit, Ballet Theater Orchestra exuded ebullience and energy in the exquisite Brahms score. Dramatic symmetry merges with pyrotechnic spins and leaps, with dancers flying into each other’s torsos and arms, mirroring each other’s spiraling twists, and finishing spirited lifts with pizzazz. Skylar Brandt and Arron Scott were one of the most magnetic duos with ingénue charisma and youthful skill. Dancers glanced knowingly at each other as a female dancer would make a bravura lunge into her partner’s arms. Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes, seasoned partners, multiplied their exuberant personalities with extra flourishes.

For me, the pièce de résistance of the evening was Alban Lendorf (who eats the stage) and Isabella Boylston’s new partnership, filled with hot chemistry and wild theatrics. Both dancers are muscular and audience-attentive. Mr. Lendorf, a new Principal in the Company, is a most welcome sight. He has sparked new daredevil dimensions in Ms. Boylston’s virtuosics. Among the remaining duos, Sarah Lane and Craig Salstein, a spritely duo, were sparkling and entertaining, bubbling with brio, while Christine Shevchenko and Joseph Gorak were poorly matched for physicality, she overwhelming him. The two remaining couples, all Soloists with the Company, Cassandra Trenary with Blaine Hoven and Luciana Paris with Roman Zhurbin, added a great deal to the rhythmic dynamics. The Murphy-Gomes rapid spins and lifts to the rafters and Ms. Tharp’s upside-down lifts to the wings were among my takeaway memories. Ms. Tipton’s lighting adaptation was much too bright tonight, masking the sea of faces.

Her Notes (World Premiere): Choreography by Jessica Lang, Music by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (Excerpts from “Das Jahr”), Costumes by Bradon McDonald, Scenery by Jessica Lang, Lighting by Nicole Pearce, Rehearsal Assistants: Clifton Brown and Christopher Vo, Piano Soloist: Emily Wong, Performed by Gillian Murphy, Misty Copeland, Skylar Brandt, Cassandra Trenary, Devon Teuscher, Stephanie Williams, Marcelo Gomes, Jeffrey Cirio, Cory Stearns, and Blaine Hoven.

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s “Das Jahr”, the score for Jessica Lang’s new ballet, Her Notes, is celebrated here by Ms. Lang, to honor this composer who usually published under her brother Felix’ name. Ms. Hensel had traveled with her husband for a full year’s journey, encapsulating her “on location” impressions in one musical piece at the end of each month. The 13-movement “Das Jahr” reflects the twelve months of impressions plus a postlude. (ABT Notes.)

Emily Wong was splendid on the piano solo for this new ballet. As is her custom, Ms. Lang also designed the scenery, as well as the choreography, scenery which is contemporary, geometric, minimal, and mesmerizing. Gillian Murphy, who dances a lead role, steps inside an open square, maybe into a home or a relationship or into Ms. Hensel’s collection of musical oeuvres. The square space is lifted and lowered by the men. The piece opens with the full cast ensemble epitomizing January in the voyage, while February brings out three women and three men, led by Misty Copeland and Jeffrey Cirio, June brings out a similar grouping of six, led by Ms. Murphy and Marcelo Gomes, December features the full cast, and the Postlude features Devon Teuscher and Stephanie Williams with the remaining cast.

Many solo, duo, and group choreographies are eloquently presented in gray costumes outlined in black to mesh with the geometric, chiaroscuro backdrop. But, the essential imagery here is the peaceful, poised, sophisticated series of dance figures, each bending and shifting toward one another. It’s a level of serene quietude, perhaps encapsulating Ms. Hensel’s memory of her long marital sojourn. It’s as if Ms. Lang created a human landscape of the monthly travels, each within its own enclosed space. Skylar Brandt and Devon Teuscher were particularly entrancing, catching my eye throughout. Kudos to Jessica Lang, and kudos to Fanny M. Hensel.

Daphnis and Chloe (2014): Choreography by Benjamin Millepied, Staged by Janie Taylor and Sébastien Marcovici, Music by Maurice Ravel, Scenery by Daniel Buren, Costumes by Holly Hynes, Lighting by Brad Fields, Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Stella Abrera as Chloe, Cory Stearns as Daphnis, Cassandra Trenary as Lycenion, Blaine Hoven as Dorcon, James Whiteside as Bryaxis, and the Company.

Another showcase of the evening and a first for most of the audience was Benjamin Millepied’s 2014 Daphnis and Chloe. This new ballet, set to Ravel’s sumptuous, enchanting score, was thoroughly confusing and disappointing. And, I had so very much looked forward to this. Cory Stearns is Daphnis, who is supposed to be exuding the angst of a Greek drama. Mr. Millepied, who choreographed this work for the Paris Opera Ballet, has couched the complicated, romantic plot within minimal dance under striped and solid, colorful geometric shapes, that rise and fall and overlap throughout the ballet. The very dry and opaque Program Notes are fine print, copied from a translated quote by Longus. So, the ballet should be appreciated in the visual, aural gestalt, and, in that realm, it’s luxurious. One must abandon thoughts of plot conflicts, among the Greek dramatic characters, as this is no Swan Lake or Giselle, or even Ashton’s one act, The Dream, which clearly reflects its storyline. Fokine choreographed this ballet in one act with three scenes, as has Mr. Millepied. But, I would have preferred seeing an adaptation of the Fokine work, with its commissioned 1909 score by Ravel, that premiered in 1912 with the Ballets Russes.

Mr. Millepied’s version is a synthesized balletic interpretation of a Greek myth in a minimal, modern motif. Cassandra Trenary, as Lycenion, Blaine Hoven as Dorcon, and James Whiteside as Bryaxis all danced with pulsating perfection, in the moment, but not one audience member would be considering plot theatrics within the experience. Rather, the spherical scenery by Daniel Buren and the silken gowns by Holly Hynes were perfumy and transporting. Brad Fields’ lighting added gorgeous luminosity to the rising and falling shapes. Ormsby Wilkins had his work cut out, conducting this intoxicating score, and the music was splendid.

Kudos to all.

Marcelo Gomes and Gillian Murphy
in "The Brahms-Haydn Variations"
Courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

A Scene from "Her Notes"
Courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

Stella Abrera and Cory Stearns with
the Cast of "Daphnis and Chloe"
Courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

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