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American Ballet Theatre: Her Notes, Symphonic Variations, Prodigal Son
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American Ballet Theatre: Her Notes, Symphonic Variations, Prodigal Son

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American Ballet Theatre

Her Notes
Symphonic Variations
Prodigal Son

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 27, 2016

(Read More ABT Reviews)

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

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 Stella Abrera, Isabella Boylston, Sarah Lane, Cassandra Trenary, Christine Shevchenko, Katherine Williams, James Whiteside, Arron Scott, Alexandre Hammoudi, and Calvin Royal III.

I was lucky to catch Jessica Lang’s gorgeous new ballet, Her Notes, scored to excerpts from Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s “Das Jahr”, with an almost all new cast. Soloist, Cassandra Trenary was the only cast repeat, replacing Luciana Paris. The other new ensemble members were Principals, Stella Abrera (in the Gillian Murphy role), Isabella Boylston, and James Whiteside, Soloists, Sarah Lane, Christine Shevchenko, and Arron Scott, and Corps dancers, Katherine Williams, Alexandre Hammoudi, and Calvin Royal. Once again Emily Wong performed the piano solo score. Ms. Abrera, walking into and out from the spatial, serene, squared interior, designed by the choreographer, interpreted the role uniquely, in a more languorous, lilting motif. Ms. Abrera’s limbs and hands are those of an artist, elegant and picturesque, and her shadowy profile was mesmerizing, rear stage.

The ensemble’s figures of encircled arms, multiple spins, and eloquent connectivity was stunning to experience. Bradon McDonald’s grey-black-outlined costumes seemed even more modern and stylized tonight, with new dancers in the mix. Nicole Pearce’s lighting creates chiaroscuro reflections on stage and within the ever-shifting, dynamic set. In the postlude, Christine Shevchenko and Katherine Williams added sparkling, feathery lightness to the gestalt. This ballet is a tribute to Felix Mendelssohn’s sister, whose compositions were often published in her brother’s name, a societal practice. Ms. Lang’s concept is extraordinary. Among the additional dancers, Isabella Boylston, Arron Scott, and Calvin Royal caught my eye.

Symphonic Variations (1946): Choreography by Frederick Ashton, Production Directed and Supervised by Wendy Ellis Somes and Malin Thoors, Music by César Franck (“Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra”), Scenery and costumes by Sophie Fedorovitch, Lighting by Michael Somes, Piano Soloist: Barbara Bilach, Conductor: David LaMarche, Performed by Skylar Brandt, Cameron McCune, Christine Shevchenko, Calvin Royal III, Cassandra Trenary, and Alban Lendorf.

This rarely mounted Ashton gem is sublime, sophisticated, serene, and stunning. It’s a 70 year-old ballet with a mesmerizing, poised ensemble. Three men stand rear stage, one leg crossed, facing in alternate directions. Three women stand front stage, equally still and positioned, waiting for the gorgeous César Franck score for piano and orchestra to begin. David LaMarche, Conductor, kept Barbara Bilach’s sensational piano solos and Ballet Theatre Orchestra synchronized and impassioned. This all too brief ballet presents the three women, Skylar Brandt, Christine Shevchenko, and Cassandra Trenary in multiple Ashton poses, such as upside down, almost sideways, held aloft by one of the men like a slide. Men in place spin, jump, land on one foot, and create Grecian profile imagery. Sophie Fedorovitch’s scenery and costumes have art deco infusions, dark, geometric lines on earthen colors. On first viewing, this was quite a bit to absorb, as one lives in the experience of the serendipitous ballet revival. The Koch Theater audience, as always in a new or rare production, was breathless and enthralled.

Prodigal Son (1950) Ballet in Three Scenes: Choreography be George Balanchine, Staged by Richard Tanner, Libretto by Boris Kochno, Music by Sergei Prokofiev (L’Enfant Prodigue), Scenery and Costumes by Georges Rouault, Lighting by Gil Wechsler, Conductor: David LaMarche, Performed by Jeffrey Cirio as The Prodigal Son, Hee Seo as The Siren, Daniel Mantei as Father, Jonathan Klein and Simon Wexler as Servants to the Prodigal Son, Claire Wexler and April Giangeruso as The Sisters, and nine male Corps as Drinking Companions. Presented by arrangement with the George Balanchine Trust.

In tonight’s performance of Balanchine’s Prodigal Son, Jeffrey Cirio possessed the muscular girth and ingénue credibility to grip the audience in his plight of seduction and attack by The Siren and her nine male Drinking Companions. Last night Daniil Simkin danced this role, with tremendous elevation and strength, but his Siren almost shielded him from sight. Tonight, Mr. Cirio’s Siren, Hee Seo, seemed too short for her long-limbed character. She would have been better suited to Mr. Simkin. Ms. Seo was also detached and cold, good traits for the role, but in the seduction she did not connect or gaze into the Prodigal Son’s eyes, as Ms. Part did last night. Ms. Seo also had some issues with the long, red velvet material she must whip and wrap about herself in an iconic, surreal solo. Regardless, Mr. Cirio danced better and with more passion than I’ve ever seen from him, a thrilling performance. Daniel Mantei was a suitable, but lackluster Father, but Jonathan Klein and Simon Wexler were excellent as the Son’s Servants. The Drinking Companions were filled with energy and drama in each of their robust scenes, including waving Ms. Seo in the air over the Mr. Cirio, who lay horizontal on the shifting set by Georges Rouault. David LaMarche was once again in the pit, and I have never heard this Prokofiev score with such entrancing musicality.

Kudos to all.

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

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