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American Ballet Theatre: Overgrown Path, Pillar of Fire, Company B

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American Ballet Theatre

Fall Repertory
Overgrown Path
Pillar of Fire
Company B

At City Center

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Rachel S. Moore, Executive Director
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Ballet Masters:
Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova, Georgina Parkinson
Clinton Luckett, Nancy Raffa
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
Susan Morgan, Press Associate

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 24, 2008

(See More ABT Reviews, Interviews, and Candids)

Overgrown Path (1980): Choreography by Jǐrí Kylián, Asst. to the Choreographer: Roslyn Anderson, Music by Leoš Janáček (On the Overgrown Path, Part IX), Costumes by Walter Nobbe, Costume Supervision by Joke Visser, Lighting by Joop Caboort, Tech and Light Adaptation by Kees Tjebbes, Pianist: David LaMarche, Performed by Xiomara Reyes, Yuriko Kajiya, Simone Messmer, Hee Seo, Leann Underwood, Melissa Thomas, Jose Manuel Carreño, Herman Cornejo, Isaac Stappas, Blaine Hoven, Eric Tamm, and Cory Stearns.

On the second viewing of this anguished Jǐrí Kylián ballet, set to Leoš Janáček’s brooding piano score, one female and one male dancer caught my eye, artists to watch. Hee Seo and Blaine Hoven each exemplified the intrinsic tragedy and torment that haunts this work. Their facial expression and writhing posture were at one with the hypnotic trance that ensues, as each of ten segments mesh into the next. The gazing eyes and outstretched arms of the ensemble, in “Words fail” and “Unutterable anguish”, transfix the viewer, while music and mood merge and melt. Isaac Stappas and Simone Messmer led “The Madonna of Frydek” with sublime spirituality.

The Principals, Jose Manuel Carreño, Herman Cornejo, and Xiomara Reyes, danced within the ensembles to enhance, rather than star in, the sequential segments. Each of these Principals was eloquent and appropriately restrained. Walter Nobbe’s colorful satin dresses, in brown, black, blue, gold, and red, hinted at autumn leaves strewing a path at the door of winter. Kudos once again to David LaMarche for his extensive, solo piano accompaniment. The music drives the drama.

Pillar of Fire (1942): Choreography by Antony Tudor, Staged by Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner, Assisted by Susan Jones, Music by Arnold Schoenberg (Verklärte Nacht), Scenery and Costumes by Robert Perdziola, Lighting by Duane Schuler, Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Maria Bystrova as Eldest Sister, Gillian Murphy as Hagar, Marian Butler as Youngest Sister, David Hallberg as The Friend, Marcelo Gomes as The Young Man from The House Opposite, and Simone Messmer and the Company as Lovers-in-Innocence, Lovers-in-Experience, and Maiden Ladies Out Walking. This tale of three sisters, one a spinster, one a lonely woman in love, and one a flirt, is set in 1900, when Schoenberg wrote the music used for this ballet score. (Program Notes).

Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht is an introspective and infectious score for this tale of three sisters, two men, Maiden Ladies, Lovers-in-Innocence, and Lovers-in-Experience. The sets and costumes exemplify 1900, when Schoenberg composed the music, and there are two homes, one of sexual repression and one of sexual expression. Hagar, the middle sister (Gillian Murphy) is afraid of becoming the spinster that her Eldest Sister (Maria Bystrova) has become. Hagar is in love with The Friend (David Hallberg), but he is attracted to her Youngest Sister (Marian Butler). Hagar is thus vulnerable and easily seduced by The Young Man from the House Opposite (Marcelo Gomes), and the drama ensues.

Pillar of Fire is one of the finest one-act ballets I’ve seen, satisfying on every level. The sets are larger than life and symbolically constructed, thanks to Robert Perdziola, who also designed the period dresses with long ruffles and bows. Tudor’s choreography (staged by McKerrow, Gardner, Jones) includes some highly erotic gestures by the seducer (Mr. Gomes), using the pelvis in Martha Graham fashion. The theatricality presented by Ms. Murphy is always extraordinary, as she assumes the role, rather than enacting the role. Ms. Butler was a flirtatious Youngest Sister, callous and possessive, while Ms. Bystrova was a cold shell of a character, a dancer within invisible walls. Mr. Hallberg, as always, was sensual, focused, and Princely, even as The Friend, caring for and nurturing Ms. Murphy at the finale. Mr. Gomes was the fiery hot demon, who takes his prey within the same walls, where we see glimpses of erotic dance. Ormsby Wilkins conducted with ample pauses, to expand the conflicted emotions.

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

On second viewing with ABT, this familiar Taylor work was even more dynamic and pulsating. The Andrews Sisters’ World War II lyrics and music were even more magnetic, as the tunes remain in the mind for days. In tonight’s cast, Daniil Simkin, a new Russian soloist, who first appeared in New York last February, in Stars of the 21st Century International Ballet Gala, made an evening ABT debut in “Tico-Tico”, and the audience loved him. Mr. Simkin is short in stature and taut, muscular, and full of aerobic alacrity. Joseph Phillips, another artist to watch, danced the solo in “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B)”, with daring jumps and spins. Luciana Paris was sultry and sexy in “Rum and Coca-Cola”, while Marian Butler and Roddy Doble danced a bouncy “Pennsylvania Polka”. Carlos Lopez was equally enthralling in “Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!”. This work, performed mostly by Corps dancers, is a hit of the Season. Kudos to Paul Taylor.

Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes
in "Pillar of Fire"
Courtesy of Marty Sohl

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