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Reviews

Twyla Tharp Trio of Performances with the American Ballet Theatre

Christine Shevchenko in Deuce Coupe. Photo: Gene Schiavone
 
A strong season of American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center continued impressively on the evening of Thursday, May 30th, with the Tharp Trio, three compelling dance-works by the innovative choreographer, Twyla Tharp, who has had a long association with the company.
 
Her classical antecedents can be detected in the first piece, the lovely The Brahms-Haydn Variations—originally titled Variations on a Theme by Haydn, after the orchestral work by Johannes Brahms to which it is set—which was given its world premiere by Ballet Theater in the year 2000. The stylistic influence of a choreographer like George Balanchine here provides a contrast with the more contemporary inflections of Tharp’s most celebrated productions. The excellent primary cast included Misty Copeland, Joo Won Ahn, Skylar Brandt, Arron Scott (replacing an injured Herman Cornejo), Stephanie Williams, Blaine Hoven, Zhong-Jing Fang, Calvin Royal III, Sarah Lane, and Gary Pogossian, with strong support from the admirable corps de ballet.
 
There is an explicit link with the historical ballet vocabulary in the second work on the program—the company premiere of Deuce Coupe from 1973, a piece with many beautiful elements set to music, sometimes glorious, by the Beach Boys—in that, throughout, the marvelous ballerina Christine Shevchenko performs steps from the classical ballet dictionary. However, along this one can simultaneously observe the populist choreography that has brought Tharp her greatest fame, with for example three Broadway shows set to music by Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, and Frank Sinatra. The penultimate sequence, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” was an example of one section that was especially powerful. The massive cast is too large to enumerate so I will only cite some of the more noteworthy dancers, including Stella Abrera, Royal, Isabella Boylston, Copeland, Catherine Hurlin and James Whiteside.
 
The most representative work on the program was the last, the mesmerizing In the Upper Room from 1986—set to wonderful music by Philip Glass—a not unworthy successor to the Jerome Robbins master work, Glass Pieces of 1983. Again, the ballet featured a huge cast from which I will only mention some of the most memorable: Devon Teuscher, Brandt, Duncan Lyle, Hoven (again replacing Cornejo), Cassandra Trenary, Scott, Boylston, and Thomas Forster. The conclusion elicited an enthusiastic ovation with which the choreographer thrillingly appeared on the stage.

Strauss' Fanciful "Whipped Cream" Staged by the American Ballet Theatre

Daniil Simkin in Whipped Cream. Photo: Gene Schiavone.
 
A terrific season at American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center continued marvelously on the evening of Tuesday, May 28th, with Whipped Cream—one of the finest productions in the company’s repertory—beautifully choreographed by Artist in Residence, Alexei Ratmansky, and set to a wonderful, underrated score from 1924—here excellently conducted by Charles Barker—by the great Richard Strauss, who also penned the original libretto. The current production was commissioned by Ballet Theater, premiering in 2017, with outstanding sets and costumes designed by Mark Ryden and effective lighting by Brad Fields.
 
The performance I attended was graced by a superb cast, with the astonishing Daniil Simkin brilliantly recapitulating the role he created and was born to play: the Boy. His delightful partner was Sarah Lane as Miss Praline, also repeating a role she originated. The riveting Stella Abrera recreated her role as Princess Tea Flower, effectively partnered by Calvin Royal III as Prince Coffee, in a part originated by the incomparable David Hallberg.
 
Thomas Forster—who has shone this season—and Luis Ribagorda together thrilled as Prince Cocoa and Don Zucchero respectively. Catherine Hurlin dazzled as Mademoiselle Marianne Chartreuse, complemented with enchanting comic aplomb by Duncan Lyle as Ladislav Slivovitz and Marshall Whiteley as Boris Wutki, the personification of vodka. Alexei Agoudine was perfect in the dual role of the Chef and the Doctor. Again, the exquisitecorps de balletwere immensely charming.
 
Strauss’s neglected ballet was not a success in its time and one can only be awed by Ratmansky’s ingenious reinvention, which ranks among his supreme achievements and which deserves to become a classic.

Alexei Ratmansky Leads a New Season of Performances with the American Ballet Theatre

Scene from The Seasons. Photo: Marty Sohl

The second week of the new season of American Ballet Theater at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center thrilled with a program entitled “Ratmansky Trio”—three works commemorating the tenth year as Artist in Residence of the outstanding choreographer, Alexei Ratmansky—which I attended on the evening of Tuesday, May 21st.
 
The first piece, Songs of Bukovina—commissioned by Ballet Theater and premiered in 2017—is set to excerpts from “Bukovinian Songs [24 Preludes for Piano]” by the distinguished contemporary Russian composer, Leonid Desyatnikov, who has collaborated with Ratmansky several times. The terrific lead couple consisted of Isabella Boylston and Blaine Hoven, with strong support from eight other dancers, including notably Joo Won Ahn.
 
Even more exciting was Ratmansky’s brilliant reinvention—commissioned by Ballet Theater and premiered at the Metropolitan Opera House in 2009—of Sergei Prokofiev’s wonderful On the Dnieper—superbly conducted here by Ormsby Wilkins—with a libretto by the composer and the eminent Serge Lifar, originally commissioned by the Paris Opera and premiered in 1932. The fine cast was led by Cory Stearns as the soldier Sergei, brilliantly paired with two fabulous dancers: Hee Seo as Natalia, his former love, and Christine Shevchenko, as Olga, his former love. James Whiteside excelled as Olga’s fiancé while the always admirable corps de ballet was again in superior form.
 
Most astonishing of all, however, was the world premiere of the magnificent, new The Seasons, one of Ratmansky’s supreme achievements, set to a glorious score by Alexander Glazunov—dazzlingly conducted here by David LaMarche—composed for the legendary Marius Petipa for a 1900 divertissement, one of his final productions. Ratmansky says about the production, “The Seasonsis a celebration of American Ballet Theater and its dancers. It is a declaration of love, expression of gratitude and gift to the company that has been my home for the last decade.” The striking costumes were designed by Robert Perdziola, with effective lighting by Mark Stanley.
 
The ballet featured a large, extraordinary cast. In the “Winter” section, Ahn personified the season, along with Zhong-Jing Fang as Frost, Devon Teuscher as Ice, Courtney Lavine as Hail, and Betsy McBride as Snow. For “Spring,” Thomas Forster excelled in the role of Zephyr, together with Cassandra Trenary as The Rose and Breanne Granlund as The Swallow.
 
The lovely Stella Abrera was marvelous in the “Summer” episode, with Hoven replacing an injured Herman Cornejo as The Faun, and Tyler Maloney and Gabe Stone Shayer as the Satyrs. Finally, in the “Autumn” portion, Calvin Royal III played Bacchus, partnered by Catherine Hurlin as Bacchante. Again, the corps de ballet enchanted. There is more Ratmansky to look forward to in this already impressive season!

Broadway Musical Review—“Hadestown”

Hadestown

Music, lyrics & book by Anaïs Mitchell; directed by Rachel Chavkin

Opened April 16, 2019

 

Patrick Page and Amber Gray in Hadestown (photo: Matthew Murphy)

 

Orpheus and Eurydice have been fodder for artists through the centuries, including French composer Jacques Offenbach and French filmmaker Jean Cocteau. But Offenbach’s opera Orpheus in the Underworld and Cocteau’s Orpheus films are marked by genius; Hadestown, cobbled together by book writer-lyricist-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, isn’t a patch on such works of art, however cleverly staged by Rachel Chavkin.

 

Set in a dusty, Depression-era burg that recalls the French Quarter, the show at times spits out the swampy, jazzy sounds of the Big Easy; but Mitchell also succumbs to attempts at ear-piercing Broadway show tunes that come off as merely obligatory. At its most original, Mitchell’s music grooves with robust assurance. Most interesting—as others have pointed out—is that, for once, the men (Orpheus, Hades and Hermes) have it more difficult vocally than the women (Eurydice and Persephone). That’s not a slight on Eva Noblezada and Amber Gray, who sound great singing comfortably in their middle range, but Mitchell puts the three male leads—Reeve Carney’s high tenor, Patrick Page’s rumblingly low bass and ageless Andre de Shields in between—through a sometimes treacherous vocal ride.

 

That’s about it for originality in Hadestown, a show that’s bounced around in various guises for over a decade with little if anything to show for it. If Mitchell’s music and lyrics don’t grab one by the throat, and if her derivative book doesn’t add up to much compared with its mythical forebears, then it’s up to director Chavkin to make Hadestown, if not sing, at least move. She does that, literally, with a trio of onstage turntables, which, combined with Rachel Hauck’s seedy set, Michael Krauss’s sober costumes and Bradley King’s savvy lighting, conjures a sweaty musical purgatory populated by some grim (and grimy) characters.

 

But despite her best efforts, Chavkin can’t make Hadestown anything more than a fitfully entertaining gloss on the Orpheus myth.  

 

Hadestown

Walter Kerr Theater, 219 West 48th Street, New York, NY

hadestown.com

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