Thoughts on ABT in Chicago

Rogue Ballerina was lucky enough to see ABT perform last Wednesday night and Saturday night.  Two completely different shows — two completely different outcomes.  At least, for me.  First,  I’m very happy that they made it to the Windy City this year.  They are always a welcome addition to the local artistry and are missed when they don’t hit Chicago on the annual tour.  As a long-time fan, I relish any opportunity to see them perform live.  Wednesday evening’s performance was an All-American Celebration featuring works by Jerome Robbins, Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp.

First up – Twyla.  In it’s Chicago premiere Tharp’s The Brahms-Hadyn Variations was a delicate mix of stunning classical technique and contemporary off-kilter extensions and en pointe assisted slides.  The cast of 30 dancers seemed electric on the stage with a slight darkening of the costume color designating the hierarchy within the company (the principals being the darkest).  When all the groups were on it was difficult to tell who was in which group and even more difficult to follow.  There was so much going on.  I’ve always enjoyed Tharp’s choreography – and this was no exception – I do though, at times, find some of her work challenging.  I would like to have seen it again and from a little further back to fully appreciate the complex patterns and partnering.  I was admittedly distracted when some of the bigger names came on stage (I couldn’t take my eyes off of Gillian Murphy for long and therefore missed everything else currently happening).  Each of the featured couples boasted incredible technique and stage presence, but unfortunately (and surprisingly) the inter-couple timing was a bit off.  Julie Kent and Sascha Radetsky seemed to be a split second behind, but it was a great way to start the show.

At the middle of the program was Paul Taylor’s Company B set to music by the Andrews Sisters.  I loved the music, appreciated the intent, but nothing seemed to happen.  It was just…beige.  The dancing was good and there weren’t any discernibly big dancing mistakes, but it lacked the energy of the first piece.  The most memorable moment was when one of the dancers shoes fell off.  While it sat there on the quarter marker, she went on dancing perkily, but it was an obvious distraction.  She eventually grabbed it and threw it into the wings (a lovely 20-foot-high arc!) and kept on going.  I wonder if she got fined for that?

Closing the show was Jerome Robbins Fancy Free.  This is what I was waiting for!  I may be a bit biased having already interview one of the dancers, Daniil Simkin, plus I’m a big Robbins fan.  Two of the three sailors were making their debuts in the piece.  All went well and I’m sure there were a few sighs of relief after the curtain.  Sascha Radetsky performed the lead sailor role and was oozing with charm though he was off on a couple of his landings.  Carlos Lopez did some amazing feats involving double tours and bar stools as the gullible one that always gets stuck with the tab.  Simkin was a definite bright light in the show.  He had an advantage by getting (IMO) the best solo to show off his stuff, but proved he could hang with the best of them and for being the littlest one on the stage somehow produced the biggest swagger.

The audience held a who’s who of the ballet admin world and I have to say I got excited when I saw ABT Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie hug Joffrey Artistic Director Ashley Wheater just a few feet from my seat.  (Yes, I’m fully aware that I’m a geek.)

Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky in "Swan Lake". Photo by Gene Schiavone.

The rest of the run was Swan Lake.  Big, romantic classics are ABT’s bread and butter and they did not disappoint.  Saturday night’s cast featured the Russian-born, husband-and-wife team of Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky in the lead roles.  Everything from the sets to the live orchestra to the costumes and, of course, the dancing was spectacular.  The only misstep I noticed were two dancers stage left that fell out of an en mass double pirouette at the end of the Act I maypole peasant dance.  (Upon later reflection, I found I enjoyed knowing that even dancers of that caliber can falter on something so basic.)  The casting of every role was spot on.  The dual-casting of Von Rothbarth was particularly intriguing with Vitali Krauchenka dancing the evil sorcerer in his non-human, giant bat/bird form (creepy!) and Sashca Radetsky dancing in the wickedly charming, human prince-like form.  Radetsky’s Act III solo was a delight (and I was glad to see him perform so well after the slight fumbles earlier in the week).  Act III has always been my favorite for all of the foreign-themed variations and the sharp, wily Black Swan pas.  This is where the action happens.

Speaking of the Black Swan pas…wow!  The partnering, the solos, the coda…the couple’s talents were perfectly matched with each one performing their part to seeming perfection.  It just kept getting better and better.  The back-and-forth virtuoso dancing in the coda overlapped at times, so I didn’t know which one to watch.  The famous 32 fouettes (actually 31, finishing with a double, but who’s counting) were lightening fast!   This isn’t to say the White Swan pas of Act I wasn’t delicious in it’s own right.  The slightest tilt of Dvorovenko’s head was visible to the rafters, her arms fluid and toes floating across the floor in her bourres off.  In one of his adagio solos, Beloserkovsky did an amazing turning in second, arabesque promenading, fouette combination thingy that left me thinking…what was that?  How?  Then, he did it again.  A piece of cake.  Together, they were just beautiful effectively emoting to the last row of the theatre and looked like, well…they were really in love.  (Confession:  I got a little teary when they threw themselves off the cliff at the end.)

Other standouts were (obviously) the swans.  Always together, lovely arms, nice balances, great timing.  The cignets and demi soloists – great too.  The only distraction was the noise from their shoes.  (Those ducks were LOUD!)  I don’t know if it was the Civic Opera stage, used more for acoustic purposes or what, but ladies, a little hammering goes a long way.

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