Review: At American Ballet Theater, Mostly Millepied

Review: At American Ballet Theater, Mostly Millepied

It was a risk that went wrong: The moment Lucinda Childs’s recorded voice uttered the words, “I feel the earth move,” there were questions: What was Mr. Millepied thinking in using such identifiable music and in such a literal way?

A row of female dancers, some with bandannas tied around their faces like prisoners, crossed the stage with military precision. David Hallberg, in the opening section called “Tremor,” spun his body around and whipped an arm like a windmill; with twisted movements, alternatively hard and silky, he seemed trapped by a nervous mind.

Misty Copeland ran across the stage and into his arms, but there was little romance in the air, just sculptural shapes embellished with random kicks and turns. In the second movement, “A Vision,” Ms. Copeland was joined by Devon Teuscher and Hee Seo, along with the 12 other women who, at one point, sat in a semicircle while curving their torsos and extending and bending their arms in unison. If this vision was to evoke some kind of female equality — in the ballet world or elsewhere — it felt incidental.


Cory Sterns and Stella Abrera in Mr. Millepied’s “Daphnis et Chloé.”

Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

In the final movement, “The Work Begins,” the staged darkened and three couples blazed through Mr. Millepied’s influences: William Forsythe one moment, Twyla Tharp the next. It would be wrong to leave out Justin Peck whose recent hit, “The Times Are Racing,” haunted the stage like a ghost. That ballet is all about youth culture, protest and showing where change begins.

In “I Feel the Earth Move,” there was a sense that the dancers were in the process of rising up and banding together, but their anxiety and struggle had a superficial air, right up to the end when, in the flash of a strobe light, the dancers were caught in a midair leap.

There wasn’t much deep choreographic interrogation in Mr. Millepied’s other premiere, “Counterpoint for Philip Johnson,” either, but it didn’t call for any. This brief work, set to Steve Reich’s “Nagoya Marimba,” took place with spectators standing on the theater’s promenade during intermission. Wearing sneakers — just as with “I Feel the Earth Move,” the streetwear costumes were by Rag & Bone — the dancers planted themselves on the balconies that snaked around the second, third and fourth wings.

The cast, 24 eager young men and women from Ballet Theater’s apprentice program, Studio Company and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, executed synchronized choreography that focused mainly on their arms and shoulders. (Yes, that means more windmills.) Even though their lower bodies were obscured, from time to time they rolled on their backs and jauntily hopped from toe to toe, as if they were living out their fantasies on their fire escapes. It was a dance made for an Instagram age.

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