American Ballet Theatre – Balanchine, Bennett & The Beach Boys bill – New York

Calvin Royal III in Apollo. © The George Balanchine Trust.© Rosalie O'Connor. (Click image for larger version)
Calvin Royal III in Apollo. © The George Balanchine Trust.
© Rosalie O’Connor. (Click image for larger version)

American Ballet Theatre
Balanchine, Bennett & The Beach Boys: Apollo, Some Assembly Required, Let Me Sing Forevermore, Deuce Coupe

New York, David H. Koch Theater
19 (mat) October 2019

Papa Ooh Mau Mau

Twyla Tharp’s Deuce Coupe, new to the American Ballet Theatre last season, is back, looking about twice as good as it did just a few months ago. What happened in the interim? This dance from 1973, originally made for the Joffrey Ballet and Tharp’s own ensemble, may be more suited to the dance-friendly Koch than to the cavernous Metropolitan Opera House. But it’s not just that. The dancers have relaxed into Tharp’s loosey-goosey, rock-and-roll movement and internalized the musical soundtrack, a medley of Beach Boys songs. Instead of looking slightly uncomfortable, as they did last season, they now appear completely liberated. Maybe Tharp’s presence in the ABT studios for a second season in a row has rubbed off on them.

The somewhat dated concept of mixing rock-and-roll dancing with pure ballet in order to hint at a possible synthesis between the two works much better when the dancing is full-throttle, as it was today. The women, in red dresses and heels, with their hair down, look downright sexy; the men, in bell-bottoms and unbuttoned shirts, are throwbacks to a time when polyester was king. Tharp cannily uses slow-motion, sped-up motion, shoulder wiggles and hip swivels to keep things moving along with casual ease. When the song “Catch a Wave” comes on, they slide across the stage; in “Papa Ooh Mau Mau” they mime pot-smoking; in “Don’t Go Near the Water” a group of women shudders and flails, as if going through a bad trip. Until finally, in “Cuddle Up,” the whole cast gathers together in a kind of dance heaven, somewhere between ballet and popular dance. Xuelan Lu, a member of the corps, stood out for the lyricism and touching simplicity of her dancing, which brought an air of vulnerability to the work as a whole. Luciana Paris sizzled in “Got To Know the Woman.” Cassandra Trenary oozed attitude in “Take a Load Off Your Feet.”

The other highlight of the Saturday matinee was Calvin Royal III’s début in Balanchine’s Apollo. Royal danced excerpts of the ballet at the Vail Dance Festival during the summer, but this was his official début in the full work. Ballet Theatre performs the uncut version, which includes an opening scene depicting the birth of Apollo, as well as the climb onto Mount Parnassus at the end. (Balanchine later left out both.) Royal, a very beautiful, quietly absorbing dancer, with long, expressive arms and a silken, elegant way of moving, gave an elegant and sensitive rendition of Balanchine’s choreography. He looks very god-like indeed in his white costume; the long, limpid shapes made by his arms and legs are both sculptural and supple. He gives full value to the off-kilter, playful steps with which Apollo tests his balance, strength, and prowess. But today he really came into his own in the pas de deux with Terpsichore, muse of dance, performed here by Hee Seo. It is a uniquely rapturous pas de deux, so fluid and sustained that it seems to occur outside of time and space, culminating in a difficult lift in which Terpsichore appears to swim through the air while balancing on Apollo’s back. The illusion worked perfectly here. If Royal’s dancing was a touch careful throughout, it’s understandable – Apollo is an extraordinarily exposing ballet, a pinnacle of the male repertoire. This was a good beginning, but still just a beginning.

Two short pas de deux filled out the evening. In Clark Tippet’s Some Assembly Required, Roman Zhurbin and Skylar Brandt were a couple in crisis, dancing to William Bolcom’s Second Sonata for Violin and Piano. (Again, bravo to the violinist Kobi Malkin, with his gleaming sound.) He is an everyman dressed in jeans; she wears a pretty summer dress. When the music is dissonant, things get stormy; when the harmonies resolve, so does the give-and-take between the two characters. Roman Zhurbin and Skylar Brandt danced it with feeling and humanity.

In contrast, Jessica Lang’s Let Me Sing Forevermore, set to a trio of songs recorded by Tony Bennett, contains nary a hint of angst. Originally made for two young dancers in the company, Catherine Hurlin and Aran Bell, it was danced at the Saturday matinée by Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside. They were, if anything, even more charming in it. Boylston’s relaxed musicality, the way she happily melts into her partner’s arms, and Whiteside’s jazzy timing gave the piece an aura of playfulness and fun.

In programs like this one, ABT really looks like an American company, steeped in American popular music and the relaxed attitude of popular dance. It’s a mode that suits the company well.

About the author

Marina Harss

Marina Harss is a free-lance dance writer and translator in New York. Her dance writing has appeared in the New Yorker, The Nation, Playbill, The Faster Times, DanceView, The Forward, Pointe, and Ballet Review. Her translations, which include Irène Némirovsky’s “The Mirador,” Dino Buzzati’s “Poem Strip,” and Pasolini’s “Stories from the City of God” have been published by FSG, Other Press, and New York Review Books. You can check her updates on Twitter at: @MarinaHarss

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