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American Ballet Theatre: Songs of Bukovina, Her Notes, Thirteen Diversions
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American Ballet Theatre: Songs of Bukovina, Her Notes, Thirteen Diversions

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American Ballet Theatre

Songs of Bukovina
Her Notes
Thirteen Diversions

David H. Koch Theater

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Kara Medoff Barnett, Executive Director
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Clinton Luckett, Assistant Artistic Director
Susan Jones, Principal Ballet Mistress
Ballet Masters: Irina Kolpakova,
Carlos Lopez, Nancy Raffa, Keith Roberts
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
Jenny Lee, Director of Marketing
Susie Morgan Taylor, Manager of Press and Online Media

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 20, 2017

(Read More ABT Reviews)

Songs of Bukovina (October 18, 2017): Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, Music by Leonid Desnyatnikov (Excerpts from “Bukovian Songs”, 24 Piano Preludes), Costumes by Moritz Junge, Lighting by Brad Fields, Piano Soloist: Alexey Goribol, Performed by Isabella Boylston, Gabe Shayer, April Giangeruso, Marshall Whitely, Lauren Post, Joo Won Ahn, Katherine Williams, Duncan Lyle, Stephanie Williams, and Patrick Frenette.

This new Ratmansky work, Songs of Bukovina is a collaboration with the Ukrainian composer, Leonid Desyatnikov. The 24 Piano Preludes are excerpted for this ballet for ten dancers, expertly performed on solo piano by Alexey Goribol. The featured dancers, Isabella Boylston and Gabe Stone Shayer (substituting for Alban Lendorf, Ms. Boylston’s frequent and virtuosic partner) created a mixed visual experience. Mr. Shayer is a more petit, lighter dancer, who’s best in rapid, flashy or dramatic solo roles. Here, in this unfamiliar, angular, abstract ballet, he seemed somewhat lost on the expanse of the Koch Theater stage. The music was haunting, with Ukrainian folk song motifs, reminding me of songs my grandmother, from Kiev, then in Russia, used to sing. There was sadness and strength, spirit and soulfulness imbued in the music and choreography.

Four couples, listed above, are onstage much of the time, allowing for spotlighted turns by the lead couple. Unfortunately, Mr. Shayer seemed miscast for the lead, as he would have been more interesting in the group ensemble. There seemed to be a hint of Russian tango in the aggressive push-pull of the couples. Occasionally a sultry solo appears, then Ms. Boylston leaps and jumps in fervor. The lighting by Brad Fields was eloquent, but dim, and the costumes by Moritz Junge were eye-catching. I look forward to seeing this new ballet again tomorrow night.

Her Notes (2016): Choreography by Jessica Lang, Music by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (Excerpts from “Das Jahr”), Costumes by Bradon McDonald, Scenery by Jessica Lang, Lighting by Nicole Pearce, Rehearsal Assistants: Clifton Brown and Christopher Vo, Piano Soloist: Emily Wong, Performed by Stella Abrera, Sarah Lane, Skylar Brandt, Cassandra Trenary, Christine Shevchenko, Katherine Williams, James Whiteside, Arron Scott, Alexandre Hammoudi, and Calvin Royal III.

This recent, dreamlike ballet by Jessica Lang, is now one of my favorites in the Ballet Theatre repertory. Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s “Das Jahr”, the score for Her Notes, is celebrated here by Ms. Lang, to honor this composer who usually published under her brother Felix’ name. Ms. Hensel had traveled with her husband for a full year’s journey, encapsulating her “on location” impressions in one musical piece at the end of each month. The 13-movement “Das Jahr” reflects the twelve months of impressions plus a postlude. (ABT Notes.)

Emily Wong was once again splendid on the piano solo for this ballet. As is her custom, Ms. Lang also designed the scenery, as well as the choreography, scenery which is contemporary, geometric, minimal, and mesmerizing. Stella Abrera, who dances a lead role, steps inside an open square, maybe into a home or a relationship or into Ms. Hensel’s collection of musical oeuvres. The square space is lifted and lowered by the men. The piece opens with the full cast ensemble epitomizing January in the voyage, while February brings out three women and three men, led by Sarah Lane Arron Scott, June brings out a similar grouping of six, led by Ms. Abrera and James Whiteside, December features the full cast, and the Postlude features Christine Shevchenko and Katherine Williams with the remaining cast.

Many solo, duo, and group choreographies are eloquently presented in gray costumes outlined in black to mesh with the geometric, chiaroscuro backdrop. But, the essential imagery here is the peaceful, poised, sophisticated series of dance figures, each bending and shifting toward one another. It’s a level of serene quietude, perhaps encapsulating Ms. Hensel’s memory of her long marital sojourn. It’s as if Ms. Lang created a human landscape of the monthly travels, each within its own enclosed space. Skylar Brandt and Cassandra Trenary were particularly entrancing, catching my eye throughout. Kudos to Jessica Lang, and kudos to Fanny M. Hensel.

Thirteen Diversions (2011): Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, Music by Benjamin Britten (“Diversions for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 21”), Costumes by Bob Crowley, Lighting by Brad Fields, Piano Soloist: Barbara Bilach, Conductor: Charles Barker, Performed by Sarah Lane, Joseph Gorak, Hee Seo, Cory Stearns, Gillian Murphy, Blaine Hoven, Skylar Brandt, Zhiyao Zhang, and the Company.

More and more, it seems that Christopher Wheeldon’s ballets are among the crème de la crème in contemporary ballet choreography. I just never tire of any of his works and always immediately long to see them again. His Thirteen Diversions is no exception. This tour de force, 2011 ballet is always energized, exciting, and electrically charged and should be seen often and up close, as Koch Theater allows. Brad Fields’ lighting is critical to the experience, shifting in the backdrop, forming shapes, hues, and designs. Bob Crowley’s costumes are in shades of gray, never clashing with the backdrop.

The dancers create their own propulsive, moving shape, somewhat like a speeding train of motion, in precise rhythms, combinations, and superb partnering. Gillian Murphy is partnered by Blaine Hoven, in fresh casting, Hee Seo is partnered by Cory Stearns, Sarah Lane is partnered by Joseph Gorak, and Skylar Brandt is partnered by Zhiyao Zhang. A Corps of eight males and eight females appears, as well. Among the leads, Ms. Brandt and Mr. Zhang were well matched for charisma and dynamism. Among the Corps, Alexandra Basmagy and Jose Sebastian caught my eye repeatedly.

Benjamin Britten’s eleven Variations, following the Theme, form the musical outline of this masterpiece. Barbara Bilach, solo pianist, is critical to this ballet’s astounding momentum, and Charles Barker kept the orchestra ebullient. The audience was vocally involved, enjoying the theatrical feats and follies, with dancers exuding romantic comforts or complexities. The storyline is abstract, but the effect is irresistible. Kudos to Christopher Wheeldon.

Scene from "Her Notes"
Courtesy of Rosalie O’Connor

Sarah Lane and Joseph Gorak
in "Thirteen Diversions"
Courtesy of Marty Sohl

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