David Koch Theater, New York, NY; November 3(m), 2013

Colleen Boresta

On October 30th, 2013 American Ballet Theatre began their annual New York Fall season.  However, this year they are performing at the David Koch Theatre, not City Center.  Now that the New York City Opera has ended their residency at Lincoln Center, dance troupes besides the New York City Ballet are calling the David Koch Theater home.  I find the Koch Theater an improvement over City Center.  The stage is considerably larger so many productions are not as crowded on they were on City Center’s stage.  The seating is far superior to City Center for ballet and modern dance programs.

Sunday afternoon’s performance begins with Twyla Tharp’s ‘Bach Partita’ which ABT first danced in 1983.  I usually enjoy Tharp’s works, but unfortunately ‘Bach Partita’ is not in the same league as ‘In the Upper Room’ or ‘Push Comes to Shove’.  I find Bach’s score for solo violin to be repetitious to the point of tedium. There is little variety in the music’s tempo.  Most of it is very slow – to the point of almost putting me to sleep several times (a very rare occurrence for me at the ballet).

The choreography is also repetitive which surprises me since I usually find Tharp’s pieces to be innovative and inventive.   It is all very pretty and beautifully danced, but I find myself praying for the curtain to fall twenty minutes before it actually does.  It doesn’t help that the costumes are all made in different tones of beige which makes the dancers blend together.  Not even Gillian Murphy with her flaming red hair and incredible dancing stands out.

The second piece on the program, Mark Morris’ ‘Gong’, is absolutely delightful. The dancers are dressed in colorful costumes designed by Isaac Mizrahi.  Morris’ choreography perfectly complements Colin McPhee’s gamelan inspired score.  It is wonderful hearing the sounds of bamboo xylophones, marimbas, glockenspiels and of course gongs.

Morris’ choreography is a breathtaking combination of moves and gestures from modern dance, classical ballet and Balinese culture.  There are also two pas de deux performed to no music whatsoever.  The first is a beautiful duet for lovers. The second is quite funny, but both dances to silence are very interesting and fit perfectly with the rest of the piece.

All fifteen dancers are fantastic, but the five men – Gray Davis, Grant DeLong, Jared Matthews, Craig Salstein and Eric Tamm – really stand out.  Their leaps, turns and spins – many performed with imaginative Balinese posturing – are quite spectacular.  Just thinking about Mark Morris’ ‘Gong’ puts a big smile on my face.

The afternoon ends with Alexei Ratmansky’s ambitious new ballet ‘The Tempest’.  It is a 42 minute distillation of the play.  Not being familiar with the Shakespeare play, I found much of it hard to follow (even after reading the lengthy program notes several times).  As far as I can make out, here is the story of Ratmanksy’s ‘The Tempest’.

Prospero, the former Duke of Milan, and his daughter Miranda have been exiled to a small island for the past twelve years.  Prospero was deposed by his brother Antonio, the King of Naples, Alonso and Alonso’s brother Sebastian.  As the ballet begins, Antonio, Alonso and Sebastian are marooned on Prospero’s island. Besides his daughter, Miranda, Prospero has two slaves – the spirit Ariel and the monstrous Caliban.  Prospero has promised Ariel his freedom if the birdlike spirit helps Prospero regain his throne.  Prospero does not seem to have much to do with the poor monster Caliban.

Also on the island is Ferdinand, Alonso’s son.  For some reason not explained in the program, Alonso thinks Ferdinand is dead.  Ferdinand of course meets Miranda and falls in love with her.  At first Prospero is very much against this union, perhaps due to his hatred for Ferdinand’s father, Alonso.  Once Prospero regains his dukedom, however, he welcomes Ferdinand into his family with open arms.

As already mentioned, by the end of the ballet, Prospero is once more the Duke of Milan.  Ariel seems to have a big role in this happenstance.  Prospero keeps his promise and gives the birdlike spirit his freedom.  Alonso, Sebastien and Antonio reconcile with Prospero.  They, along with Ferdinand and Miranda, return to Europe.  Only Caliban is left on the island, abandoned and alone.

As has been said by several critics, Shakespeare’s play does not translate easily into dance.  Much of ‘The Tempest’ occurs before the ballet begins and no amount of movement can make this clear.  The character of Prospero is a man of thought, not action, and what he is thinking does not appear on the stage.  It also does not help that Cory Stearns’ Prospero looks like he escaped from the musical ‘Hair’.  I find most of the costumes to be ugly and ridiculous.  The only ones I like are Miranda’s simple white shift and the outfits for Ferdinand, Alonso, Sebastien and Antonio.

Strangely, for a Ratmanky work, there is actually very little dancing in “The Tempest’.  The music, which is atonal and mostly undanceable, does not help.  Some of the performers do stand out.  Gabriel Stone Shayer’s Ariel inspires with his leaps and spinning turns.  James Whiteside is a convincing Caliban even though much of his choreography has him groveling on the ground.  Yuriko Kajiya is a lovely Miranda and Jared Matthews is very good as her suitor Ferdinand.  Their duets together are fresh and full of dewy innocence.  Unfortunately the rest of the ballet does not live up to the beauty of the young couple’s pas de deux.  ‘The Tempest’ certainly proves that not every great work of literature can be turned into a ballet.