The Metropolitan Opera NYC May 23, 2016
American Ballet Theatre dazzles in an evening of choreography to Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich masterworks. Like fine jewels, the company sparkles and lights up the rich and complex music of one of the Soviet era’s most celebrated composers. His works, written under severe restrictions placed on art during that regime, range from brooding to exuberant, with distinct contrast between spirited celebrations and dark elegies, with profound undertones of oppression and suffering. ABT’s Shostakovich Trilogy illustrates the arc between those contrasts.
The curtain rises on a stark stage in Symphony #9, hero Arron Scott standing stock-still, bold and ready. The music is somber, eerie, woven at times with playful, joyful sounds, and I sense a struggle, a deeply emotional journey. The impossibly fast and crisp footwork in the opening section- a delightful feast for the eyes- gives way to a melancholic duet in section two. As the piece builds and more dancers take the stage, a darker energy prevails. Choreographer for all three pieces, Alexei Ratmansky, utilizes a very interesting variety of classical steps surprising and provoking in their combination. Costumed in black, like bird feathers, iridescent greens and blues subtly blended throughout, a flash of gold lining the inside of the women’s skirts, the dancers were elegant and angular, lyrical and bold. The theatrical elements- set, lights, costume, music- worked together to create the feel of a night forest, a very Edward Scissorhands-esque scene. In section 3, the brightness returns and dancers, like wood nymphs, dance sprightly onto the stage.
What struck me as a contemporary dancer who dances in a small company is how lovely it is to see the many sensational possibilities of staging and grouping such a large number of dancers provides. Lines and circles carve and blend, dissolve and reassemble in a different way. There is often a lot happening on stage at once, but it is never overwhelming. In fact, it is deeply pleasing, resonant and captivating. In a company of gems, soloist Joseph Gorak shines. His hummingbird-fast feet in his pristine beats, and his lush, expansive upper body stand out like polished diamonds. The choreography seamlessly reveals the intricacies of the music, conveying deep and universal emotions without plot.
Chamber Symphony unfolds like the petals of a flower, cascading with loss, love and fear. The musical composition focuses more on the composer’s personal life, and in Jeffrey Cirio’s solos and duets I sense a searching, a calling, and the angst of looking yet not finding. His solos have elements of modern dance- torso contractions and spirals that are fierce and angular, a delightful contrast to the more lush and expansive positions of the ballet vocabulary. Again audiences are taken into a rich emotional vista- driving, intense, dark and frenetic. The choreography is very exciting with dramatic, daring lifts and turns. In the end, Chamber Symphony retrogrades and curls back into itself, resolving into stunning architectural shapes, like living sculptures.
Ratmansky is truly a master at creating stunning kinetic architecture. In the final section of the trilogy, Piano Concerto #1, a flurry of rich, textured movement is peppered with sudden stillness in a psychedelic array of steps. The loss and longing of Chamber Symphony gives way to a triumphant joy in Piano Concerto #1, and it is glorious. The dancers play with the music; they are sometimes supple, dancing to the drawn out strings of the violin, other times they are buoyant and quick dancing to the trill of the piano. Each piece in the trilogy ends with a dramatic flair that makes me want to call out for more.
Dazzling and immaculate, ABT brings the emotive, bountiful, complex music of Shostakovich to life in delightful ways.