American Ballet Theatre
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

October 18 and 19 (afternoon) 2019: Apollo, Some Assembly Required, Let Me Sing Forevermore, Deuce Coupe
October 19, 2019 evening: Theme and Variations, A Gathering of Ghosts, The Seasons
October 25, 2019: New American Romance, Garden Blue, A Time There Was
October 26 evening (Cornejo 20th Anniversary): Apollo, El Chamuyo, A Gathering of Ghosts

Jerry Hochman

American Ballet Theatre’s annual two-week “blink-and it’s-gone” Fall season at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater came and went like Autumn in New York. Nice to feel, a few exceptional experiences, and then it’s over too soon and wait until Spring.

Erica Cornejo and Herman Cornejo
in Ana Maria Steckelman’s “El Chamuyo”
Photo by Kyle Froman

I saw five of the programs. Of them, the highlights were, in no particular order, three “dueling” Apollos (and several of their muses); James Whiteside’s superb initial choreographic effort for ABT, New American Romance; a richly evocative pas de deux featuring Sarah Lane and Blaine Hoven to close Gemma Bond’s latest piece, A Time There Was; the return of Clark Tippet’s strangely wonderful Some Assembly Required (I saw both casts: Lane and Cory Stearns, and Skylar Brandt and Roman Zhurbin); the beginning of a an exciting stage partnership between ABT’s golden young dancers, soloists Catherine Hurlin and Aran Bell; and Herman Cornejo’s 20th Anniversary celebration. In between was a fine performance of George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations with Lane and Joseph Gorak; my first view of Aszure Barton’s Garden Blue, featuring a striking duet with Brandt and Hoven; and the return of Twyla Tharp’s Deuce Coupe, led at different performances by Katherine Williams and Christine Shevchenko, and with Hoven spectacular in a featured role.

I’ll consider the three Apollos initially, then each performance in order.

Apollo

It takes a degree of chutzpah to present Apollo in the house that Balanchine built, and even more, to have three different dancers assay the lead role; and, as if that weren’t enough, to present an iteration of Apollo that Balanchine jettisoned in favor of the current version danced by New York City Ballet.

In almost every way, it was worth the effort.

The version that ABT presented here, with the “birth scene,” is as it was when ABT first presented it in 1943 (Apollo premiered with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1928). This was the version I saw when I first saw Apollo with NYCB in the early 1970s (or essentially similar to it – there have been a number of modified versions over time). Although there are positive things to be said about the streamlined version now presented by NYCB, I prefer the ABT version in terms of thematic content. In the current NYCB version the story is distilled to its essence, with characterization by the four featured dancers (Apollo and the three muses) as well-developed as in the earlier incarnation(s). But the ABT version makes the story far more clear without unnecessary padding, adding depth to the dance as a whole – as well as three more characters (Apollo’s mother, Leto, who gives birth to him, and two attendants) and a stylized Mt. Olympus. The loss in ABT’s iteration is the knock-out final image of Apollo and his muses forming an image of the sun, which replaced the final image of Apollo leading the muses up Mt. Olympus in this ABT version. [The “sun” image is in the ABT version also, but not emphasized and consequently not as powerful a statement.]

Stella Abrera and Joo Won Ahn
in George Balanchine’s “Apollo”
© The George Balanchine Trust
Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

Soloist Joo Wan Ahn’s Apollo was the first of the three Apollos I saw, on October 18. Ahn is a superb classical dancer, and his execution here was impeccable. I saw nothing, technically, to fault. Every gesture was tight and controlled where it needed to be, and vigorous when appropriate. It was a stellar first effort- or any effort. But something was missing. While a god is supposed to be perfect, even a nascent one, this dance is about emotional growth, not perfection – the maturity by learning from, responding to, and acquiring those qualities of insight, beauty, and artistic vision that makes humans more human and gods more … human. As fine as Ahn’s portrayal was, it was emotionally uniform throughout. I didn’t see the response, the fire, the recognition of “getting it,” or the maturing. But it must be acknowledged that in a debut performance, it’s natural to focus on getting it technically right. Ahn did.

Calvin Royal III
in George Balanchine’s “Apollo”
© The George Balanchine Trust
Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

Calvin Royal III debuted in the role the following afternoon, and delivered a markedly different portrayal. While not as technically polished as Ahn’s, it was far less restrained. There was nothing technically wrong with the performance, it just lacked the patina of perfection I’d seen the previous night. But Royal’s characterization took the role to another level. It was animated, alive; clearly maturing from youthful vigor to a god ready to act like one. When I first saw Royal dance with ABT, I remarked at how long his arms appeared to be, and that they’d likely facilitate his partnering ability. That’s proven true. Here, those arms serve another purpose – to emphasize his youthfulness at the dance’s outset (later on, they’re not as noticeable). In a lot of ways, Royal’s performance brought to mind that of The Mariinsky’s Xander Parrish a year earlier (at City Center’s Balanchine Celebration). Initially, I thought Parrish’s portrayal was too loose, too flyaway; but eventually I grew to appreciate how he directed his lankiness as evidence of youthfulness. Royal did the same. The one quality that Royal’s portrayal lacked, at least at the outset, was a sense of nobility – but it grew on him. Of the three I saw, his was my preference.

Herman Cornejo
in George Balanchine’s “Apollo”
© The George Balanchine Trust
Photo by Kyle Froman

Apollo returned as the opening piece on Cornejo’s 20th Anniversary program on the evening of the 26th, and Cornejo’s portrayal added an ingredient that the other two Apollos lacked: power – perhaps in overabundance. While not as youthful as Royal (and to my eye far too self-absorbed than noble at the beginning – though some might consider those qualities opposite sides of the same coin), Cornejo’s diminutive height, at least compared to Ahn and Royal, compensated for it. From my position (at a greater distance from the stage than the other two), it appeared that he was forcing it a bit, but that might be a product of the angle of my observation. It was the kind of well-balanced performance that comes with considerable experience. But there’s a downside to this power also – at no time did I think Cornejo’s Apollo needed to learn anything from anyone. Which, as it turned out, was probably a good thing.

While the character of Apollo is the dance’s centerpiece, neither he, nor the dance, can be as transcendent as it needs to be without Apollo’s three muses – and particularly Terpsichore. Ahn’s Apollo was enhanced by his muses, as was Royal’s. Cornejo’s Terpsichore, who’s supposed to teach him not just how to dance but to instill the spirit, the joy, of dance, would have impelled a young Apollo to run the other way.

Stella Abrera, Katherine Williams, and Melanie Hamrick were Ahn’s muses (Terpsichore, Polyhymnia, and Calliope respectively). Each did fine work, with Williams’s Polyhymnia particularly robust and fully-developed, providing a depth of character that Polyhymnia portrayals usually lack. Abrera’s Terpsichore compensated for the emotion that I felt was lacking in Ahn’s Apollo. In addition to handling the choreography perfectly, which one would expect, hers was the most “alive” of the three I saw. Abrera’s Terpsichore was not just a muse of the dance, she was a muse of light whose broad (but not overbearing) smile would convince a god that hers was the path to follow. Seo’s Terpsichore was equally proficient with Balanchine’s choreography. But in addition to a pleasant demeanor (though not as effusive as Abrera’s), Seo communicated a sense of compassion and serenity – exactly what Royal’s Apollo needed to balance his portrayal. [Zhong-Jing Fang and Shevchenko were her complementary Calliope and Polyhymnia.]

Hee Seo in Jessica Lang’s “Garden Blue”
Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

At the final of the three Apollo performances, the muses were Cassandra Trenary (Calliope), Brandt (Polyhymnia) and Misty Copeland (Terpsichore). Trenary and Brandt did fine work, with Brandt adding a degree of exuberance, a youthful glow, to her portrayal. Copeland’s Terpsichore was another matter. From my vantage point, her execution was successfully done. Though my preference is for Terpsichores who are more airy and filigree, the role doesn’t requires it. She did the choreography. But the demeanor was another matter. I’ve seen Terpsichores who maintain a fairly constant expressive attitude throughout, or who are serious through the pas de deux, and then moderate to a smile. Copeland’s Terpsichore appeared to display a grimace throughout – if it moderated at all following the pas de deux, it was to a terse demeanor signaling nothing at all beyond that. At no time did I see this Terpsichore smile even a little, and consequently this Terpsichore turned what should have been an enlivening, compelling performance overall into one that was decidedly not pleasant, and it made one wonder what it was that this Apollo saw in this Terpsichore. But then, as noted, Cornejo’s Apollo didn’t really need the help.

Among the three performances I saw two Letos (Virginia Lensi and Isadora Loyola), both of whom writhed in birth-pain convincingly – though Lensi seemed a bit young to be Apollo’s mother (but this is mythology, so why not?); and three sets of Attendants (Emily Hayes and Remy Young, Fangqi Li and Xuelan Lu, and Lea Fleytoux and Anabel Katsnelson), whose presence made the ballet as a story more complete.

October 18 and 19 afternoon

The programs from the above dates were identical, which allowed me to view different casts.

Following Apollo on each program came the final piece that Clark Tippet choreographed for ABT. Some Assembly Required is a pas de deux with a difference; strange, but quite miraculous. The difference: this couple is not an idealized version of a romantic couple, even with some manufactured conflict added for dramatic effect. This couple is more complicated than most ballet romantic couples: they survive together because underneath the bluster and power-playing and button-pushing is a relationship that is what it is, and, as the ballet’s title implies, some assembly is required to get it to work.

I remember Tippet very well as an ABT dancer, but had not previously seen his choreography. That is my loss – here he displays unusual command and musicality, coupled with a sense of visual surprise that carries what might be an ordinary or merely good romantic pas de deux to a different dimension.

The piece was reportedly modeled on the relationship between the dancers on whom he created the ballet, Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner, who were then (and still are) married. Without the relationship they had, the piece takes a somewhat different meaning, even though the choreography is the same (the new casts were taught their roles by McKerrow and Gardner) – particularly with respect to Gardner’s role. Both Stearns on Friday and Zhurbin on Saturday afternoon looked … disheveled. I’d say blue collar, but that would be insulting to blue collar workers. It was not just their costume (“tank-top” sleeveless T-shirts, pants similar to sweat pants that looked like they hadn’t been washed – or off – for months), but their attitude: both appeared to be have just survived a hard day of plumbing or had just rolled out of bed; not drunk, but not awake either. I thought of Sluggo, from the old Nancy comic strip, crossed with Ed Norton from “The Honeymooners”: mothing like the guy you might expect a young girl costumed like Lane and Brandt to be with – their costume is a cute print dress that made them look maybe 16. Well, maybe 18. In the ‘60s.

So the pair emerge from the upstage darkness and saunter midstage, where the pas de deux begins. Sort of. The dance is essentially two different dances spliced together. In the first half, the woman is the aggressor (remember – this was created in 1989, when that might have been seen as unusual). He falls to the stage floor, either half asleep or in a half stupor, or just doesn’t want to be bothered, and she tries to get him to respond. It’s not ‘come on, honey, wake up’; more like ‘hey bozo, you’ve got a hot girl on top of you – do something’. I could be wrong, but although there are a lot of positions that could be interpreted as sexual, I didn’t sense that as the dominant purpose of the rapid positioning changes (which fit the score (Second Sonata for Violin and Piano, by William Bolcom) perfectly. Rather, it was to get him to do … something. Call it the taming of the sloth. Occasionally he’d turn the tables, but mostly, it seemed, to get her off him.

Then suddenly, in “Act 2,” the musical tone, the couples’ temperament and the nature of the dance relationship changes to a romantic pas de deux that’s both gorgeous and thrilling to watch. Think the central pas de deux in Sir Antony Tudor’s The Leaves Are Fading, but much more physical, with the two in sync through a panoply of lifts and swirls not for the feint of heart. And then, when it ends, the pair saunter back upstage from whence they came, now sporting similar attitudes.

Sarah Lane and Cory Stearns
in Clark Tippet’s
“Some Assembly Required”
Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

I suspect that the above description might make this dance seem uninviting; maybe a little annoying. But although the first moments might indeed have been disconcerting, the rest of it isn’t, and the flow within and between what I’ve described as the ballets two segments flows seamlessly. The angular, highly physical and unusually arresting first part is sort of shocking, but it works – and the equally physical and unusually arresting second part is its match, but in a different emotional context. By contrast, there are many pas de deux in which the couples fight, love each other, fight again, separate, come together, etc. in various permutations, and though the choreography may be satisfactory, the reason behind the emotional disconnects are not clear, and the mood changes seem, at best, inexplicable. Here the reason for the change of mood doesn’t really matter as much as the choreography and the execution – you stop wondering why this is happening fairly quickly. And contrary to the pas de deux in Tudor’s piece, at least when seen in context, there’s no sense of recognition that this is a relationship that will last, because here the commitment was already made: here it’s an effort to make that commitment work.

Both couples handled the choreography quite well, but the difference wasn’t so much in execution as attitude and, frankly, casting. Although there was nothing wrong with their execution, Brandt and Zhurbin seemed a mismatch as much by apparent age as by the different attitude embedded in the choreography. The consequence was that I found it difficult to believe that this pair would be in this position – of trying to get used to each other – in the first place. Having said that, I recognize that the very difference in their apparent ages makes the attitude differences between them more explicable if one takes the relationship as a given, but I couldn’t. By contrast, Lane and Stearns seemed to fit better together visually, and Lane made an apparent effort to show that she was every bit as strong-willed and hard-boiled as Stearns’s character was, believably acting as if she too was from the wrong side of the tracks (but that dress …). Here, the dramatic position changes and aggression in Act I didn’t leave one scratching one’s head. As much as I enjoyed watching Brandt and Zhurbin execute the “romantic” part of the pas de deux flawlessly, Lane and Stearns made it more real. They nailed it.

Catherine Hurlin and Aran Bell
in Jessica Lang’s
“Let Me Sing Forevermore”
Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

Also nailing it were Hurlin and Bell in the piece that followed, Jessica Lang’s Let Me Sing Forevermore. What makes this piece is the accompanying music – songs sung by Tony Bennett. It’s difficult to make any choreography to that music look bad. While Lang’s choreography isn’t particularly inventive (as opposed to Tippet’s in the previous piece), Let Me Sing Forevermore doesn’t require inventive movement: anything serviceable would probably work well, and this was far better than “serviceable.” Watching this couple execute this choreography to this music made me, and the rest of the audience (and, from what I’d heard, the audience at the season’s opening night gala two nights earlier) fairly burst. Sometimes a stage partnership can be magical: this one is. [Magic, part two, is discussed below in the context of Whiteside’s New American Dream.] And the fact that the music might have been two or three musical generations older than the dancers didn’t matter – this was a couple using the sense of the music to look forward, not back.

The next day, Isabella Boylston and Whiteside assumed these roles, and the difference was significant – not so much in execution, which they did well too, but in attitude. Here Bennett’s music seemed to find dancers who fit it, who persevered as Bennett’s music has. This has something to recommend it: for one thing, Whiteside’s execution of the seemingly senseless (in this context) first pumping in the air as the dance concluded made sense in terms of the dancers’ perseverance as well – with Bell, it seemed out of place. But the excited level of youthful freshness that pushed Bennett’s music toward them that Hurlin and Bell provided wasn’t there. Having seen it the previous night, its absence was disappointing.

Christine Shevchenko
in Twyla Tharp’s “Deuce Coupe”
Photo by Gene Schiavone

Both programs concluded with repeat performances of Twyla Tharp’s Deuce Coupe. When ABT revived it last spring, I felt that the piece, although still entertaining, was beginning to show its age. This time around, I didn’t sense that at all – it looks every bit as inventive and imaginative and interesting as I remember it with The Joffrey. Maybe it’s the smaller DHK Theater stage. Shevchenko was “the ballerina” in Friday’s performance, and her execution was top notch. But I found her more pervasive smile to be somewhat disconcerting. I don’t recall her character having that demeanor practically from the outset. I preferred Williams’s gradual evolution. The entire cast on both nights executed brilliantly, but Hoven’s astonishing character explosion came out of left field, and he hit it out of the park. [Yes, I know those metaphors don’t exactly fit together, but it was still baseball season, so save your emails.]

October 19 evening

Theme and Variations is the ballet that converted me from tolerating Balanchine to recognizing his genius. I saw it danced many times in the 1970s, all by ABT (for which it was originally choreographed), and was blown away by the ‘themes and variations’ that Balanchine choreographically embedded into Tchaikovsky’s themes and variations – and suddenly recognizing these variations it in the promenade toward the end of the pas de deux forever changed the way I looked at a piece of choreography. I particularly recall performances by Gelsey Kirkland and the late Rebecca Wright (the latter following her Swanilda in that afternoon’s Coppelia, which I remember thinking at the time was a particularly extraordinary physical accomplishment).

Sarah Lane and Joseph Gorak
in George Balanchine’s
“Theme and Variations”
© The George Balanchine Trust
Photo by Gene Schiavone.

Since then, I’ve seen Theme many times performed by NYCB, as the final movement in Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3, and continued to find it, on its own and within the greater context, to be extraordinary. But it’s also demanding on the dancers, and particularly the two leads. Lane has danced this role previously, and her performance here on Saturday evening was as strong as I’d recalled from prior performances. She’s one of the company’s most crystalline classical dancers. Her partner, Joseph Gorak did credible work throughout, but seemed a bit apprehensive – likely arising from his debut in the role two nights earlier.

I saw that performance as well, but never expected to review the program since I had to leave early, and it was problematic in many ways. Whatever the reason, Gorak had difficulty partnering Lane (from my vantage point, tilting her at an angle as turns began), in his solo (particularly traveling through his entrechats), and most egregiously, and inexplicably, being unable to lift her atop his shoulder when the dance ended. Chalk it up to nerves. Saturday evening was far better.

However, even more disastrous to that Thursday performance was the slow and meandering pace of the orchestra. Granted NYCB’s pace is far faster, and that’s my preference now. But the conducting Thursday was at a snail’s pace, leaving ridiculously long “dead spots” between choreographic passages, and changing the pacing of sentences within the musical paragraphs – which might be great for a concert, but not for a dance. I’ve rarely wanted to throw tomatoes, but I was tempted here (had I had a stash of tomatoes). I never found Tchaikovsky’s music boring, but I did then. As good as Lane’s performance was on Thursday, the overall negative impact of the conducting was incalculable.

Something must have happened between Thursday and Saturday: the pace was faster (not NYCB, but at least comparable to what I’d heard at ABT performances previously), and the quality of the entire performance improved with it.

Herman Cornejo
in Twyla Tharp’s “A Gathering of Ghosts”
Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

A Gathering of Ghosts, Tharp’s piece created for Cornejo (and danced at his 20th Anniversary performance on the 26th as well) is, at best, bizarre. After seeing it twice, I still haven’t the vaguest idea what was supposed to be happening here. The title must have a meaning, but I couldn’t tell whose “ghosts” these characters were supposed to be: Cornejo’s, ballet’s, Tharp’s? Nothing fit. The dance’s many characters are identified, but while their presence in some cases might make sense (Louis XIV, danced by Hoven, costumed in a dress, and maybe Marie Antoinette danced by Stephanie Williams and Mme. de Staël, danced by Bell), in other cases they made no sense at all (e.g., Murasaki, a female character in the Japanese story Tale of the Genji – or maybe that work’s anonymous author, also female, who is known by the same name – played by Joo Won Ahn, not wearing a dress; Irene, unidentified – possibly the title character in a play by Voltaire, and Proust). I suppose if I tried hard enough I could find some common denominator among them all beyond each being in some way connected with Western and Eastern civilization, but why bother? The result is that all these characters are non sequitors.

And then there are four “consorts” (Luciana Paris, Zimmi Coker, Brandt and Trenary). Cornejo (the dance’s designated “Host”) dances with the “ghosts,” then with the “consorts,” then the two groups together. After a brief choreographic explosion from Cornejo, the piece ends.

Ok, forget the characters. Assume they’re just names assigned for no particular reason, and focus on the dance. Doing so makes the piece more palatable, because any choreography by Tharp is both quirky and superb by definition, but nothing beyond Cornejo’s presence holds this dance together – although his costume changes in the closing segment of the piece (choreographed to Brahms’s String Quartet in G Major, Op. 111) to a cape – or maybe a ceremonial skirt – makes things more confusing just when you thought you’d gotten beyond that.

Perhaps in some undisclosed way these characters relate to Cornejo, maybe as characters who inspire him to dance (and then become “stars in the sky” – lights held by dancers, a la the closing moments in Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – as Cornejo’s presence becomes the center of his dance universe. Regardless, the dance is intended as a tribute to Cornejo, and maybe it was a piece d’occasion that will not resurface.

The program concluded with Alexei Ratmansky’s The Seasons, which was previously reviewed during ABT’s Met 2019 season. Noteworthy, however, was Coker as “The Rose” in the “Spring” segment (and others), whose vivacity helped energize the dance as a whole.

October 25

The hype about Whiteside’s New American Romance is right. It’s a wonderful dance. Frankly, I’m not sure what makes the piece, which premiered at this past summer’s Vail Festival, particularly “new” or “American” or a “romance” (I suspect repeat exposures will make that clear), but I don’t much care. Choreographed to Debussy’s Bergamasque, New American Romance is an unexpected delight.

Catherine Hurlin and Aran Bell
in James Whiteside’s
“New American Romance”
Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

The choreography overall is at a very high level, and each of the ballet’s four movements is presented and executed brilliantly (particularly Movement 3, which features Devon Teuscher, Ahn and Royal in an interesting and surprisingly sensitive pas de trois that includes reference to changing sexual preferences), but the dance’s highlight came earlier. In Movement 1, Hurlin and Bell dance a knockout romantic pas de deux that is far more physical than any “standard” romantic pas de deux, and in which Hurlin’s character may be seen as being more romantically aggressive than Bell’s (though in both respects very different from the Tippet piece). [And between Movement 1 and Movement 3, I suppose the description “new American romance” fits.] Some of the choreography for them is visually extraordinary, and breathtaking (as in heart-pumping) – especially when Hurlin slides across and down Bell’s body like Christmas lights on a tree. The dance also featured K. Williams, S. Williams, and Loyola. It can’t return soon enough to ABT’s repertory (and hopefully will during its next Fall season) – and how often have I made that sort of comment?

Skylar Brandt and Blaine Hoven
in Jessica Lang’s “Garden Blue”
Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

I missed Jessica Lang’s Garden Blue when it premiered during ABT’s Fall 2018 season, but had a chance to catch up with it in this program. It appears to be venued in some garden on another planet, with a blue and green atmosphere and rocks providing borders and hiding places (including one that looked like something Isamu Noguchi might have created for Martha Graham, except it has no weight). The dancers are either plants, or planet natives who tender to them (or both). Strange as it is, it’s not bad. At times the dancers look like multicolor peas in a pod, and the sleek costumes by Sarah Crowner (who also designed the set) make it visually appealing. Hee Seo did fine work as the apparent leader of the pack (taking a cue from one of the characters in The Seasons, I dubbed her character “the spirit of the fertilizer”), but the dance’s highlight was the pas de deux with Brandt and Hoven. Wearing sleek purple unitards that made them look like purple people (as in Avatar’s “blue people,” not some purple people eater with one eye and one horn, although they did fly around the stage). [Ah…memories.] I got the impression that Brandt and Hoven were supposed to be purple teenagers in love trying to avoid being seen by their elders. Although this pas de deux was delightful to watch, the choreography – to Movements 1, 2, and 3 of Dvorak’s Piano Trio No. 4 in E Minor (Dumky) – overall wasn’t exceptional here (and there’s too much posing, as if some were indeed supposed to be plants, but plants that eventually move), but it didn’t need to be. The visual impact alone was stunning. Brittany DeGrofft (who appears to be ready to assume more featured roles), Thomas Forster, Hurlin and Bell completed the cast.

It’s not easy crafting a ballet around folk tunes, especially tunes that are unfamiliar. While there have been many such dances, the one that immediately comes to mind is Eliot Feld’s A Footstep of Air, choreographed to Irish and Scottish folk tunes, which I saw at or soon after its premiere in 1977. I recall enjoying parts of it, but thinking that it all didn’t quite all come together. Gemma Bond attempts to craft such a ballet with her latest piece for ABT, A Time There Was (which premiered a couple of nights earlier, with a slightly different cast), and achieves a similar result. In addition to the lack of familiarity with the tunes (which are English), the ballet’s title conjures Simon and Garfunkel, but doesn’t (and wasn’t intended to) deliver that connection – although, with some lack of clarity, it does deal with memories.

Bond, who retired from ABT last season, has been choreographing for a long time, but this is her first piece for her former company. The dance is choreographed to Benjamin Britten’s Suite on English Folk Tunes and Variations of a Theme by Frank Bridge, and takes its title from Before Life and After, a poem by Thomas Hardy. But despite all this inspirational background and being an obvious labor of love, the whole (with two exceptions) doesn’t gel as either particularly atmospheric or as a series of folk-song illuminations. Perhaps a second view will reveal what I couldn’t see on first exposure.

The exceptions within the six-part dance are those that, to me, had the most obvious connection with the music and/or a particular ambiance. The fourth segment, “Hunt the Squirrel,” is great fun, as Anabel Katsnelson and Luis Ribagorda appear to be thoroughly enjoying their time together until they get interrupted by this peripatetic and distracting squired (Breanne Granlund). The other, the dance’s concluding pas de deux (titled “Fugue and Finale”) is in a completely different vein, and provides the “memory” ambiance that the other segments lacked. While it doesn’t tell a story per se, other than being in the context of a relationship, the dance is exquisitely crafted, and was equally exquisitely danced by Lane and Hoven. Without signaling that this pas de deux is a look back, it is so lush and atmospheric, so wistfully passionate, that it takes one’s breath away. I can’t quite say that it pulled the entire ballet together, but it gave it a context that was earlier lacking. The balance of the cast featured Seo and Forster, Jose Sebastian, Betsy McBride and Jonathan Klein, and Hayes and Luigi Crispino.

October 26, evening: Cornejo’s 20th Anniversary

It’s difficult to believe that Herman Cornejo has been with the company for 20 years; the time has passed so quickly. During this time, his artistry and flair, including his undeniable ability to thrill an audience with his bravura execution, has been a hallmark of his career.

The curtain call at the celebration of
Herman Cornejo’s 20th Anniversary
with American Ballet Theatre
Photo by Kyle Froman

Coming at the end of this Fall 2019 season, the celebration of his 20th Anniversary was, to me, a bit muted compared to others – although the audience erupted whenever he first appeared in a piece, and whenever he was given the opportunity to display the explosive solo fireworks that he does so well.

The dancing part of the evening began with Apollo, and concluded with A Gathering of Ghosts, both of which have already been discussed. For me, however, the evening’s highlight was a little piece called El Chamuyo, which he danced together with his sister, former ABT soloist and Boston Ballet principal Erica Cornejo. I recall Erica Cornejo well from her years with ABT, at one point observing that she “owned” the role of the cowgirl in Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo (and isn’t it time for ABT to return this dance to the active repertory?). She had the artistry, but she also had the heart.

As evidenced by El Chamuyo, she still does. To music by Francisco Canaro, the piece, a tango choreographed by Ana Maria Speckelman and first performed at a 1998 gala honoring Argentina, is short and fun to watch, and Cornejo and Cornejo bring out the best in each other. It was a fitting way to celebrate the occasion.

After A Gathering of Ghosts concluded, the celebration began. Greeted with flowers and applause by the company, the staff, and the audience, Cornejo (well, both of them) beamed.