American Ballet Theatre (ABT) opens its fall season in New York City this month. As part of its preparation, ABT appears at the Fisher Center of the Performing Arts to try out its legs on the repertory.
In years past, likely the visit was a helpful one. But typically Bard College audiences hardly notice a smudge on its showcases as ABT is one of the best, most professional ballet companies in the world. However, this year, it appears that the company really needs its early October runthrough at Bard, particularly of Antony Tudor’s “The Leaves are Fading” and somewhat with Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room.” Tudor’s piece especially looks unpolished, at least for ABT standards, and does not offer the scent of romance that the work can provoke.
Tudor’s dance for couples is a classic work. Set to Antonin Dvorak’s “Cypresses” and other pieces of his chamber music, conducted here by Ormsby Wilkins, the ballet hints of endings. A tree, with most of its leaves fallen or brown, hangs over the action. The dancers, wearing muted reds and greens, come and go as if taking a stroll through a park on a warm autumn day.
The magic in “The Leaves are Fading” are the couplings. Early on, they are bright and sunny, anxious for a touch. As the piece progresses, the pairings become more quiet and thoughtful. They demonstrate love that is mature or dimming.
The problem with ABT’s version is the corps de ballet dances to its individual rhythms, not as an ensemble. The dancers also do not appear to have their own intellectual back stories, thus there is little emotional connection between the couples.
Happily, that is not the case with principals Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes, the heart of the ballet. Their partnership is vivid in their embrace and enthusiasm for each other. It rolls out to the audience, sweeping up imaginations. Every time they rush to each other, “The Leaves are Fading” has a purpose. Without them, the ballet feels long and dull.
Tharp’s astounding “In the Upper Room,” to music by Philip Glass, is as arousing as ever. But like “The Leaves are Fading,” it looks under-rehearsed as the dancers nearly collide on a few occasions. This steamy super-energized ballet gets away with it as the dancers keep audiences alert with their animated jogging, kicking, running and turning. “In the Upper Room” is a memorable feast for the eyes.
Jose Limon’s “The Moor’s Pavane,” is perfection, however. A distillation of “Othello,” it plays out powerfully. The ballet is high drama, depicting a civilized court tainted by an underhanded obsession with destroying a friend. Roman Zhurbin as the Moor is devastatingly tense and distracted by his gossipy friend, danced with cool by Thomas Forster.
The delicate and petite Xiomara Reyes dances the Moor’s wife with a vulnerability that is gut-wrenching. Simone Messmer, as the Friend’s Wife, played the part of the loyal, but regretful spouse with soul.
“The Moor’s Pavane” is a marvelous vehicle for ABT. Though more than 60 years old, it is so masterfully composed that these talented dancers can unleash their abilities in a way that leaves its audience knocked out.