The dance-friendly scale of the David H. Koch Theater, the setting for American Ballet Theatre’s fall season at Lincoln Center, helps the troupe’s performances stand out in ways that the vast Metropolitan Opera House, where its longer spring-to-summer runs take place, can preclude. This outing, with various mixed bills of one-act works, as opposed to extended offerings of multi-act spectacles, includes a number of inspired showcases. These, in turn, find extra impact from some of ABT’s best dancers.
American Ballet Theatre
David H. Koch Theater
Through Oct. 30
Unfortunately, neither of the ballets new to ABT’s repertory suggests real staying power. Benjamin Millepied’s 2014 “Daphnis and Chloe,” created for the Paris Opera Ballet and performed to Maurice Ravel’s music of the same name, is the more agreeable of the two. With a handsome but essentially meaningless, large-scale geometric scenic design by conceptual artist Daniel Buren and dull, basic dancewear costuming by Holly Hynes, Mr. Millepied’s work treads a meandering line. His choreography here heeds the 1912 music’s often atmospheric dimensions with solo, duet and group dances that honor ballet’s familiar vocabulary, especially for the men, but his addressing of the love story between the title shepherd and shepherdess and their travails by means of mimetic touches can feel forced or extraneous.
Rewardingly, this modernist take on Ravel’s pastoral Greek “choreographic symphony” has some remarkable interpreters in ABT’s two casts. As Daphnis, Cory Stearns dances with lightness and classical ease, as if basking in Aegean sunshine, and he partners his Chloe, a somewhat one-dimensional Stella Abrera, with support as sure as it is musical; Mr. Millepied’s ballet touches on the “idyllic innocence” Ravel indicated for his score. In another cast, richly pliant and animated Isabella Boylston, opposite the more earthy Daphnis of Marcelo Gomes, hits striking heights all her own. In the end, however, this “Daphnis” has diminishing returns. The arbitrary rearrangements of Mr. Buren’s suspended set-pieces and the monotonously textured effects of Mr. Millepied’s choreography leave his ballet more prolix than poetic.
“Her Notes,” Jessica Lang’s choreographic suite, a world premiere for 10 dancers to five piano selections from Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s “Das Jahr” (1841), has an awkward fit for the six women and four men of the ABT’s hardworking cast. The modern-dance-based choreographer’s translucent, movable walls and her configured moves and postures seemed to constrain rather than reveal the dancers. Especially uneasy looking are some lifts for formidable Gillian Murphy and fearless Misty Copeland that look like nothing so much as maneuvers going wrong.
Happily, elsewhere in the season, some recently created works and others re-entering the repertory showed continued staying power and inspiration for the troupe’s current dancers.
Frederick Ashton’s 1946 “Symphonic Variations,” first given by ABT in 1992, was last offered in 2003. These fresh casts of three men and three women will need further familiarity with the work’s seemingly simple but strict and precise classical-ballet demands—the embodiment of César Franck’s like-named music—to fully shine. But crystalline, calm Devon Teuscher and lively Cassandra Trenary already have risen to the challenges of this spring-green work framed by Sophie Fedorovitch’s simple setting that here looks yellowed with age, willowy Calvin Royal III showed much of the required clarity and ease demanded of him.
Most remarkable of all in ABT’s current array of “Symphonic” dancers is Alban Lendorf, who hails from the Royal Danish Ballet and is performing his first season with the troupe since signing on as a principal dancer last year. Costumed here in what he has called “unforgiving” white, Mr. Lendorf executed his rigorous choreography as if born to it. Entering the action of “Symphonic Variations” after extended moments of statue-like immobility, he’s asked to travel and turn and pose with effortless control. All this Mr. Lendorf did with breathtaking aplomb. His deft dancing suggested he had moss underfoot, and when he spun through his spiraling turns he seemed to grow through the spin like a geyser.
Of stocky build, Mr. Lendorf transcends his physicality to reveal power without effort, stature without stiffness, and smiling radiance without grimacing. As partner to Ms. Boylston in Twyla Tharp’s majestic “The Brahms-Haydn Variations” (2000), the Dane negotiated the playfully classical aspects of the choreography’s challenges as if he and his partner were symbiotic mates who blended daredevil freedom and masterly schooling.
Mr. Lendorf is one of 14 men, seven per cast, in “Serenade After Plato’s Symposium,” new earlier this year from Alexei Ratmansky. All the current performers shine in this mostly male gathering to the Leonard Bernstein music that gives this ballet its title, with Mr. Lendorf especially impressive in the scherzo-like solo that sends him circuiting the stage with rushing energy and utmost clarity, his execution presenting a flurry of action that’s never blurred.
Mr. Ratmansky’s “Serenade” looks extra focused on the Koch’s warmly framed stage—a fitting place for ABT’s impressive roster of dancers, who will have further opportunities for finesse before the run’s end.
Mr. Greskovic writes about dance for the Journal.
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