On a picturesque Los Angeles summer evening, American Ballet Theatre (ABT) opened its 16th engagement at The Music Center at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with a mixed repertoire program. While the rest of the weekend’s performances would be Le Corsaire, the opening night mixed rep program included Alexei Ratmansky‘s Chamber Symphony and George Balanchine’s Apollo and Symphony in C. First on the program was Apollo, danced by Marcelo Gomes, Paloma Herrera, Devon Teuscher, and Melanie Hamrick, followed by Chamber Symphony and the larger Symphony in C, comprised of four different movements.
ABT has long been one of my favorite companies and, growing up, I had posters of both Julie Kent and Paloma Herrera hanging in my bedroom. So, it thrilled my little forever-a-bunhead heart that both ladies are still dancing with the company and performed on this program; Kent in Chamber Symphony and Herrera in Apollo.
As a, shall we say, ‘lapsed ballerina,’ when I agreed to attend this event for Dd it struck me with a sad pang how long it had been since I attended a live dance performance. Watching So You Think You Can Dance and Breaking Pointe is all well and good, but doesn’t count in the live dancing category. These shows really do their best to adapt a traditionally live art form for our television screens, but there is a certain level of removal that comes with sitting on a couch versus sitting in a theater seat. While it’s awesome they’re bringing a larger awareness to the dance world, there’s nothing more magical and immediate than seeing some of the best dancers in the world perform live.
Although dark in tone and story, Alexi Ratmansky’s Chamber Symphony was the strongest piece of the evening— Ratmansky is currently an artist-in- residence at ABT. Set to Dmitri Shostakovich‘s Chamber Symphony in C Minor, the piece is part of the larger Shostakovich Trilogy, which was recently performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in June and written about by Candice.
In contrast to Apollo, which featured no set decorations except for a staircase with a platform at the top, the curtain opened on Chamber to reveal giant, modern-looking mesh sculptures of statuesque heads. The scenery, designed by George Tsypin and based on a painting by Pavel Filonov, set a somber yet grandiose tone to the piece. Ratmansky’s choreography was complex and busy in a very interesting way. His choreography often split the corps de ballets into different, smaller groups, who occupied the stage at the same time but were given completely different movements.
Their movements seemed as if they were building on one another, answering one another and competing with each other. The varied, simultaneous movements combined to make a busy, enigmatic whole.
Chamber was a perfect example of why live dance will forever be important: it’s hard to imagine the complexity and emotional resonance of this piece ever translating into a camera lens for film or television. The chaos of the movements would be at best muted, or at worst totally, lost.
The tormented male lead was danced by James Whiteside, with Isabella Boylston, Yuriko Kajiya, and Julie Kent as the soloists playing, flirting, and tempting him—the playful flirtations and movements of these three ladies even elicited some laughter from the audience. Ultimately, he stood alone and the piece ended on a dark note. With watercolor like costumes designed by Keso Dekker, the piece overall was a haunting mix of beauty and pathos.
Rounding out the night was Symphony in C, utilizing a large portion of the company dancers. With their stark white tutus and energetic movements, Symphony in C was Balanchine repertoire at its finest. Large companies like ABT are necessary to keep pieces like Symphony alive and not just relegated to dance history. Such a large scale, classical piece will most likely never find its way onto any sort of commercial dance program, and maybe it never should. A camera lens can’t capture the overwhelming feeling of watching 30 plus corps de ballets members in perfect synchronization. A grandiose piece in both the choreography and the sheer amount of dancers, Symphony in C was the perfect way to end the evening.
The completely packed Dorothy Chandler Pavilion went wild and jumped to their feet as the company finished its final curtain call.
In a city completely overrun by the film and television industry, it was such a treat to spend a Thursday evening in an audience of Angelenos who appreciate the magic of live performance and the artistry of these amazing dancers.