Posts Tagged ‘Frederick Ashton’

Mark Morris’s Pleasant Ballet for ABT

Monday, November 9th, 2015

By Rachel Straus

Mark Morris’s After You, a new commission from American Ballet Theatre, is textbook pleasant and thus a convenient opener for a company wishing to present a thirty-minute ensemble work. Performed by 12 dancers and set to a composition by Johann Hummel (Septet in C-major, Op.114 “The Military”), the ballet’s title, After You, refers to what is said when two people nearly collide. One person gives permission for the other to take the lead. Thus the ballet, seen October 27 at the former New York State Theater, evokes an abnormally civilized world of dance—especially for Morris, who has been celebrated for making ballets to classical music that dabble in physicalized human faux pas. Nothing of this sort is seen in the three sections—titled Allegro con brio, Adagio and and Menuetto. In Isaac Mizrahi’s unisex style silk pajamas in fuchsia and tangerine orange, the ensemble carries out ballet steps in suspiciously peaceful harmony with each other. Hummel’s music, under the baton of David LaMarche, supported this mood in its grinningly bright orchestration.


Arron Scott, Stella Abrera and Calvin Royal III in After You. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor.

Arron Scott, Stella Abrera and Calvin Royal III in After You. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor.

Despite the polished performances of principals Stella Abrera and Gillian Murphy (as well as that of winningly confident corps dancer Calvin Royal III), the ballet as a whole made me think that Morris was making fun of ballet. And he said as much at N.Y.U.’s Center for Ballet and the Arts, the day of the work’s premiere (October 20). “I’ll do anything for money,” Morris joyfully admitted in reference to his commission by ABT to a standing room audience event, which was held to launch Dr. Stephanie Jordan’s Mark Morris: Musician – Choreographer (Dance Books). At N.Y.U., Morris added that while his dancers can do anything, ballet dancers are limited (they have trouble walking like normal people and they dramatically emote, which he despises). Of course, this is not the first time that Morris has made fun of ballet dancers. But I nonetheless had to wonder why ballet companies continue to commission him to choreograph, when in return he flips them the bird. The only answer I have is that Morris delivers the kind of conservative fair that colludes with the current conservative ethos of American Ballet Theatre. Jennifer Homans, who directs N.Y.U.’s Center for Ballet, calls today’s ballet companies “big business.” Perhaps ABT needs to commission works that are risk adverse.


From left, Cory Stearns, Veronika Part and Thomas Forster in the company premiere of “Mono-tones I and II.”

From left, Cory Stearns, Veronika Part and Thomas Forster in the company premiere of “Mono-tones I and II.”

Also in the program was ABT’s premiere of Frederick Ashton’s ground-breaking Monotones I and II, created for The Royal Ballet in 1965 and 1966, respectively. Ashton’s ballet is inhabited by three dancers (in each section), who perform only slow, unfolding movement. The work becomes daring for its hushed quality (no “ta da” moments, no multiple pirouettes). Ashton once explained that his ballet was inspired by space travel. Set to Satie’s titular score (originally orchestrated by Debussy), the music of Monotones suggests time lapses through the pregnant pauses that float throughout the score. With matching caps, the dancers appear in sleek unitards (lime color and then white). Originally designed by Ashton, these costumes help render the dancers into heavenly bodies. Their supported adagio work brings to mind the movement of comets drawing the night sky in parabolic splendor. In the second section, Veronika Part dances most of the ballet on pointe, thereby transforming into a white rocket pointing to the sky. Her two partners (Thomas Forster and Cory Stearns) look as though they are preparing her for lift off by burnishing her limbs with theirs. These are not men and women, Ashton suggests, but forces; their technical elegance ensures seamless orbit in zero gravity.


The last ballet on the program, Kurt Jooss’s Green Table (1932) can also be said to be radical because it is about war. Despite the United States’ continual of fighting wars since 2001, it seems odd that no ballet companies have chosen to tackle this looming subject. Of course, it’s a risky subject. War does not beget happy endings. This fact is clearly presented in Jooss’s ballet, whose subtitle is a Dance of Death in Eight Scenes. Dancing the character Death, the virile Marcelo Gomes shows that no scythe is needed to kill. The musculature of his legs and arms, further emphasized by a gladiatorial costume that emphasizes the bulk of his quadriceps and pectoral muscles, is weapon enough. The work is not so much a kinesthetic dance experience as a set of stark tableaux. It’s eye-widening to see how much war’s violence can be communicated with so little movement.


Wanted: Artistic Director of a Ballet Company

Monday, September 21st, 2015

By Rachel Straus

Two mid-size ballet companies in North America are in search of artistic directors. Gradimir Pankov is leaving his post at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens of Montreal after 15 years. John McFall is departing Atlanta Ballet after 20 years. In comparison to the majority of the 140-odd ballet troupes across the North American continent, which have minimal seasons and only a handful of dancers, Les Grands and Atlanta employ between 20 and 30 dancers and commission in-demand choreographers for their seasons and tours. So, what is required to helm a mid-size ballet company? Les Grands recently posted the following criteria for their artistic director search:

  1. “It is important that the AD leads the company by working in the studio, as a teacher, coach, repetiteur, or choreographer.”
  2. “The AD reports directly to the Board and is responsible for the company’s look, repertoire, choreography, programming, and is an artistic leader.”
  3. “[The AD has] a mind to fiscal responsibility, and a vision that includes the community’s desire for entertainment [and] artistic achievement.”
  4. “[The AD should have] a reputation for artistic quality and the contacts and ability to bring the world’s greatest contemporary choreographer’s work to the repertoire of the Company.”

It seems, if one takes the Les Grands advert as more than wishful thinking, the search committee wants the AD to do everything in the studio, know everyone in the ballet world, and have a head for business. Does such a wunderkind currently exist?

Loudes Lopez, a former principal dancer with New York City Ballet, is perhaps the only person who fits the bill. She became the AD of Miami City Ballet in 2012, after serving for five years as the executive director of Morphoses. She kept this company afloat, even after its founder, the choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, jumped ship in 2010. Lopez achieved this feat by inviting guest choreographers to direct separate seasons and by keeping her wary board close. Prior to her work with Wheeldon, Lopez served as the executive director of the George Balanchine Foundation, which is concerned with educational outreach. As a New York City Ballet dancer for approximately 24 years, Lopez developed an intimate understanding of George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins’ repertory, having performed their works while both choreographers were alive. Lopez is a particularly marvelous fit for Miami City Ballet because she was born in Cuba. She is able to fundraise in her native tongue and in a city, known as the gateway to Latin America.

While Lopez appears to be the dream AD, other recent AD hires reveal the more typical profile of a former principal dancer turned ballet master in chief. Take Madrid-born Angel Corella, who danced for American Ballet Theatre. He was hired by Pennsylvania Ballet in 2014. Because of various circumstances, he did not come with impressive executive credentials. After retiring from the stage, Corella returned to his native Spain and attempted to create a ballet company, first in the Castile and León region and then in Barcelona. Corella didn’t have experience fundraising and the Spaniards, especially in the wake of the financial crisis, vacillated about, and then declined to back his ballet company.

Then there is the Cuban-born José Manuel Carreño, another star of American Ballet Theater, who became the AD of Sarasota Ballet in 2011, upon his official retirement from the stage. He is now the head of Silicon Valley Ballet (formerly Ballet San Jose). Like Corella, he came to his first job with scant training in fiscal management, fundraising, or marketing experience.

It will be interesting to see who Les Grands and Atlanta Ballet will hire. In the recent past artistic directors of renowned ballet companies used to be choreographers, such as George Balanchine at New York City Ballet, Frederick Ashton at Royal Ballet and John Cranko at Stuttgart Ballet.  Thus their companies had unique artistic profiles. These days ballet companies are in the odd business of performing the same repertory as their fellow troupes. It makes for a homogenized ballet world. My hope is that Atlanta and Les Grands will hire a choreographer, one who puts a real stamp on the artistic “product” of their company. Perhaps this new AD will also be a woman. That would be doubly groundbreaking.