Chicago Dance Review: ABT’S ALL-AMERICAN CELEBRATION (Auditorium Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on October 4, 2014

in Theater-Chicago


Marking the 125th anniversary of Chicago’s glorious and historic Auditorium Theatre, American Ballet Theatre, which used to come here every season, is all too briefly making a rare, weekend-only return engagement. They come bearing great gifts: an All-American Celebration of the New York company’s best known works, signature pieces and calling cards that inevitably bring back happy memories.

American Ballet Theatre (ABT) ALL-AMERICAN CELEBRATION - poster

And, of course, that’s exactly what you want when you’re looking back to the advent of Adler and Sullivan’s 1889 architectural masterpiece, a jewel that initially saw the likes of Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Adelina Patti, Sarah Bernhardt, Booker T. Washington, Victor Herbert, John Philip Sousa, the Ziegfeld Follies, Mary Garden’s opera company, Franklin Roosevelt, Anna Pavlova–and now regularly hosts the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and, especially, the Joffrey Ballet.

And, through Sunday, the ABT is celebrating its 75th anniversary and bearing an all-American but not particularly patriotic program of blasts from two pasts—both the wonderful ensemble and the temple where they strut their stuff.

The ensemble in ABT’s BACH PARTITA by Twyla Tharp. Photo by Gene Schiavone.Opening the four-part offering and choreographed by Susan Jones is “Twirling” Twyla Tharp’s 1983 creation, Bach Partita, featuring a splendid violin solo by Charles Wang. Uncharacteristically disciplined and structured for the usually laid-back and funky Tharp, this five-part work showcases the entire ensemble en masse and in captivating duets. Precise variations on the very mathematical backdrop of Bach’s inventions, the dancers—in earth-toned leotards and gray dresses for the many females—resemble modern Maenads and human metronomes.

The ensemble of ABT’s BACH PARTITA by Twyla Tharp. Photo by Gene Schiavone.They effortlessly assume the assorted statuesque arabesques and stately movements with which Tharp in effect illustrates the notes. The Balanchine-like result is a surprisingly classical series of movements, both musical and physical. It showcases the considerable company, their élan, stamina, grace and non-negotiable attractiveness. A particular crowd favorite is Misty Copeland, whose slum-to-stage story had preceded her and guaranteed a much more inclusive audience than the ABT has drawn in the past.

The remaining works displayed romantic and amorous courtships with appropriately rhapsodic intensity.

Some Assembly Required is Clark Tippet’s mating ritual for adorable Sarah Lane and hunky-strong Sterling Baca. It’s alternately playful, passionate, and even mechanical as sex can seem—and as William Bolcom’s sonata dictates. It’s strangely nostalgic and sweetly simple. When these two young lovers walk forward and back in seemingly unwitnessed intimacy, you get the feeling they would dance this piece Misty Copeland and Herman Cornejo in ABT’s SINATRA SUITE by Twyla Tharp. Photo by Marty Sohl.whether there was an audience or not. As the title implies, their love isn’t quite up to full function. But the very hesitations and resistance are as engrossing as the sheer joy of dancing, a pleasure that these perfect performers displayed in leaps and lifts and smiles that could melt the famous proscenium’s very wrought iron.

Much more sophisticated and stylized and beautifully rendered by Copeland and Marcelo Gomes, Sinatra Suite is Tharp’s popular salute to ballroom dancing. Framed by a starry constellation, its five Sinatra standards chronicle a very elegant mating ritual. We move from the initial shyness of “Strangers in the Night” to the exuberance of “All the Way,” the almost smugly smooth satisfaction and then frenetic quarrel during “That’s Life,” then a separation which forces Gomes to reluctantly, then triumphantly, prove he did it “My Way.” Finally, there’s the rueful resignation of “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).” Old Blue Eyes continues to be the troubadour of our times. Tharp’s tale-telling Terpsichore and Stacy Caddell’s staging honor his brassy intimacy.

Herman Cornejo in ABT’s FANCY FREE by Jerome Robbins. Photo by Gene Schiavone.Finally, and most wonderful of all these enchanting labors of love, comes the evergreen courtship romp Fancy Free, composed by a very young Leonard Bernstein in 1944 (and ultimately inspiring his first triumph On The Town). Returning to another bar like the one that concludes Sinatra Suite, Jerome Robbins’ utterly delightful, contagiously jazzy, 70 years-young confection depicts three young and horny sailors on shore leave on a hot night in a side street of the Big Apple. Ripe and ready, the very comely dancers (Daniil Simkin, Eric Tamm, and James Whiteside) meet two (it should have been three, of course) local passers-by (Luciana Paris and Isabella Boylston) and partly pair off. As its still-young composer proves in every bar, the title makes perfect sense: This ballet is all about being young enough to perform this very ballet.

Craig Salstein, David Hallberg and Marcelo Gomes in ABT’s FANCY FREE by Jerome Robbins. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.Their movements faithfully shaped by Jean-Pierre Frohlich, the boys show off shamelessly and skillfully in testosterone-filled courtship displays that all but marinate in the dreamy longing of Bernstein’s supple score. Each gets a characteristically different show-off solo, displaying their athleticism, sensuality, eagerness to please, and acrobatic adoration. But, fueled by booze, their obstreperous hijinks scare off the dames. When blonde bombshell Lauren Post finally appears, they revert to form, running off with the patented abandon that makes this one of the happiest half hours in the story of steps. No evening could end on a higher note.

Happy anniversary, most beautiful theater in America!

photos by Rosalie O’Connor,
Polina Semionova and James Whiteside in BACH PARTITA by Twyla Tharp. Photo by Gene Schiavone.Gene Schiavone, and Marty Sohl

American Ballet Theatre (ABT)
All-American Celebration
Twyla Tharp:
“Bach Partita” and “Sinatra Suite”
Clark Tippet:
“Some Assembly Required”
Jerome Robbins:
“Fancy Free”
Auditorium Theatre, 50 E Congress Pkwy
scheduled to end on October 5, 2014
for tickets, call 800.982.2787
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