Dance Review: ABT FORWARD (The American Ballet Theater at Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa)

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by Tony Frankel on March 18, 2022

in Dance,Theater-Los Angeles

WITH TWO WINNERS OUT OF THREE WORKS,
ABT’S PROGRAM STILL SOARS AT SEGERSTROM

Bursting with happiness, joy and beauty, The American Ballet Theater opened its program last night at Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa. The opening number, Bernstein in a Bubble, was set to Leonard Bernstein’s rarely performed Divertimento (1980) — eight bagatelles, mostly running from one to two minutes apiece — and here played live by the sumptuous Pacific Orchestra led by the dynamic Ormsby Wilkins.  Created by that ever-busy Alexei Ratmansky, ABT’s Artist in Residence, seven exquisite dancers (Skylar Brandt, Catherine Hurlin, Cassandra Trenary, Aran Bell, Patrick Frenette, Blaine Hoven, and Tyler Maloney) — solo and partnered — retreat and re-appear, lit by Brad Field with ebony backgrounds and glorious changing beams of light, which filled Segerstrom Hall perfectly. Clad in Moritz Junge‘s differently sized leotards of bright hues, the movement was an animated party. Indeed, this celebration of ballet and jazzy whimsical posing was so delicious, it was a shame that it lasted only sixteen minutes. Brandt, in hot-pink and orange, had a terrific moment in which — flanked by Frenette, who seems to have the most amazing thighs in ballet today, and Maloney — she twirled like a top. The scope of talent involved was thoroughly stunning, and it was a relief to simply enjoy inventive dancemaking without having to wonder what is going on up there.

Catherine Hurlin and Aran Bell in Bernstein in a Bubble. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

The final dance was the clear audience favorite of the night. With 10 Tony Bennett songs (one with Lady Gaga) as a springboard, Jessica Lang‘s ZigZag accomplished just that — zippy zigzagging (Bennett’s philosophy: When everybody zigs, we zag!). Even Derek McLane’s set is emboldened with  zigzags like Charlie Brown’s shirt. With Wes Gordon and Carolina Herrera’s adorable costumes — especially the 50s’-styled Technicolor dresses for the women and polka-dotted poodle skirts for the corps de ballet — this was the skippiest, friskiest, rompiest whoop-it-up I have seen in ages. The playful fancifulness, merriment and waggery was pure adrenaline for patrons sick of COVID and war. You know the way you get cheered up watching Fred and Ginger? That’s ZigZag times 10. The biggest applause of the night came when one woman was being spun in a circle while three men continuously jumped over her feet. And let’s hear it for jazz hands!

 ZigZag. Photos by Rosalie O'Connor.

Sadly, I don’t have much to say about Alonzo King‘s world premiere, Single Eye, which was sandwiched between the aforementioned works. It’s something I get tired of from King (who was in attendance) and others: when there are seemingly dozens of folks onstage performing different routines at the same time, it neither makes a stage picture nor allows for any cerebral thinking. The brain simply shuts down with that much movement at once. Somewhere up there is a thought process, but it’s numbing trying to figure it out. Additionally, these amazing dancers — truly some of the best in the world — are given much of the same movement through the work. So even the elegant soloing Calvin Royal III, and the romantic pairing of Cory Stearns and Skylar Brandt, just didn’t stand out. There were no surprises here. And did I see some dancers act as if they were picking something up off the ground? It was at the sixth of seven parts in this headscratcher that the piece took off. Coincidentally, that is when jazz pianist Jason Moran‘s commissioned music (pre-recorded here) went from beautifully reflective to a real beat. Most of Moran’s music is rich in gorgeous impressionistic Debussy-like chords and arpeggios, but it did get a bit monotonous for dance (the piece itself would be wonderful to hear with headphones on). Additionally, Robert Rosenwasser‘s set of a pea-green, mesh backdrop and flimsy autumnal costumes made the stage look like the bottom of a Petri dish. The underwhelming applause meant that the curtain stayed down before other creators came on for their bow. The press notes tell us that King calls his works “thought structures” created by the manipulation of energies that exist in matter through laws, which govern the shapes and movement directions of everything that exists. There it is.

 ZigZag. Photos by Rosalie O'Connor.

This begins ABT’s three-year partnership with Segerstrom Center to present world and regional premieres each spring through 2024.

ABT Forward
American Ballet Theater
Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa
ends on March 19, 2022
for tickets, call (714) 556-2787 or visit SCFTA

Bernstein in a Bubble
Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky
Music by Leonard Berstein (Divertimento)
Costumes by Moritz Junge
Lighting by Brad Fields

Alonzo King World Premiere
Choreography by Alonzo King
Music by Jason Moran
Set and Costume Design by Robert Rosenwasser
Lighting by Jim French
Rehearsal Assistant: Meredith Webster

ZigZag
Choreography by Jessica Lang
Songs sung by Tony Bennett with a special duet with Lady Gaga
Creative Associate: Kanji Segawa
Scenery by Derek McLane incorporating artwork by Tony Bennett

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