The only thing that went right for ABT at its opening night gala on Wednesday was that Klinghoffer had the night off next door at the Met Opera.
On the 39th anniversary of his funeral which the Met is celebrating this fall with a production that has been noisily protested as being anti-Semetic, ABT opened its own 75th anniversary with an anti-Balletic evening that disregarded its past successes and presented current works that demonstrated how pitifully mundane and similar today’s choreographers are. With the monotony of a John Adams’ opera, hour after hour went by with the dancers doing the same tedious gymnastics in choreography that looked like it all came straight off of So You Think You Can Dance.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The pre-curtain celebrity show outside in the rain was being managed by none other than Misty Copeland’s manager, publicist Gilda Squire, who ABT has hired to do the gala media for several seasons. Does anyone else wonder about the professional ethics of having the least talented, most aggressively ambitious soloist’s manager running ABT’s PR for them? She buys the celebrities to come in and make the gala look like a “success” to those who don’t know better. But of course, she chooses carefully. Misty’s manager brought in Misty’s boyfriend’s cousin, actor Taye Diggs, before the cameras. Misty’s manager ushered in Star Jones, the same Star Jones who Misty wrote about in her memoir as being just one more black person who never got her “due.” Misty’s manager ushered in Adam Shankman who now has money invested in promoting Misty’s drama and keeping it going. Misty’s manager brought in whoever would talk-up/tweet-up Misty to the crowd along with the usual has-beens and no-names.
Misty probably “made history” again last night by becoming the first black girl to have her tits fondled by a white guy on the stage at the David H. Koch Theater. So it was in Liam Scarlett’s offensive, redundant With A Chance Of Rain to Rachmaninoff piano selections that James Whiteside crouched down in front of Misty Copeland who was the only woman on stage wearing a leotard designed to emphasize her tits and ass and cupped both hands over Misty’s tits and bounced them up and down for several counts. Repeat. To be clear, Copeland did not then reciprocate by grabbing Whiteside’s testicles and fondling them. Maybe that’s in Scarlett’s next piece. But the two dancers proceeded to grab each other’s shaking asses as some in the audience began packing up to go home while expressing disgust. The bulk of Scarlett’s choreography we had already seen at New York City Ballet in Acheron and Funérailles; so apparently this was an effort to put ABT's stamp on it.
Clearly, ABT paid for an original but got a do-over. Even some of the costumes looked borrowed from Acheron.
A solo for Marcelo Gomes could not have been less interesting – let’s take that back, because we know now that choreography can always be worse and there is no bottom floor for failure. But the choreography was the same contemporary vacant crap that pretends to be momentous – like a hiphop song of buzz words arranged with no meaning. A PdD for Gomes and Whiteside revealed little other than its obvious pandering to Alastair Macaulay’s relentless cry for more same-sex sex on ballet stages. A PdD for Gomes and Hee Seo was the same manipulative gymno-gyno-ballet that everyone else does over and over again. Devon Teuscher, Gemma Bond, Sterling Baca, and Joseph Gorak were the background couples. In one instance, Copeland got to run up and aggressively push the pretty blond girl out of the way in order to get her man’s attention. For those who haven’t read her memoir, Copeland claims everyone thinks of ballerinas as pretty blond sylphs – you know, like her declared role model Paloma Herrera. Too bad she pushed a pretty blond sylph who dances classical rings around her.
Scarlett has established a pattern of interest in exploring the potential sexual violence between men and women in relationships. The topic has shown to have validity in true narrative ballets; but to suggest it continually in abstract work is kind of creepy. Obsessive.
Christopher Wheeldon’s Thirteen Diversions closed the program. This piece has always looked as much like a Millepied work as a Wheeldon. It was a little messy on Wednesday night and overall under-rehearsed. As in past years, Isabella Boylston couldn’t keep up with the speed of the other three ladies (Gillian Murphy, Sarah Lane, and Christine Shevchenko) in ensemble phrases like the one involving chaine turns. Tom Forster, who substituted for Eric Tamm, danced magnificently. He is a huge man who moves with the speed, ease, strength and accuracy of a leopard. It wasn’t always smooth-going while partnering with Gillian Murphy, but we’ll chalk that up to the pairing being a late substitution. Craig Salstein/Sarah Lane, Blaine Hoven/ Christine Shevchenko, and Cory Stearns/Isabella Boylston were the other pairs. Salstein and Lane were spirited and completely in tune with one another. Hoven and Shevchenko sometimes looked like they were carefully making their ways through speeding traffic. Stearns and Boylston were not an optimal match; he had trouble lugging her around in some of the lifts, and his own dancing paled in comparison to Forster’s. The corps de ballet was sharp much of the time and not so during other times. Leann Underwood and Melanie Hamrick seemed to know what they were doing and how to make it all look articulate and beautiful at the same time.
The program opened with a student piece choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky. Rondo Capriccioso to music by Camille Saint-Saens forced the audience that won’t voluntarily attend the ABT school recitals to sit through every level of student performance at gala prices. It was harmless enough, and the cuteness that sometimes is way overdone in Ratmansky’s choreography for the professional dancers looked fine on these children. They didn’t dance badly, but they paled in comparison to the crisp classicism of the children that the Mariinsky puts on stage in events and also didn’t measure up to the pedigree-emblazoned students at SAB performances.
All in all, a disappointment of an evening. The audience’s reception to the dancing was polite with the loudest and first applause always originating from the same section of the theater. The fourth ring on this gala evening was far from full with many $20 seats left. The rest of the season is not well sold either. One has the feeling that Wile E. Coyote has raised up three fingers and is about to submerge for the last time after diving into the lake while chasing the roadrunner.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award, a pile of Crocs, is bestowed upon Liam Scarlett for his thoughtless, unedited, tasteless work for ABT.