The Australian Ballet's repertory is as rich or richer than American Ballet Theatre's. In addition to most major full length classics, AB's rep includes Billy the Kid, Ballet Imperial, Birthday Offering, Concerto, Facade, Fall River Legend, Forgotten Land, Gala Performance, Hamlet, Kettentanz, Paquita, Song of the Earth, Song of a Wayfarer to name very few of the nearly 400 ballets by over 140 choreographers that it has at its disposal. The company dances Cranko, Bejart, Robbins, Petipa, Ashton, MacMillan, Kylian, de Mille, Tudor, Welch, Ratmansky, Tetley, Balanchine, Wheeldon, and many other choreographers.
With good planning, AB could have landed in New York last week like a visiting team and slam dunked its way to victory. It could even have made us forget that year when we had to put up with Luc Longley. But instead of coming to town to win, AB came to town simply to play its version of an interesting game. It turned out not to be such a good game plan at all.
It's been a long time since NY saw a performance of Eugene Loring's Billy the Kid. AB has as its Associate AD Danilo Radojevic an acclaimed Billy during ABT's Baryshnikov era. Haglund would have loved to have seen how that character was passed down to the Aussie dancers. Instead, AB annoyed us with Wayne McGregor's Dyad 1929 during its repertory program.
It would be a mistake to refer to Dyad 1929 as a ballet – a mistake made by the NYT. The only reason anyone would call it a ballet would be to try to give it unearned respect or credibility. It is choreography of some sort and was performed by a ballet company, but it is not a ballet. Ballet is defined by a vocabulary that is rich and extensive with precious few dialects. It's a language that doesn't hold an annual conference to decide which new pop culture words will be added to its latest edition. It's a language that allows exploitation only after it has been mastered. Without that all-important initial mastering, the variations on pronunciation and reduction of vocabulary and grammatical structure turn the language into pidgin ballet.
McGregor's Dyad 1929 was full of quirks and choreo-morphemes with little meaning. It needed a singer standing in front of it.
The company opened the program with Luminous which was a selection of divertissements from its repertory that were cleverly woven together with a film about AB's history. Each piece taken out of context of its whole ballet looked like the stuff one sees at competitions. However, Haglund still retains the image of Rachel Rawlins' lovely feet engaged in a flurry of low entrechat quatre and tiny saute passes from Act II of Giselle which served as a reminder of the beauty of doing things the right way.
The final piece on the repertory program was the aboriginal based Warumuk––in the dark night. Choreographed by Stephen Page for a collaborative performance of his Bangarra Dance Theatre and AB, Warumuk relayed in contemporary dance language some of the myths of aboriginal astronomy. Aspects of it were interesting. The major problem was the dull modern choreography. There are only so many ways one can spiral the upper body and sweep the arms around on the floor while kneeling or seated. However, the music, lighting, costumes, and scenery did much to sweep this New Yorker into a different time and place.
Haglund would report on AB's re-telling of Swan Lake except for the fact that he left at the first intermission on Sunday. Swan Lake doesn't need continual rebuilding like a better mouse trap. There are more than 4400 U.S. patents issued for mousetraps. Still, after all these years of innovation, tweeking, and uber science, the best mousetrap is still the cat. Leave the cat alone.
The AB used the NYCB Orchestra for all of its performances. What beautiful music they made under the baton of AB's music director, Nicolette Fraillion. The musicians really seemed to enjoy playing music from Giselle, and it was downright frightening just how well they played it. Yes, it could happen and we all know it could - Giselle could be on Peter Martins' top secret agenda. At least we know the orchestra would sound wonderful. Arturo Delmoni's violin solo during Swan Lake on Sunday was beautiful enough to bring tears. It almost made Haglund stay for Act II.
It's great that AB came for a visit. They are cordially invited to return but they should bring a better game plan.
Sorry, no Pump Bump Award.