Faint Impressions of Three New Ballets
Over a week has passed since I saw American Ballet Theater’s three world premieres at Avery Fisher Hall, and I’m still not sure what to make of them. Most pleasurable, for me, was seeing the company in a new venue. Without wings, curtains, or orchestra pit, Avery Fisher’s house is smaller than either City Center (where ABT usually presents their fall season) or the Met (home to its large-scale spring spectacles). Musicians were placed on the stage, and dancers warmed up in full view before performing. The theater felt bright, open, and comfortably informal.
The dances, unfortunately, left me largely unsatisfied. The first, Seven Sonatas to music by Domenico Scarlatti, was the newest ballet from Alexei Ratmansky, named ABT’s Artist in Residence at the beginning of this year. Ratmansky is talented and prolific, but his work for ABT has not yet been brilliant. Seven Sonatas was very pretty—three pairs in white flowing costumes explored curlicues and gentle flourishes—but did not excite. The choreography wandered from emotional suggestion to virtuosic display, committing to neither. Even Sarah Lane, the twinkling young star who stepped in for Xiomara Reyes, could not make me love it.
One of Three followed, the first work created for ABT by choreographer-of-many-hats Aszure Barton. Barton has worked with modern, contemporary ballet, and Broadway dancers, but her training was primarily from top Canadian ballet schools. Known for quirky, gestural work, the movement she created for One of Three was instead understated and balletic. Three women appeared in succession against a sea of darkly-suited, swiveling men: first a dream in a white evening gown, then a ballerina slightly more vibrant in black and white, and finally, a sassier femme, girlishly tuxedoed. Yannik Larivée’s bold costumes dominated the work. Barton set the ballet to Ravel’s “Violin Sonata in G,” which lacks the weight and rhythm she seemed to be trying to evoke. An ambling imitation of glamour, One of Three felt aimless instead of atmospheric.
The last of the premieres, Everything Doesn’t Happen at Once, felt the most refreshing, but only by contrast. Choreographer Benjamin Millepied is a longtime New York City Ballet dancer, whose short dance-making career boasts an embarrassment of high profile commissions. His new dance for ABT was the most ambitious of the evening, with a cast of 24 and a futuristic, ritualistic tone. David Lang’s modern, layered music created another world in which Millepied set a chorus of synchronized movers, reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s de-humanized workers in Metropolis. Stella Abrera and Cory Stearns danced urgent leads, though Daniil Simkin’s remarkable abilities stole the show. Though entertaining, Everything Doesn’t Happen at Once looked like typical City Ballet fare, set on a company of dancers less comfortable moving in that sleek style. I left the theater glad to see an ABT shake-up, but disappointed that I wasn’t treated to a hit.
ContributorMary Love Hodges
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JUNE 2021 | ArtSeen
Over the years Sands has produced an exhaustive amount of paintings, videos, performances, and texts, at once completely and unabashedly about him and at the same time about much more than himselfhis loved ones, his fellow artists, the artworld, the role of artists, and patriarchal society at large.
From Salka Valkaby Haldór Laxness, translated from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton
MAY 2022 | Fiction
American estimations of Halldór Laxness, winner of the 1955 Nobel Prize for Literature, typically come down to impressions of Independent People. Fifteen years ago, I traversed Iceland on foot with little knowledge of the country but what I had gleaned from that book and a few other Laxness novels. A week into my hike, I came across a sheep farm and asked the farmer if I could camp in a pasture. He invited me inside for coffee and, seeing as how Laxnesss masterpiece Independent People is set on a sheep farm, I casually dropped that it was one of my favorite novels. The farmer replied, The one that came before it is even better. I wrote down the title, Salka Valka, and repeated it in my head for the next month as an incantation, a hocus pocus to make the valley floor solid or the next days water near. Unfortunately, I could never actually read the farmers favorite until now. This month Archipelago Books publishes this masterwork of social realism. Salka Valka initiates a debate on whether independence is not solely a virtue, but a failure of communitya theme central to Laxnesss subsequent work. The depth of feeling in the scene excerpted here, I think, brilliantly proves the sheep farmers point: Salka Valka is a major novel.
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MARCH 2021 | Poetry
Sarah Anne Wallen lives in Brooklyn and is the poet behind the collection Dont Drink Poison (United Artists Books, 2015).
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MAY 2023 | Dance
New York City Ballet’s over-reliance on Justin Peck to produce highlights the tensions between twenty-first-century demands of a ballet company and ghosts of choreographers past.