Pathos and bathos: two shows

Those would be Unrelated Solos, in which Baryshnikov shared a night with dancer-choreographers David Neumann, in his 40s, and Steve Paxton, 71, and Lady of the Camellias, the 1981 John Neumeier production currently enjoying its ABT premiere (or at least I hope it’s enjoying it, as I’m not). While Baryshnikov reflects, Neumeier’s cast of foolish characters abject: a ghoulish experience in which one feels implicated simply by staying in one’s seat.

American Ballet Theatre always has the problem in the Spring of finding enough worthy story ballets to fill its eight weeks; those full-lengths are what the company has come to be identified with. I think it might shift that identification a bit, so that the repertory, not the length, is the determining factor.

They’ve gone partially in that direction this year, with a terrific Ashton bill and an ABT Premieres evening of Robbins, Ratmansky, and Tharp. Next year Ratmansky, whom they hired as resident choreographer too late to nix the Neumeier, will be adding his comedy of Soviet collective farm life, The Bright Streamwhich wowed many of us when the Bolshoi performed it here in 2005–to the full-length roster. The former Bolshoi director is a godsend for ABT, with his deep knowledge of ballet history and the delirious pleasure he gets and gives telling stories, though it will be a while before we reap the full bounty of this collaboration. I am eager, for example, for his Corsaire and Cinderella and Don Quixote.

Anyway, here’s part of the review of Baryshnikov et. al., which appeared in the Financial Times Tuesday:

Unrelated Solos is meant as a low-key affair: a dancers’ pot luck, with everyone – Mikhail Baryshnikov, who organised it, Judson Dance Theater legend Steve Paxton and comic dancer-choreographer David Neumann – contributing solos. But the Russian, now 62, has too much history and too little future left onstage for the occasion not to be charged. The choreographers for his solos understand this, and ask the forward-looking artist to look back a bit for us.

Ubiquitous ballet choreographer Benjamin Millepied’s Years Later juxtaposes film footage of Baryshnikov as a teen with him dancing live. The portrait is so generic that it could apply to any famous dancer. But the film clip is incredible. The boy’s honeyed pliĆ©s alone could inspire a whole mysterious dance.

Alexei Ratmansky, American Ballet Theatre’s resident choreographer, forgoes a portrait of Baryshnikov for one of Glinka – of all things! To the composer’s waltz fantasy, Baryshnikov plays Glinka falling in love, then in despair, before realising that the “gun” he is aiming at his temple is only his fingers and his love is also pretend. Baryshnikov whips through stock ballet gestures – for “I saw a beautiful girl” or “I must marry her” – with the insouciant deftness of a master. A giddy pleasure.


Baryshnikov telling Glinka’s sad story. Photo by
Julieta Cervantes.

The most touching and intimate of the Baryshnikov solos is modern dance choreographer Susan Marshall’s For You, in which he invites three people….

For the whole review, click here.

And here’s a bit of today’s Financial Times review of the Neumeier:

Lady of the Camellias, which American Ballet Theatre premiered on Tuesday, begins in silence, with the house lights on and the cast milling about the stage. This pedestrian start seems perfect for the tawdry end that the “lady” courtesan of the title has come to – dead from consumption, with her deluxe effects being auctioned off. But then the lights lower, the music begins and the milling, now in the form of dance, continues. Choreographer John Neumeier – artistic director of the Hamburg Ballet since 1973 and a big name in Europe – has created a real oddity: a ballet where the steps don’t much matter.

There are reams of them in this three-hour costume drama in flashback to endless Chopin arpeggios – and some are even imaginative. But what counts is that they repeat until they shed meaning. In the first duet for our principals, for example, the appealingly boyish Roberto Bolle swirls Julie Kent, always excellent in sombre roles, around his body in an exhilarating corkscrew that ends with her on the floor. It seems a glorious representation of the hapless lovers’ slide into incurable passion – until the corps does it too, for more humdrum reasons.


Swooning: Julie Kent in Roberto Bolle’s arms. Photo by
Gene Schiavone for ABT.

The plot also repeats, with pas de deux piling up to the beat of the Lady’s wishy-washy heart….

For the whole review, click here.

For more on Neumeier, who seems to be winning over the hearts of artistic directors lately (what has come over them?!), here is friend and Foot contributor Paul Parish’s take on the Little Mermaid premiere at San Francisco Ballet a couple of months ago.

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