Ballet Theatre performed seven works during their fall season, three per program. I went to three performances and saw all seven. The first of those performances was October 19th, opening night, which included Ratmansky’s Serenade after Plato’s Symposium (the best of the season), Ashton’s Symphonic Variations, and Tharp’s The Brahms-Haydn Variations.
Ratmansky’s Symposium is a ballet for seven men (and one woman, but mostly the men), and it does all of those men justice, letting them leap and turn, dance alone and together. They’re really in conversation onstage, just as in the work the piece is based on. (This is a good article about Symposium that touches on how it relates to Plato’s work.) I kept trying to decide who had the best part, but honestly it’s a great ballet for all of the men. Nearly every dancer has a solo. Each character is different, but through the discourse they take on pieces of each other’s characters, as well. Often a character will have a solo and then others will join in the movement, either mirroring (as after James Whiteside’s solo) or opposing (Blaine Hoven and Daniil Simkin) the original dancer in some way.
All the dancers seemed to float through their leaps. Daniil Simkin was particularly impressive in this regard; he hung in the air just a moment longer than expected, and he turned with incredible ease. Calvin Royal III’s part was very dramatic and lyrical, and he gave it great weight. Jeffrey Cirio started the ballet and set the tone of the intro as ponderous, exploratory, and communal. Later, in his solo, he moved impressively fast, seeming to hardly spot moving except for a few dramatic pauses. His cabrioles throughout the ballet flew. James Whiteside did a breathtaking sequence of consecutive pirouettes and double tours. Marcelo Gomes’s main part of the piece was the pas with Devon Teuscher. The pas starts very formally, with Teuscher presented as a kind of idea, and grows more familiar and personal as they dance.
Next was Frederick Ashton’s Symphonic Variations. Whereas Balanchine’s work often seems to be about shape, this piece by Ashton (as well as Monotones I and II, which I saw the next week) was focused on position. It’s a very precise ballet. The women (Luciana Paris, Christine Shevchenko, and Cassandra Trenary) anticipated well, always moving in time to be in position for the note. The men were less precise, sometimes being out of unison. This was particularly noticeable in a series of tours. Overall, this piece wasn’t as sharp as it needed to be.
The program closed with Twyla Tharp’s The Brahms-Haydn Variations. This piece has such seamless integration of modern techniques and staging with very classical vocabulary. The use of symmetry and asymmetry in the corps was particularly interesting, with some scenes using very classical symmetries and other scenes having a very unbalanced distribution of the dancers on stage. The corps often mirrored motifs from the movements of the lead couples without doing exactly the same steps except in dramatic moments. Sometimes the corps felt excessive and unnecessary, but there are also moments in which I loved the size of the corps; there’s a spot near the end when they’re crossing and spaces open up just for a moment, when the lead pairs run through.
I love Tharp’s pas de deux choreography and how varied it is in this work, with some pas feeling playful, some more mature, and others feeling more like two people complementing each other than dancing together. Of the five lead couples, I was most impressed with Skylar Brandt/Arron Scott and Gillian Murphy/Marcelo Gomes. I know I’m very late to this party, but I love watching Gillian Murphy; she draws my eye immediately and makes it hard to look away. In this piece she seemed so regal but never aloof, and she and Gomes have great chemistry. Brandt and Scott were more of a surprise for me. Their pas work felt really fresh and young; I’d love to see them in something like the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene or one of pas for Perdita and Florizel in The Winter’s Tale.
Symposium was definitely my favorite piece of the night, but I also really enjoyed The Brahms-Haydn Variations. I’m quite pleased that these are the two works I got to see twice!