American Ballet Theatre

All Around is Light: 'Artemis'

by Kate Snedeker

May 20, 2003 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York

On Tuesday, Lar Lubovitch’s Artemis premiered as the centerpiece of All Around is Light , American Ballet Theatre’s tribute to the Cultural Olympiad. The evening, directed by noted Greek filmmaker, Costas Gavras, was billed as “a celebration of Greek mythology, dance, poetry and music”. Included in the festivities were Greek singers George Dalaras, Melina Aslanidou and Savina Yannatou (replacing the indisposed Elena Kelessidi), actress Lydia Koniordou, film footage by Costas Gavras and the dancers of the American Ballet Theatre in Artemis .

While a wonderful and inspired idea, the celebration was hampered by an overly long program and several technical difficulties. At almost four hours, after an unexplained delay of more than 30 minutes, All Around is Light was simply too much of a good thing. Mr. Dalaras, singing a combination of traditional and modern Greek songs while Costas Gavras’ sweeping footage of Greece soared across the giant screen, had a lovely, rich voice. Yet, the inclusion of more than two dozen songs-mostly in Greek- for Mr. Dalaras was ill advised, as the interest and novelty wore off, leaving many in the audience visibly restless. Though bestowed with a marvelous alto voice, Ms. Yannatou sounded uncomfortable in the higher ranges of her songs, perhaps because the music was chosen with Ms. Kelessidi, a soprano, in mind. Powerfully acted, Ms. Koniordou’s performance of a excerpt from Electra was difficult to hear, and so lessened in overall effect.

Mr. Lubovitch’s Artemis seemed to follow the pattern of the evening-an excellent idea, but not fully realized on the stage. Drawn from Greek mythology, the story of Artemis begins with Aktaion, a hunter, stumbling upon Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, in her enchanted glade. For a mortal to see Artemis is a death sentence, but Artemis is drawn to Aktaion and saves his life by turning him into a stag. When he is shot by his fellow hunters, the mortal turned animal, and the goddess rise up to their immortal place among the night stars.

It’s a love story that seems nearly perfect for a ballet, with goddesses and mortals, magic, love, frolicking sylphs and satyrs and an ending that can only happen in Greek myth. Lubovitch’s ballet, however, failed to the imagination, remaining oddly earthbound and limited by both choreography and music. Chris Theofanidis’ score, commissioned especially for the ballet, echoed the traditional music heard earlier in the night, but was not well suited for a ballet. At times the music seemed overwhelmed by the dance, and for much of Artemis , seemed to be taking it’s own path through the mythical journey, oddly detached from the choreography on stage.

The ballet takes place in John Arnone’s ingeniously decorated enchanted glade. Lush, leafy trees adorn the backdrop, while smaller trees, set on hidden rollers, are moved around by the dancers, allowing for easy, elegant shifts in perspective and setting. The curtain rises on a circle of nymphs, adorned in long, gauzy white dresses by Ann Hould-Ward, delicately turning on pointe.
Yet, from this beautiful beginning, Lubovitch’s choreography fails to take off as it might have. The nymphs and sylphs, led by Julie Kent in the title role, are given delicate steps, frequently arrayed in clusters with arms up in high port de bras, perhaps too reminiscent of Balanchine’s Serenade . Attired in odd, shaggy white costumes with long, stiff tails, the satyrs frolic amongst the nymphs, leaping in Lubovitch’s oft seen stag position grand jetes.

Marcelo Gomes, as Aktaion, and his fellow hunters, dressed in unflattering, dull colored Greek peasant costumes, wigs and hats, cavort through the forest, shaking their bows and jumping in bent kneed grand jetes. As with the choreography for the other characters, it seems limiting and confined, never reaching a peak or crescendo. Lubovitch selected some of ABT’s most elegant classicists including Kent, Gomes and David Hallberg, but his choreography, an uneasy mix of classical and modern style, never lets them extend their limbs and show off their incredible talents. Gomes has a series of turns in second, but otherwise, his long limbs are always bent. Greek myths are considered to be among the classics, but yet here there is little classical ballet. The pas de deux for Aktaion and Artemis, is one of the stronger sections of choreography, with Gomes a confident and elegant partner, Kent ethereal, but powerful in the supported turns and interesting lifts.
Gomes’ transformation into the enchanted stag happens in a flash of light, the rough peasant outfit disappearing to reveal a rather unflattering fawn spotted unitard and oddly goat-like horns. A stag is a graceful, long-strided and nimble creature, but here again Lubovitch’s choreography for Gomes is stunted, with much pawing and short, angular leaps. It would have been wonderful to see Gomes allowed to stretch and bound like a real stag.
The most striking moment of the ballet comes at the end. After he is shot by his fellow hunters, Aktaion is rescued by Artemis, and both appear high up on a hill, posed against a glittering backdrop of stars. With the cast cavorting under in the enchanted glade, it’s a stunning and evocative image. It’s unfortunate that only at the end, did the ballet achieve its potential power.

The evening was conducted by David LaMarche and Lukas Karytinos with lighting by Brian MacDevitt.

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