American Ballet Theatre

Contemporary Works:  'Petit Mort,' 'Sechs Tanze,' 'Dorian'

by Lori Ibay

November 8, 2003 -- City Center, New York

American Ballet Theatreís "Contemporary Works" program features the company premieres of two works by Jiri Kylian, "Petit Mort" and "Sechs Tanze," and the world premiere of Robert Hillís "Dorian." In contrast to ABTís "Family Friendly" program, "Contemporary Works" explores deeper themes -- in Kylianís words, "Petit Mort" conveys "a world where nothing is sacred, where brutality and arbitrariness are commonplace." In "Sechs Tanze," the four couples, although humorously oblivious to their surroundings,"are dwarfed in the face of the ever present troubled world." Finally, Hillís "Dorian," is based on Oscar Wildeís classic "Picture of Dorian Gray," the story of a young man who sells his soul in exchange for eternal youth and beauty.

"Petit Mort" quickly quieted the commotion of the audience settling into their seats. The six men (Dartanion Reed, Julio Bragado-Young, Danny Tidwell, Angel Corella, Marcelo Gomes, and David Hallberg), minimally costumed in flesh-colored shorts and each holding a foil, commanded immediate attention as they began to move in focused unison and complete silence. In the distance, six women in black floor-length evening gowns stood eerily with stiff mannequin-like statures; however, the intensity of the men in front of them was so captivating that one hardly noticed when the women slipped away into the shadows.

The men moved slowly and purposefully, stretching into poses and executing precise motions with their foils; the only sound breaking the silence was the slashing foils cutting through the air. Interjected between the concentrated, deliberate phrases were quick, sharp movements that happened so suddenly that if you blinked you might miss them, and even with eyes wide open you were caught by surprise. The dancersí energy continued to build as the orchestra began Mozartís piano concertos.

The women (Melissa Thomas, Yuriko Kajiya, Sarawanee Tanatanit, Erica Cornejo, Michele Wiles, and Luciana Paris) returned, gliding onto the stage in their evening gowns, which were soon revealed to be facades, from behind which they emerged in flesh-colored costumes. Leaving their shells, the women also abandoned their stiffness, moving with both graceful fluidity and precision.

The highlight of the piece were the pas de deux, which showcased excellent partnering skills. With bodies creating unusual shapes, innovative lifts, and even the use of a foil in an uncommon pas de trois, the pairs performed with seeming effortlessness and perceptible solidarity between partners. Each pas de deux also displayed the dancersí individual strengths, notably Corellaís agility, Gomesí power, and Hallbergís grace.

Kylianís "Sechs Tanze," though choreographed five years before "Petit Mort," was more of an Act II of a two-part ballet rather than an independent piece. In contrast to the sexuality and aggression of "Petit Mort," but with equal energy and intensity, the eight dancers (Monique Meunier, Anne Milewski, Sasha Dmochowski, Marta Rodriguez-Coca, Issac Stappas, Jeffrey Golladay, Craig Salstien, and Sascha Radetsky) explored their brutal, troubled world with humor.

The four couples, dressed in 18th century costumes, complete with powdered faces and powdered wigs on the men, are insensible of their world and bewilderingly unaware of their roles in it. In the six acts, the dancers reveal their nonsensical characters individually and especially in their interactions with each other. The combination of ridiculous antics, such as slapping faces and leaving thick clouds of white powder hanging in the air, effective mime, and excellent dancing results in hysterical comedy.

The foils and evening gown facades from "Petit Mort" return for cameo appearances between acts, used by a supporting cast (Misty Copeland, Melissa Thomas, Karen Uphoff, Buck Collins, Kenneth Easter, and Eric Otto) who add even more absurdity by creating bizarre poses that drift across the background and float in and out of view. "Sechs Tanze" is purposely nonsensical, and the dancers play their roles so effectively that it doesnít matter that neither they nor the audience seem to know whatís going on. The piece ends just as it began, with the four couples looking around at each other and their surroundings with the incredulousness of naivete -- the audienceís laughter was matched by its applause.

After an intermission, the final piece, Robert Hillís "Dorian," returned the audience to seriousness. Based on Oscar Wildeís only full-length novel, "Dorian" comes with inherent drama -- including an extraordinarily beautiful young man, a quest for eternal youth, an ardent love affair, a suicide, a life of debauchery, and culminating in murder, regret, and death. Jesus Pastor as Dorian and Carlos Lopez as his portrait played their roles passionately and with strong support from Julio Bragado-Young as Basil Hallward, the painter of Dorianís picture, and Victor Barbee as Lord Henry Wotton, Dorianís poisonous influence.

With Xiomara Reyes as Sibyl Vane, the actress/dancer who captures Dorianís heart (and who later commits suicide after he rejects her), there was great potential for dramatic, moving solos and pas de deux, but while Reyes and Pastor danced superbly and with fervor, the choreography did not allow for the excitement and passion that was expected between the two. Similarly, Dorianís struggle against his picture, which begins to show horrendous changes as Dorian falls into debauchery, never quite reaches the climax that the dramatic plot entails, even though Pastor and Lopez dance with zeal and crisp, clean technique.

The corps provided solid support for the principal cast in scenes where Dorian mingles with society; however, the most exciting performances for the corps occured in the Opium Den, danced by Laura Hidalgo, Melissa Thomas, Kenneth Easter, and Danny Tidwell.

With talented principals, beautiful costumes and scenery by Zack Brown, and a juicy plot with inherent drama, "Dorian" had all the makings of a stellar performance; however, despite moments of excellence delivered by Pastor and Lopez, the piece fell somewhat short of its potential.

Edited by Jenai Cutcher

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