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As is often the case, a visiting ballet company opens a season with the wrong programme, allowing internal politics or a serious misreading of its public to diminish its virtues. So it was with American Ballet Theatre, whose second offering on Wednesday night was much to be preferred to the previous night’s less-than-engaging display. Balanchine’s Theme and Variations was made for the company in 1947, and, memory still bright, I can recall the tremendous leading performances by Alicia Alonso and Igor Youskevich – and the awfulness of the design, too. As viewed in its new decorations, the piece is more restrained, though the leading couple, Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg, are doomed to actionable sugar-pink outfits. Company performances were eagerly smiling where stylistic clarity is to be preferred, but Gillian Murphy produced delicious fiorituri of pirouettes, and Hallberg boasts an unfailing nobility of means.
Then Jardin aux lilas, Antony Tudor’s early and most characteristic of dramas, its emotions seething under the cool social mask of convention as a marriage of convenience takes its toll on sexual desire and hopes of happiness. From its quartet of principals it demands the ability to suggest blazing passion beneath a mask of “proper” behaviour, as Caroline says farewell to the man she loves and her husband-to-be quits his mistress.
Chausson’s violin Poème saturates the dance (or should: at Wednesday’s performance it was gruel-thin), and every action, every step, should have a Noh-play intensity. It was Julie Kent, as Caroline, who told us Tudor’s truths: the rest of the cast seemed on day-release from a soap-opera.
I much admired the way Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo dealt with the ensuing Tchaikovsky pas de deux by Balanchine, which was to take no prisoners. Bravura. Lots of pirouettes; lots of steps cut dazzlingly in the air; lots of charm. And lots and lots of deserved applause.
And so too Paul Taylor’s Company B, a threnody for 1940s romance, for the young men and women who loved as war brought its pervasive impermanence and the Andrews Sisters were the voice of the age. Unfailing inventiveness, unfailing sympathy, unfailing wit, unfailing musical grace: Taylor’s dances, here as everywhere, are masterly. And grandly danced by ABT’s artists.