American Ballet Theatre, City Center, NY

On the opening night of ABT’s week-long season of largely American masters (until Sunday), I flashed on the time that Mark Morris stormed out of Twyla Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs shouting “No more rape!”

Sinatra Suite – with the offending number – was on the programme. Herman Cornejo did it the only way one justifiably can: he made the Sinatra character more violent and mean than I had ever seen. Elegant Luciana Paris is Cornejo’s height and heft, so he had to use extra force to push her around – and you felt the extremity of it. Paris’s bewildered, anxious compliance completed the portrait. When he was alone and seemed to tear into himself, shredding the steps, it was clear why: she wasn’t there to absorb his fury.

But it was not Sinatra Suite that made me think of Morris; it was the season premiere. New York’s two big ballet companies do not cultivate young choreographers; they simply throw them before the public. This season the gladiator is one Demis Volpi, aged 25, a dancer at the Stuttgart. The usual signs of inexperience pockmarked his Private Light: too many ideas and little to bridge them. But what drove the dance past incompetence into the realm of the unendurable was the connections we were left to make.

Private Light began cute. Five couples smooched to folksy guitar. Though the women had their backs to us, the vigorous motion of their heads was unmistakable. They twittered on pointe before their lovers like birds mating in the air. It looked so refreshingly young.

By the time Private Light returned to light-hearted romance, however, you were no longer in the mood. We had suffered through a pas de deux that confused entrapping a woman with arousing her. Simone Messmer responded to Cory Stearns confining and jerking her around by lying back and spreading her legs. Where is Morris when you need him?

Private Light did have one redeeming if irrelevant scene. Corps member Joseph Gorak – and whenever the choreography allows, ABT’s corps dancers distinguish themselves – executed simple, stretchy steps like those a dancer does every day at the barre. His thin, vulnerable legs unfolded so silkily to the feathery guitar pulse that he seemed like a magical androgyne – lost inside this terrible dance.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.