Pleasure at seeing American Ballet Theatre installed at Sadler’s Wells this week was not a little mitigated by Tuesday’s first programme, which had too many vexatious moments to seem a happy event.
The opening Seven Sonatas is a recent work by Alexey Ratmansky, ABT’s resident choreographer. It is a treasure in which three white-clad couples explore their world with delicious caprices of sentiment, fluent, subtle, while Scarlatti keyboard sonatas are played by an onstage pianist. And here’s the rub. Given as if in an arrangement by Cécile Chaminade, mushy and saccharine-sweet, this accompaniment undermines every stylish moment of the dance.
Superlative dancing from David Hallberg, beau ideal of classicists, with Herman Cornejo also a brilliant presence, and eager dancing from their companions, led by the sensitive Julie Kent. And, thereafter, a dégringolade. The dreadful clatter of saucepans hit by a child (“Mummy, I’m playing a drum!”) that is Donald Knaack’s Junk Music accompanies Twyla Tharp’s 1980s-modish and ferociously dated Known by Heart duet, which does nothing for Gillian Murphy and Blaine Hoven other than make them look cheaply streetwise.
Duo Concertant is Balanchine’s vivid comment on Stravinsky’s score for piano and violin, played onstage. In performance by Paloma Herrera and Cory Stearns, I found the dance cramped, lacking that sense of being the score’s flesh: the choreography, for all its minimal forces, needs more space. And once you have got past the witless title of Benjamin Millepied’s Everything Doesn’t Happen at Once, which ends this programme, you have reached the end of its merits.
There is David Lang’s noxious score that clanks on like a faulty radiator. There is the delicious novelty of a mass of dancers discovered onstage as matters begin. And there is Millepied’s turgid assembly of steps, piled muscular Pelion on visually glum Ossa (hideous, abbreviated black costuming), trying to persuade us that something of value is taking place. Pity the poor dancers, as they said when the King’s Theatre burnt down in 1789!