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Dance review: Tharp, Ballet Theatre pairing irresistible

Sunday, November 6, 2011
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— The pairing of Twyla Tharp with American Ballet Theatre is ideal.

Tharp is an icon of American dance: ballet, modern and Broadway. And American Ballet Theatre is our nation’s most gifted repertory ballet company.

Together, as they were on Friday night at the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, they were irresistible.

The company, on its annual visit to the college, performed her jaunty and romantic “Sinatra Suite” as well as her pulsating “In the Upper Room.” Both works stood out among the others on the bill, Merce Cunningham’s mechanical “Duets” and Martha Clarke, Robby Barnett and Felix Blaska’s subdued “The Garden of Villandry.”

Tharp’s pieces were remarkable for their musicality, their universality, their energy and originality. Where Tharp’s dancers went, eyes followed. And they did even more intently with the superb ABT dancers as conduits.

Consider Herman Cornejo, partnering Luciana Paris, in “Sinatra Suite.” This compact powerhouse infused just the right temperament into the dance, which took the viewers through the high of a newfound romance to the depth of disappointment at its demise. To Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” Cornejo was passionately cool as he tangoed with Paris. He revved up his fervor in “All the Way,” the climax of their coupling.

Passions flared into acrimony with “That’s Life” and “My Way” with the couple tangled in a battle that had Paris riding his back and swinging through his legs. The final scene, a solo for Cornejo, was the topper. In “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road),” Cornejo spun through his angst in a tour de force performance.

“In the Upper Room,” the evening’s finale, throbbed with mystery, intrigue and amazing dancing. This was a nonstop tear across the stage, dancers seemingly appearing out of nowhere and then exploding in an electric showcase of virtuosity.

The ballet, set to music by Philip Glass, got its title from the last supper — where 13 came together for one final meal. And for these 13 dancers, they performed as if this were their final curtain call.

Everyone was extraordinary as they kicked, leaped and charged the space. The trio of men, Sascha Radetsky, Blaine Hoven and Patrick Ogle were exceptional among the astonishing dancers. So too were Gillian Murphy with Gennadi Saveliev.

Cast in red, white and black, with smoke and rainbow lighting, “In the Upper Room” took one’s breath away.

With so much energy coursing through the theater, the quieter works were welcomed. Cunningham’s “Duets,” to percussive music by John Cage, opened the evening. The paired-off dancers, each in colorful unitards or skirts for some of the women, was typical Cunningham — cold but surprising in its tics. One was never quite certain how the dancers would shift, but when they did, it was sharp and precise like a machine.

Finally, “The Garden of Villandry,” depicted an unresolved love triangle. With Xiomara Reyes, Grant DeLong and Alexei Agoudine, the piece, to Schubert’s Trio No. 1 in B Flat, hardly moved forward. The dancers needed to expand upon the emotions that connected the three. As it stood, it appeared as an uneventful walk in the park.

American Ballet Theatre will repeat Tharp’s “In the Upper Room” at 2 p.m. today at the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College. More information is available at 845-758-7900 or at http://fishercenter.bard.edu.

 
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