Classically Modern

ABT performing Merce Cunningham's "Duets." Photo: Gene Schiavone

ABT shows its diversity with pieces containing classical ballet and modern vocabulary.

I know it’s hard to believe but there was a time (the early 1900s’) when ballet dancers and modern dancers wanted nothing to do with each other. Ballerinas did not consider modern to be a real artform and modern dancers thought ballet was too constricting. They never spoke in public and didn’t go to each others’ performances.

Flash forward to the 21st century and particularly to the American Ballet Theatre’s performance at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas on Friday, Jan. 21, 2012, where these classically trained dancers performed pieces by modernists Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor.

As more contemporary ballet companies pop up across the county traditional ballet companies like ABT have to find ways to adapt. Friday night’s performance of Cunningham’s “Duets” and Paul Taylor’s “Company B” was a smart move.

“Duets” was a sweet  homecoming for me. I trained in Cunningham technique in college and seeing those bright-colored unitards and linear movements brought back some nice memories. And John Cage’s hypnotic music (Irish drums) was the cherry on top. The boy-girl couples (12 in all), dressed in blue, green, purple and red unitards and leotards, shifted seamlessly between fast and slow movement and in and out of unusual shapes (a Cunningham trademark.)

Cunningham technique requires incredible strength and balance. Slowing going up in and down in releve on one foot is not an easy feat. Nor is holding a side tilt on releve as your partner grabs your elbow, wrist, hand, lets go and then repeats the phrase as you continue to balance.

ABT in Paul Taylor's "Company B." Photo: Gene Schiavone

Paul Taylor’s “Company B” was also pleasing to watch. “Company B” showed the two sides of Americans during WWII. The one side is dancing the “Jitterbug” and “Jive” to songs by The Andrews Sisters while the other side is slow dancing to love songs also by The Andrews Sisters as shadows of the men at war appear in the background. Male dancers slowly marched across the stage and then acted like they had been shot.

Even though I enjoyed ABT’s “Company B” performance, I prefer the Paul Taylor Dance Company’s version. The Paul Taylor dancers’ movements were heavier and the women were more muscular and could go head-to-head with their male partners, dance wise. The ABT females looked too fragile next to their male counterparts.

But that is just my opinion. I was pleased to see such a variety in their repertory and I hope they continue to close that gap between the ballet and modern worlds.


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