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ABT Today: The Future Starts Now
AMANDA JENNINGS reviews world premieres by Gemma Bond, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Christopher Rudd and Pam Tanowitz
American Ballet Theatre’s ABT Today programme is billed as an online celebration toasting 80 years of innovation, diversity and dynamism in American ballet, featuring four new works, created and filmed in quarantined 'ballet bubbles’. These premieres are interspersed with short films about the company’s outreach initiatives, including educational outreach, ABT Rise, and the ABT Studio Company.
The stand-out among the four premieres is indisputably Christopher Rudd’s Touché, to music by Woodkid and Ennio Morricone interspersed by periods of silence. It is a duet for two men; there is nothing new about this in itself, but Rudd focuses explicitly on the romantic love developing between the men, beautifully and elegantly depicted. The choreography is astounding in its ingenuity. Rudd uses the two bodies as counterbalancing weights to enable the construction of dramatically unexpected lifts and shapes, always beautifully judged with a highly theatrical vision and use of space. As well as having danced in several major ballet companies and worked with a multitude of great choreographers, Rudd has choreographed for Cirque de Soleil, where I imagine he must have picked up new experiences that enabled him to stretch his dance vocabulary. It is so rewarding to see work that draws on an extensive experience of dance technique; one does get tired of seeing the same old steps pulled out over and over again by some modern choreographers - Rudd will never fall into this trap, as his language is just too articulate and wide-ranging.
The piece is superbly danced by João Menegussi and Calvin Royal III; I am not aware of having seen Menegussi in a role of prominence prior to this, but it’s clear that he has a strong, elegant technique and very attractive hyperextensions used with control and intelligence. Royal, whom I have seen in many major roles, is a star: his charisma always colours his work and fills the auditorium, the lovely dancing truly springing from musicality and inner passion.
Gemma Bond, formerly of The Royal Ballet and now establishing herself as a burgeoning talent choreographically alongside her career as a dancer in the company, has made Convivium, a pleasant piece well danced, especially by her fellow Brit Thomas Forster.
It might be seen as somewhat grandiose to compare Michelangelo’s masterpiece David to a mere mortal form, as Pam Tanowitz does in her new solo for David Hallberg, but if anyone can be compared to a piece of perfection in marble, Hallberg is probably as near as it gets. His physique, slender but lithe and muscular, together with his Nordic cool blond looks and noble bearing (not to mention his exceptionally beautiful feet), make the comparison far from odious, but I wish Tanowitz had made something a little more suited to his talent. The setting for this short film is exquisite: the Pavilion at the Pond at the Phillip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. Hallberg moves around on a small stone platform surrounded by modern yet Romanesque arches, and although this creates visual joy, he doesn’t actually do much dancing, so I felt a little let down.
Darrell Grand Moultrie’s most recently seen work in London was Ounce of Faith for the Alvin Ailey Company at Sadler's Wells in September 2019. I wrote then of his ability to create an explosion of energy based on the Latin beat he had chosen; oddly, that was the missing element in his Indestructible Light here. With a score by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billy Strayhorn and Neal Hefti, one is entitled to expect much excitement and energy on stage, but in the opening section the six dancers looked somehow stilted. The classical choreography couldn’t seem to flow alongside the music, the pirouettes, jumps and lifts seemingly interrupted by preparations not normally noticeable. I could not make up my mind whether this problem could be ascribed to the dancers or the choreography; maybe it’s a combination of both. Things changed greatly, however, when we moved into the second section, a soulful, beautifully crafted quartet with the dancers lined up against a wall from which they break out for the occasional moment. The movement here, mobile and lissom, is very beautiful, as is the pas de deux that followed it. The closing section, returning to an uptempo beat, again seemed not to spring from the music, but was extremely well danced. Among the six fine performers, I particularly admired the work of Erica Lall and Melvin Lawovi; the latter is still an apprentice, but there will be good things to come from him in future years, as there will from Moultrie.
The programme can be viewed on American Ballet Theatre YouTube until 23 December