by Diana Dunbar
American Ballet Theatre opened its fall season with two of Frederick Ashton’s signature ballets, Monotones I and II and Symphonic Variations, along with the works of two contemporary choreographers, Jessica Lang and Benjamin Millepied.
Ashton’s Monotones I and II was beautifully performed by the American Ballet Theatre dancers including Misty Copeland. This plotless ballet was first presented by The Royal Ballet in 1966; with it’s American premiere in 1967. In 1975, it was staged by the Joffrey Ballet; critics called it a masterpiece. Set against a black background it’s a wonder in elegance and simplicity. Every step seems accented; there is an exquisite beauty in the purity of each movement as the dancers gracefully transition from one lovely position to another.
Masterpiece is also the term often used to describe Ashton’s Symphonic Variations. There is a quiet serenity to the piece, it creates its own world – a world of beauty and tranquility. The 6 dancers (3 men and 3 women) are at home here, whether moving or in repose. The women are dressed in simple tunics; the men in tights with a shirt which leaves one shoulder bare. Various formations occur – each flowing from one into another.
Ashton takes music by Cesar Franck (“Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra”) and makes it visible. Ashton choreographed Symphonic Variations after World War II, and in many ways it was his gift to a nation just coming out of a war; a splendid gift- then and now.
Also new to the American Ballet Theatre this season is Benjamin Millepied’s Daphnis and Chloe which was given it’s world premiere by the Paris Opera in 2014. Millepied has given a new interpretation to this intricate tale of love and kidnapping. Reduced in sets and costumes, yet enhanced by the choreography, clarity of the dancing and the geometric designs (by Daniel Buren) which changes with each mood.
Millepied’s Daphnis and Chloe is a ballet which feels fresh while still maintaining it’s essence. There are hints of its Greek origins in the graceful dresses for the dancers, and in the movement of the arms. Throughout the first two segments, the dancers are dressed in white (the nymphs) and black (the pirates). The third movement explodes with colours – it’s tremendous – as the ensemble celebrates the reunion of Daphnis and Chloe. It’s action packed with couples joining together with beautiful turns and leaps. The chorus in the music gives it a sense that we are witnessing the pinnacle of youthful joy. American Ballet Theatre shines in it’s fall program – presenting works that are relevant and timeless.