American Ballet Theatre’s “The Dream” Has Charm, and Vibrancy but Lacks Nuance and Intention

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American Ballet Theatre (ABT) performed Frederick Ashton’s “The Dream” and Alexei Ratmansky “The Seasons” for ABT’s last day of the fall season at the David Koch Center for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. And this glorious fall season, ABT proved that the company dancers and the company at large are in good form after a challenging downtime period due COVID-1. While when the company first came back after COVID, some performances were not quite up to ABT’s high standard, but that all seems to be in the past now.

Scheduling Ashton’s “The Dream” as one of the last ballets at the end of the fall season was a great decision. “The Dream,” with all of its frivolity and charm, displays ABT’s fine qualities and leaves audience with rapturous fantasy with expectations of what this great American company will bring to its spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House. And with the addition of some new principal dancers and newly promoted soloists, diehard New York audiences will undoubtedly thirst to see the development of these dancers in the upcoming spring season.

That said, Ashton’s “The Dream” is a very fine ballet that can show off some of ABT’s new talent and that the ballet did on this last day of their New York fall season. There are a few roles in “The Dream” that not only gives dancers the opportunity to show off their pyrotechnical skills but also their acting chops.

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New ABT principal Daniel Carmargo replaced an injured Cory Stearns as Oberon. He was a fine Oberon, able to tackle the technical challenges of the role and fast allegro work aptly. And Carmargo did produce some of the soft, lilting quality that is so endemic to Ashton’ s choreography. Carmargo is a beautiful dancer with exquisite classical lines and big jumps and extensions. And he is the vein of taller male danseur nobles that are currently in almost every major ballet company. What Carmargo did lack in this role was Oberon’s mischievous, boy/king quality. Perhaps, Royal Ballet icon Anthony Dowell—Ashton’s original Oberon—should be called in to coach Carmargo and other ABT dancers so that they can capture the character’s whimsical qualities and boy/king precociousness.

Though Gillian Murphy still possesses incredible technical acumen after being at ABT for almost three decades, in the role of Titania she was miscast.  Murphy’s lines are beautiful, and her stage presence is a given, still, Murphy does not bring the melting lilt of movement that is so important to the role. This is not Russian Imperial Grand pas de deux; arms, legs, epaulement are much softer and curved.

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Herman Cornejo, one of the best Pucks ever, still has it. His technical prowess has not diminished, and he really understands the role.

Courtney Shealy and Claire Davison were well suited to the roles of Helene and Hermia. And Roman Zhubin brings, as always, his wit and great acting skills to the lover Lysander.

What also stands out about this production of “The Dream” is how much better the production works on the stages of Lincoln Center compared to the smaller stage of City Center. Lush productions like “The Dream” need the breath, depth, and width of big stage. In this case, bigger is better.

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Sergei Ratmansky’s “The Seasons” to music by Alexander Glazunov missed the mark and would have looked better on a smaller stage. Though the Glazunov is quite glorious—several of the musical choices came from Glazunov’s “Raymonda”—overall this ballet falls short of ABT’s standard.

What did shine in this work, was Ratmansky’s use of some ABT’s male principals and soloists, that are in many ways so different, each bringing a unique way of interpreting Ratmansky’s choreography. And some of ABT’s newly promoted female soloists and corps de ballet ladies were put to good use.

With Susan Jaffe taking over the helm from the soon-departing Kevin McKenzie, Jaffe is inheriting a company that is quite diverse with a wealth of talent and promise. When it comes to talent, ABT, perhaps, has not been this rich since the lates 70s and 80s.

—William S. Gooch

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