American Ballet Theatre

The American Ballet Theatre began an extended run at the Kennedy Center Opera House last night with a mixed repertory program that will repeat on Wednesday and Thursday.  After that, Friday through Sunday, the company will present its evening-length work The Bright Stream, featuring the music of Dimitri Shostakovich.

The highpoint by far of the mixed repertory program is Jardin aux Lilas, featuring principals who include the veteran dancer Julie Kent pictured here.  Set to the score Poème for violin and orchestra by 20th Century composer Ernest Chausson, Jardin aux Lilas is sensuously lyrical and expertly performed by the Opera House Orchestra (a beautiful sound-world that any balletomane might do well to protest the lack of in recent Washington Ballet performances).  This revival of Antony Tudor's choreography faithfully renders Chausson's rich melancholic lines among a minimal set design and expert use of lighting that complements the refreshingly serious tone, especially in the pinnacle pas de deux.

As for the ensuing Duo concertant, though, things don't go so well.  Beginning with the score from which its name derives, Igor Stravinsky sends up his harsher chromaticism here, less direct than the bloodbath we know better of Le sacre du printemps.  Musical source aside, the on-stage violin soloist simply struggles to hit those notes, and his tension intervenes with the dance performance.  Also, oddly choreographed, the dancers begin each movement standing by the on-stage pianist and violinist in a sort of parlour gaze as the music starts, then proceed into tableaux that eventually take them right back to the piano.  It is an odd, or perhaps lackadaisical, choreographic design.

The mixed repertory performances end with a Jerome Robbins classic called Fancy Free, which evinces mostly the same vintage (and now, frankly intolerable) shore leave hijinx of sailors pursuing easy and not easy women that evolved into the musical On the Town, also composed by Leonard Bernstein.  With a scenic design meant to resemble a bar or diner, it oddly feels constricted around the physical objects of the set pieces that might have better been danced using minimal props in an open design, like Robbins' more refined classic The Concert (or, The Perils of Everybody) that I saw the Joffrey Ballet perform in Chicago last year.  Yet this is still a delight to experience, reminding of the company's rich history that traces back to the seminal choreographers of our time -- Robbins developed Fancy Free for ABT.  (Fun fact:  The original costume designs, still used in this production, are credited to Kermit Ernest Hollingshead Love -- that's "Kermit Love" to you -- who worked with Jim Henson on The Muppets...by coincidence, after Kermit the Frog was named.)

Discounted tickets are available for all remaining performances; using these special links you can purchase $29 tickets to orchestra-level seats that normally cost as much as $79:

Mixed-Repertory Program, Wednesday and Thursday:  Link
The Bright Stream, Friday through Sunday:  Link