Kevin McKenzie’s triple bill earns Australian audience admiration.

Lyric Theatre, QPAC, American Ballet Theatre

September 5, 2014

Following rave reviews of their debut performance of Swan Lake, the American Ballet Theatre continued their winning streak with Three Masterpieces, a triple bill of ballets created specifically for the company over the course of their history and performed for the first time in Australia as part of the QPAC International Series. MP Ian Walker described Three Masterpieces as “70 years of history played out before us,” with all scores skilfully performed by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

Bach Partita is a busy, fast-paced contemporary ballet, choreographed for the American Ballet Theatre by Twyla Tharp in 1983 and performed to Bach’s Partita No 2 in D minor for solo violin. A highlight of this ballet were the many complex lifts and dives, several of which drew gasps from the audience. The female dancers displayed incredible strength en pointe, particularly the three lead ballerinas – Gillian Murphy, Stella Abrera and Misty Copeland. Copeland made her debut last week as the first African-American dancer to perform the dual role of Odette and Odile in Swan Lake in the history of the American Ballet Theatre, and she certainly lived up to the excitement surrounding her in Three Masterpieces – every movement was strong but smooth, and she displayed beautiful extensions and flexibility. More than anything, though, it was her expressiveness that set her apart. Copeland performed pas de deux in Bach Partita with James Whiteside, whose suspension of movement was impressive. Marcelo Gomes’ allegro work was equally excellent. The corps de ballet worked well together and canons were used frequently – this made the full stage seem even busier, and it often felt as though there was too much to look at and not enough time to see it all. Charles Yang performed the violin solo with prowess, and took a bow with the dancers to rapturous applause.

The second ballet, Seven Sonatas, was the most recent of the three, choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky in 2009. Being less busy than Bach Partita, with a maximum of six dancers performing at any one time, the audience was given a greater opportunity to appreciate the individual dancers. Interwoven solos, pas de deux and pas de trois were set to seven keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, flawlessly performed live on the stage by Barbara Bilach. Each of the six dancers seemed to excel at something in particular – Sarah Lane’s pose pirouettes were exceptional, and Herman Cornejo’s elevation in allegro was thrilling to watch. The loveliest and most attentive partner work came from Calvin Royal III and Stella Arbrera in their pas de deux, with genuine emotional chemistry. A robotic-style section was reminiscent of the l‘espièglerie de Swanhilde in Coppelia and the synchronicity in both pas de trois was impressive.

A cheerful ballet bordering on slapstick, Fancy Free was the final ballet in Three Masterpieces. Set in New York City in 1944, the ballet follows the antics of three sailors – danced by Daniil Simkin, Cory Stearns and James Whiteside – on shore leave. Half ballet and half physical comedy, Fancy Free incorporated tumbling and acrobatics as well as physical comedy that had the audience laughing out loud. Bursting with energy and cheek, the ballet follows the sailors through their interactions with three young women at a bar, and the drama that ensues as they compete for the girls’ attention and affection. Simkin, Stearns and Whiteside all had strong, consistent characters as well as managing the athletic demands of Jerome Robbins’ allegro-heavy choreography. Luciana Paris, Isabella Boylston and Leann Underwood are also to be commended for their portrayal and characterisation of the three young women.

The use of minimalist costumes and a complete lack of sets in Bach Partita and Seven Sonatas allowed audiences to focus entirely on the dancers, with lighting by Jenifer Tipton and Brad Fields respectively adding atmosphere. Santo Loquasto designed the simple costumes worn in Bach Partita, and Holly Hynes was responsible for the slightly more elaborate costuming of Seven Sonatas. Oliver Smith’s scenery, and lighting by Jenifer Tipton, enhanced the mood and setting of Fancy Free, as did Kermit Love’s sailor costumes.

Three Masterpieces brought together three quite different performances into one show that combined humour, emotion and exceptional dance to delight its audience.

View the American Ballet Theatre Three Masterpieces Gallery