Created in 1939 by co-directors Lucia Chase and Oliver Smith and directed briefly in the 1980s by Mikhail Baryshnikov, the ABT became America’s National Ballet Company by an act of Congress in 2006. The ABT differs from the other Lincoln Center ballet company, the New York City Ballet, in that it is a repertory company that performs the works of many choreographers from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.
Not having appeared in this area for nearly 50 years, the ABT will be performing the works of Czech/Dutch choreographer Jiri Kylian and esteemed New York choreographers Twyla Tharp and Paul Taylor, all known for being uniquely innovative in the modern choreographic idiom.
An artist who comes from the heart and the former head of Nederlands Dans Theater, Kylian believes dances should make one feel richer after viewing them. His “Overgrown Path,” performed to music by Leoš Janácek, is a fluid emotional piece of duets and small groups exploring the subjects of life and death. Using all the music during his choreographic process to insure the correct meter and phrasing, he then removes the music from the final section, which heightens the impact of his message by having the work danced in silence.
Paul Taylor’s “Company B” is 10 dances woven together with music from the Andrews Sisters, including “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” Yiddish and Latin songs, and polkas. Evocative of the dances and sentiments of the 1940s, the piece is a comment on the good-natured, up-tempo feelings, as well as the hardships, of that era. As with Taylor’s other works, this is a richly layered piece that depicts the issues all societies face during times of war.
Also on the program are two pieces by Twyla Tharp, who began choreographing for ABT in the 1970s and temporarily merged her company into ABT in 1987, becoming co-director with Baryshnikov for two years.
“Baker’s Dozen” is a playful group piece set to Willie “the Lion” Smith’s jazz piano music, with silky, creamy costumes by frequent collaborator Santo Loquasto, who knows exactly how to enhance Tharp’s smooth movements.
“Sinatra Suite,” a 1982 duet to Frank Sinatra singing five of his greatest hits, will be staged by original cast member Elaine Kudo. Although its dancers are dressed in black formal wear by Oscar de la Renta and its moves are based on ballroom dancing and the art of Fred Astaire, the piece is still unmistakably Tharpian, incorporating the wit and slouchy, slinky, speedy movements and unexpected lifts she is known for.
“Company B,” “Baker’s Dozen,” and “Sinatra Suite” will be lit by the brilliant, award-winning lighting designer Jennifer Tipton. It’s almost worth the price of admission just to see her art.
The American Ballet Theater will perform in the Fisher Center’s Sosnoff Theater at Bard College on October 17 at 8pm; October 18 at 2 and 8pm; and October 19 at 3pm. (845) 758-7900; www.fishercenter.bard.edu.