By Joseph Carman
As the Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival has evolved over a five-year period, it has expanded its scope through a dynamic repertory. The 2013 season, directed by Benjamin Millepied, the recently appointed director of dance at the Paris Opera Ballet, features a sumptuous banquet of ballets, including a world premiere and an impressive array of works that honors the versatility of choreography in this century. This yearâ€™s program also features more dancers than ever–stars from New York City Ballet, Miami City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. The festivalâ€™s associate artistic director is Tyler Angle, a principal dancer with New York City Ballet.
The programâ€™s opener, George Balanchineâ€™s Valse-Fantaisie, navigates Mikhail Glinkaâ€™s pulsing waltz rhythms like a wave rider surfing Hawaiian breakers. A study in perpetual motion, this ballet created in 1967 features a rapturous leading couple surrounded by four swirling women. Traveling ballet steps, such as pas de chats, bourrĂ©es and jetĂ©s, underscore the themes of gathering and dispersal, entrances and exits among the groupings. The male lead dances with his partner, but also waltzes with the four women; at one point the ballerina dances alone, circling the stage like a windstorm. With exquisite simplicity, this gem of a ballet speaks volumes about Balanchineâ€™s approach to choreography by continuously affirming the musicâ€™s architecture through the ballet vocabulary and the shape-shifting patterns.
The extraordinary choreographer Christopher Wheeldon just turned 40, but has been creating exquisite ballets for all the great international ballet companies since he was a teenager. Premiered by New York City Ballet in 2000, his Mercurial Manoeuvres is set to Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor, op. 35. The pas de deux excerpted from the ballet for this program is danced to the Lento movement, a haunting passage in which the strings echo the delicate, mournful piano melody. There are brief interruptions by a tempestuous outburst from the piano and a haunting trumpet solo. Wheeldonâ€™s particular gift for crafting pas de deux is seen here: the graceful intertwining of limbs, hints of emotional subtext, and two bodies moving as one.
25-year-old Justin Peck, a soloist with NYCB, is also one of the most promising American ballet choreographers of his generation. The Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival this summer is presenting a bit of history: the premiere of Peckâ€™s newest ballet for four dancers, set to Franz Schubertâ€™s Sonata in A major, D. 664. The music, inspired by the Styrian countryside in southeast Austria, emblematizes the grand romanticism of the period, seasoned with portions of lyricism, warmth, melancholy and virtuosity.Â â€śJustin tends to do a lot of footwork beforehand with the music, spending a lot of time in the studio by himself wrapping his mind and process around the score,â€ť says Angle. â€śWhen he gets into the studio with the dancers, it really starts to flow. Iâ€™m really happy heâ€™s using this music. Itâ€™s a masterpiece, and I think it will be interesting for him because there are different things in the music than those he normally works with. Heâ€™s going to have to go to some different places, which I think is also why he chose it.â€ť
One of the joys of this yearâ€™s program is the inclusion of live piano music for two ballets. Cameron Grant, NYCB Orchestraâ€™s pianist, will play both the Schubert piano sonata and Domenico Scarlattiâ€™s sonatas for Alexei Ratmanskyâ€™s Seven Sonatas. Ratmanskyâ€™s ballet, originally choreographed in 2009 for ABT, is already considered a modern classic. Combining fleet-footed allegro work and bravura technique with sublime passages of pure dancing, Ratmansky nevertheless always reminds the viewers that the six players onstage are human, subject to the mercurial moods and brevity of life. Seven Sonatas reveals the sublime outer landscape of its dancers, costumed in white, while exploring the inner landscape of the mind.
In a completely different vein, German choreographer Marco Goecke takes a hypnotically hyperphysical approach in the solo Mopey. A pure movement, high energy work with hints of classical ballet, Mopey is danced in silence, then to the third movement of C.P.E. Bachâ€™s Cello Concerto in A minor, and finally to the Crampâ€™s high-volume, dissonant Surfinâ€™ Bird. â€śIt has a kind of contemporary European sensibility,â€ť says Angle, who, along with Benjamin Millepied, was blown away when he first saw the work asÂ a commissioned piece for Peter Boal & Company during its Joyce Theater season in New York. â€śItâ€™s a fabulous piece, very in your face.â€ť The choreographer once described the gestalt of the piece as â€śan angry teenager in his room.â€ť As a work of choreography, Mopey displays an impressive discipline in its craft.
Balanchine commissioned The Four Temperaments as a ballet score for string orchestra and piano by Paul Hindemith for its 1946 premiere, and it has remained one of the most popular ballets in NYCBâ€™s repertoire. One of the original Balanchine â€śblack and whiteâ€ť ballets (danced only in leotards with no scenery), the work distills the ancient metaphysical â€śhumorsâ€ť known as melancholic, sanguinic, phlegmatic and choleric, creating a neoclassical masterpiece through the language ofÂ ballet. In the â€śSanguinicâ€ť movement, virtually a ballet within a ballet, the leading couple amplifies the musicâ€™s darkly energetic, almost manic glee through the choreographyâ€™s marvelously off-balance shapes and rhythms. â€śI donâ€™t think this has ever been excerpted before,â€ť says Angle. â€śItâ€™s very short, but I think where it comes in the program it will be sort of like a palette cleanser right before the very end.â€ť
The program concludes with the ebullient pas de deux Tarantella, Balanchineâ€™s take on Neapolitan revelry. Originally choreographed in 1964 for the legendary partnership of Patricia McBride and Edward Villella, the ballet gives the dancers every opportunity to jump, turn and shine to Hershy Kayâ€™s orchestration of Louis Moreau Gottschalkâ€™s witty piano melodies. â€śI think itâ€™s a really nice way to unburden the audience as they leave the theater,â€ť says Angle. â€śItâ€™s a good way to keep the conversation going as opposed to something thatâ€™s maybe a little more inward focused.â€ť
From a new premiere to neoclassical masterpieces, the 2013 Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival offers many delights. The sophistication of the programming, highlighting great choreography to glorious music, along with the superior dancing, amount to a festival worth celebrating.
Joseph Carman is a Senior Contributing Editor of Dance Magazine and the author of Round About the Ballet, which features a chapter on Benjamin Millepied.