Mark Morris’ new ballet, After You, featured in American Ballet Theater's mixed bill last Saturday. But it didn’t generate near the applause it merited, likely because it doesn’t have anything by way of flashy tricks. Instead, it is built around little things like the gesture that commonly says: 'after you'. Here is a genteel ballet that doesn’t demand your attention with death defying tricks. It was the smaller steps, the jetés, balancés, ronds de jambe and the grands renversés that all made frequent appearances. In less deft hands it might be repetitive but here it was delightful because each repetition brought another nuance of expression. Simplicity in ballet, like with the violin, is extremely difficult. You have to do each little thing very well because there is no place to hide sloppy technique. The company looked terrific in this piece and three dancers typified the essence of what After You was about. Isabella Boylston exuded radiant joy – can you doubt that she loves what she’s doing? Herman Cornejo stood out for his exquisite control and pure physicality. Cassandra Trenary moved with the perfect fluidity of a cheerful babbling brook, going this way and that with effortless grace. Each of those qualities was in all the dancers in different measures and their pleasure in performing this piece was evident. Hopefully audiences will come to embrace this ballet for the treasure that it is.

Scene from <i>After You</i> © Rosalie O'Connor
Scene from After You
© Rosalie O'Connor

Michel Fokine’s old classic, Le Spectre de la Rose, played to Daniil Simkin’s strength. For all the tricks in his bag, Simkin is a lyric dancer who can move with incredible lightness. He’s supposed to be the spirit of the rose here and he was all that, flying around the stage and landing with cat-like softness. I wish there were more of these roles for him to do what he does best. Paired with the abundantly lyrical Cass Trenary, Simkin’s Spectre was the personification of Romantic era ballet. This is not a weighty or profound ballet and that may be why it keeps falling out of the regular repertoire. Even the music is a throwaway parlor piece waltz. Le Spectre de la Rose is mostly about itself and celebrating the beauty that is classical ballet but seeing it again was like greeting an old friend.

A deep royal blue bodice made Devon Teuscher stand out in George Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie but it wasn’t all good. This is essentially a pas de deux with four extras as back-up and it’s not my favorite of Balanchine’s works. Much of Teuscher's movement came across as too mannered with exaggerated head tilts and wrist movements that were distracting. Joseph Gorak, partnering Teuscher, was refined in every aspect of his dancing. He has great lines, smooth technique and nice jumps, especially his beautiful grand jetés and he was exuberant in this performance. The backing quartet of Kathryn Boren, Scout Forsythe, Betsy McBride and Kaho Ogawa were all outstanding.

Borrowed from Paul Taylor was the closing Company B, in which Taylor uncovered the grim reality covered over by the Andrews Sisters relentlessly and falsely cheerful oeuvre. From the outset of Bei Mir Bist du Schön, nothing is as it seems. Time and again the veneer is pulled away to peer at our American heart of darkness in which people are false, soldiers are dying and racism runs rampant. Luciana Paris was forlornly passionate in I Can Dream, Can’t I? It is inferred that she is hopelessly yearning for a man who loves another man but it also points to the terribly repressed lives of gay men back then.

Luciana Paris in <i>Company B</i> © Rosalie O'Connor
Luciana Paris in Company B
© Rosalie O'Connor
Performed by Misty Copeland, the company’s lone black principal dancer, the relentlessly despicable Rum and Coca-Cola was unsettling. This is a song that Morey Amsterdam stole from Lord Invader, a Trinidadian calypso musician and a lengthy lawsuit ensued. Copeland served up the sexy-flirty hip shakes and her alluring, stage-filling smile against a dismal curtain of words that celebrate a Trinidadian mother and daughter prostituting themselves for Yankee dollars. It was distinctly uncomfortable to watch. That’s the power of Paul Taylor – he can make you squirm as he veers wildly from the transcendental to the bitterest core of human existence. Company B is a deceptively bleak piece that is extremely well wrought.

This was a fine show that allowed us to see the rest of the company outside of the confines of the story ballets that dominate ABT's spring season at the Met. With more parts to go around we get to see much more than the usual headliners and guest stars. I only wish that this fall season were longer or that there were more repertory nights in the spring.