Stella Abrera and Sarah Lane took the long road to becoming principal dancers with American Ballet Theatre. Both were longtime soloists when Abrera was elevated in 2015. Lane climbed the final rung just last season. Seeing them paired as the female leads in Alexei Ratmansky’s Souvenir d’un Lieu Cher, I had the sense that I was watching two powerful and durable women who’ve paid their dues and are determined to make the most of the time they have on stage. Abrera has blossomed, giving rich interpretations to acting roles, especially the comic ones, and she moves with a new sense of freedom. Lane seems to still be feeling her way but her stage presence is already stronger and more assertive. That they dominated their younger male partners is no surprise. Thomas Forster, partnering Abrera, was two dancers. When he was dancing apart from her, he was fluid and graceful, blessed with long lines. But while supporting Abrera, he was so focused on her that he seemed to forget he had a body of his own that needed to maintain its posture. Tyler Maloney was a fresh surprise with Lane. He’s just beginning to make his mark with featured roles and he’s on everyone’s list of young dancers to watch. There’s feeling, passion, secrets, intimations, but nothing like an actual story in this ballet. It’s appropriate with these shorter works that they are content with suggesting mood and character and staying away from trying to convey narrative. Shorter works are just not meant to carry all that weight.

Scene from I Feel The Earth Move
© Rosalie O’Connor

Speaking of weight, Benjamin Millepied’s I Feel the Earth Move, a première performance, aspired to more than it achieved. The program notes referenced Tony Kushner’s Angels in America but I didn’t feel anything like that emotional intensity from this ballet. In the opening, David Hallberg was effectively portraying distress before collapsing and being comforted by Misty Copeland. They were eloquent together. But the emotional threads snapped there and never came back for me. Most of the rest was patterns reminiscent of Busby Berkeley dance numbers, perhaps an homage to Millepied’s new life in Los Angeles. The corps de ballet went through the usual store of choreographic tropes including the cascade, in which one dancer begins a movement and they all follow sequentially down the line to create a flowing effect. Just add giant feathered fans and you’ve got a film. Then there was the alternating dance in which every other dancer in a line does one move while the other half does a contrasting step – very Rockettes. Finally, there was the unison movement with lines, diagonals and star shaped patterns that dissolve and re-form surprisingly into new shapes – voilà! The costumes by Rag & Bone were detrimental to this show. The women looked like they were from the high school cross country team in their tank tops and running trunks which occasionally gave me the eerie feeling of having accidentally wandered into a commercial shoot for leisurewear. I can’t help feeling that an opportunity was missed by not making knockoffs of the costume line available at the concession stand during the intermission. There is some good dancing in this ballet but it missed the mark as far as emotional content is concerned.

Stella Abrera and Cory Stearns in Daphnis and Chloe
© Rosalie O’Connor
Daphnis and Chloe

, another Millepied creation, closed the show with more success. Daphnis, a young shepherd, falls in love with Chloe. This Greek pastoral tale follows their much-impeded path to true love primarily through dance and with just the minimum of gestures required to tell the story. Daphnis and Chloe shines with clarity of dance, lighting, costumes and design. Stella Abrera, having a great night, was Chloe, and Cory Stearns was Daphnis. Cassandra Trenary’s Lycenion was delightful. When she persistently placed Daphnis’ hand back on her hip, each time inching closer, you almost had to pity him. He didn’t stand a chance. Calvin Royal’s Dorcon was effective as he escalated his campaign against Daphnis which culminated in his collusion with the pirates to abduct Chloe. Herman Cornejo led the pirates with a lusty swagger and was just on the point of violating poor Chloe when the gods intervened and the pair were reunited. The choreography is graceful and lovely to see throughout this ballet and I certainly appreciated the trimming of unnecessary mime. The only downside to Millepied’s approach is that there was not enough story to fill Ravel’s musical score. Trimming ten minutes would have made this a better ballet. I’ll offer this Doris Humphrey quote: “All dances are too long.” That is very often the case with a narrative work.

The short fall season has left audiences with limited choices in terms of repertory. Yes, there are three new works presented, but there is so much overlap with the programs that it’s hard to see more than one show without seeing the same ballet twice. If only this engagement could be expanded by another week. We need more!