Featured in American Ballet Theater's mixed programs this season, Paul Taylor’s Company B punches a lot of holes in the myth of American exceptionalism. The Andrews Sisters’ songs serve as a perfect vehicle for Taylor’s painful perforation. Against the backdrop of songs that celebrate America’s wonderfulness, the ugliness creeps in. Beginning with the irrepressible party song, Pennsylvania Polka, soldiers at war infiltrated the rear of the stage and inconveniently died to ruin the festive atmosphere. The sad specter of repressed homosexuality was quietly raised while Stephanie Williams mournfully danced to I Can Dream, Can’t I? Jeffrey Cirio, a great new addition to the company, flew around the stage with optimistic buoyancy in Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and then got shot dead. Taylor’s rendering of the terribly racist song Rum and Coca-Cola is delivered as nothing more than a cheerful flirty dance. Taylor doesn’t make it explicit, but behind that smiling face, entertaining the troops who are trying to peek up her skirt is a Trinidadian mother and her daughter “working for that Yankee dollar”, ostensibly through prostituting themselves. Throughout this ballet, there is the constant friction between the happy veneer and the harsh underlying reality. It’s a deep and complicated work. 

Maria Kochetkova, Daniil Simkin and Misty Copeland in <i>Monotones I</i> © Marty Sohl
Maria Kochetkova, Daniil Simkin and Misty Copeland in Monotones I
© Marty Sohl

Frederick Ashton’s Monotones I and II is at heart a work about the beautiful geometry of classical ballet set to gentle, serene music by Erik Satie. Ormsby Wilkins led the orchestra in a terrific performance. The success of this piece depends on precision as each of the trios has to move in unison while describing the same shapes in the air with their arms. To make it more difficult, there’s almost no adornment to the steps and there’s a fair amount of standing around on one leg that is incredibly hard to do, especially in pointe shoes. Team Monotones I, starring Daniil Simkin, Maria Kochetkova and Misty Copeland had the better half in that respect. They are a well matched trio physically, with near perfect proportions and they delivered all the beauty you could want for the more earthbound part of this ballet. Kochetkova had the edge in always going straight to the right position after each transition which lent her dancing an extra degree of lucidity. So, foot wobbles aside for both Kochetkova and Copeland, this performance had  the cast of Monotones I doing everything right. Team Monotones II featured Hee Seo, Alexandre Hammoudi and Sung Woo Han. Seo is ideal for this part with her calm, cool exterior and exquisite geometry. When she was lifted from the floor at the beginning of part two, she seemed weightless and insubstantial. When she stretched out in arabesque her line extended out to infinity. She created lightness wherever she moved and that is the essence of the second half of this piece. When they took their bows together I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if Ashton had put both trios together for a Monotones III.

Kurt Jooss only created one masterpiece, but it was one hell of a piece of work. In order to produce a work of this magnitude there has to be a confluence of events. In this case, Jooss, a talented choreographer, was in Berlin during the rise of the Nazis at the tail end of the Weimar Republic. The horrors of World War I were fresh in everyone’s mind. Hitler was elected chancellor in 1933, the year after The Green Table was created, and a palpable threat looms over this work rendering it unforgettable. Jooss’ masterwork of Tanztheater mines the rich material of archetype to explore war and death on a level not often – if ever matched in the history of dance. The cast of characters spells it all out: Death, The Standard Bearer, The Young Soldier, The Young Girl, The Old Soldier, The Old Woman, The Profiteer, and the Gentlemen in Black.

Marcelo Gomes in <i>The Green Table</i> © Marty Sohl
Marcelo Gomes in The Green Table
© Marty Sohl
Marcelo Gomes grabbed the role of Death, investing it with relentless power. He was at various times fierce and tender. The death of the Old Woman, lovingly danced by Luciana Paris, was incredibly moving as Death solicitously eased her to her end. Jooss’ Death is not an evil creature, just an unavoidable fact. Sarah Lane in the role of The Young Girl was passionate and stirring as was Blaine Hoven, The Standard Bearer. This work succeeds because everything works together: masterful stagecraft, Fritz Cohen’s music, powerful archetypes and a profound subject. Jooss wisely avoided over-embellishing the choreography in favor of letting the action speaks for itself thereby lending the narrative utter clarity. He eschewed any sentimentality that could weaken this piece. There’s no happy ending and nobody escapes Death. It was the perfect end to a very strong program.