American Ballet Theatre | Auditorium Theatre | Dance | Chicago Reader
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American Ballet Theatre 

When: Oct. 3-5 2014
Price: $34-$129
In honor of its 75th anniversary, American Ballet Theatre presents the retrospective "All-American Celebration," its celebratory zeal a natural side effect of the four works on the program, original ABT premieres created by some of the best American choreographic minds of the 20th century—including two of the most notable names in crossover ballet, Jerome Robbins and Twyla Tharp. First up, Tharp's Bach Partita (1983) is a conscientious if not totally faithful experiment in classicism, putting a big ensemble—ten couples, 16 female corps—in dialogue with Bach's Partita no. 2 in D Minor for violin. Rich and stately, the dance represents the first time Tharp conforms to the boundaries of classical ballet. The piece loses the distinctive freewheeling Tharpian vernacular—the irony, the silent-movie-style physical comedy—but it still dings up the edges of the ballet idiom. Dancers consistently break their perfect upright lines with a roll of the head on pointe, a bendy shove of the pelvis out over toes in arabesque, a neck draped on the upper arm during a turn. Clark Tippet's Some Assembly Required (1989) is a subtle, dark, theatrically shrewd duet that’s more like a duel. Set in the American west or somewhere similarly gritty, the combative ballet and gymnastics depict a young couple in an abusive relationship, seemingly bent on vivisecting each other. Their love/rage dynamic plays out against William Bolcom's funny and ornery Second Sonata for violin and piano. Tharp's Sinatra Suite shoots us back to 1983 for a stroll with a jazzier, snappier, snazzier couple whose dating situation is also on the fritz. Danced to the tune of five Sinatra favorites under dramatic lighting, it's a cool, softly elegant work that crosses into caricature only in moments of dopamine-fueled exuberance, as when in "That’s Life" the woman’s wiggly legs transform her into an unmanageable noodle. Swerving back further still is Robbins's timeless Fancy Free (1944), a character ballet for three footloose off-duty sailors that subsequently grew into the Broadway musical On the Town. Fittingly, there's an extraordinary feel of spontaneity to the dancing—especially on the part of the third sailor, a flawless tease. Leonard Bernstein's whimsical score will be performed live by the Chicago Philharmonic. —Jena Cutie



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