A mainstay of the Kennedy Center's ballet programming for more than 35 years, American Ballet Theatre led by Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie returns January 26 _31 to the Opera House. They bring two programs, an evening-length production of Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet and a mixed repertory featuring works by Sir Frederick Ashton, Alexei Ratmansky, and Twyla Tharp.
As the Center's long-time patrons know, every American Ballet Theatre performance is an event not to be missed. In talent, size, scope of work, and every other measure of a ballet company's greatness, ABT ranks among the most respected in the world. The company stands unparalleled in its sheer ability to transport an audience through form, motion, and drama.
On January 26 & 27, American Ballet Theatre presents Birthday Offering (Ashton/Glazunov), Seven Sonatas (Ratmansky/Scarlatti), and The Brahms-Haydn Variations (Tharp/Brahms).
Sir Frederick Ashton's Birthday Offering was choreographed in 1956 to celebrate the 25th birthday of Britain's The Royal Ballet. It's a classical showcase for seven ballerinas and their cavaliers to music by Alexander Glazunov. According to the New York Times, "For Ashton, ballet was a Shakespearean sonnet, and Birthday Offering served its purpose as a pice d'occasion."
ABT Artist-in-Residence and former Bolshoi Ballet Artistic Director Alexei Ratmansky is one of the most sought-after choreographers today. His Seven Sonatas, set to seven piano sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, was a hit at its world premiere this past October. The New York Times characterized the ballet for three couples as "spellbinding" and praised Ratmansky for putting "the art back into gesture." Dressed in white by Holly Hynes: the women in flowing skirts and the men in tights: the "dancers reveal a marvelously changeable array of rapture, flirtation, love, and longing" (The Wall Street Journal).
A ballet for thirty dancers, contemporary dance choreographer Twyla Tharp's The Brahms-Haydn Variations, originally entitled Variations on a Theme by Haydn, was given its world premiere by ABT at the Kennedy Center on March 21, 2000. The Washington Post called it "a marvel of musicality, soaring flight, understated wit and seamless design." Reflecting her modern dance roots, the neo-classical work is packed with steps and lifts and "like the music, the ballet stretches from the lyrical to the expansive" (The New York Times).
A true masterpiece, Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet brought audiences to their feet at its 1985 ABT premiere. The tradition continues January 28 _31 in the Opera House. With brilliant choreography danced to a sensuous, stirring score by Prokofiev, this richly textured ballet remains one of the Company's most romantic, heart-wrenching, and enduring works. The three-act ballet version of Shakespeare's classic romantic tragedy, last presented by ABT at the Kennedy Center in 2006, is a showcase for ABT's highly regarded principal men. Hailed by the Washington Post for its "strong ensemble performance," the Company created "a vibrant Renaissance world." From the grandeur of the masked ball to the intimacy of the garden balcony, ABT's dancers bring this tale of young love and bitter feuds to bittersweet life.
The Company's emphasis on artistic outreach: mounting 15 international tours to 126 cities in 42 countries: secures ABT its place as "America's ballet company." In Washington, the Company's productions have been recipients of the highest praise from audiences and critics alike for the past decade. In recent years, the Company has brought such favorites to the Kennedy Center as Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, and Petipa's full-length La Bayadre. Now, celebrating 70 years as an artistic tour de force and national treasure, American Ballet Theatre brings the best of ballet to Washington once again.
Jeremy D. Birch is the writer/editor for Kennedy Center News.