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Bei mir bist du schön: means ‘American Ballet Theatre’ is grand


One of the most beautiful sights you can see in a theatre is the American Ballet Theatre in a live performance. ABT is the country’s oldest surviving ballet company, but the word ‘old’ doesn’t suit ABT. This past weekend the company displayed an exciting mix of traditional and avant-garde in Dallas’ performance.  It was a HUGE honor for Dallas to be graced with their appearance at the Winspear Opera House. After all, it was thirty years ago that they last visited us; so this was an event not to be missed.
We were so lucky to watch the ABT greats of the last several decades including Julie Kent, Paloma Herrera, Misty Copeland, and Jared Matthews. American Ballet Theatre’s Artistic Director, Kevin McKenzie (former Principal Dancer) keeps the company current with an inspired variation of contemporary and classic pieces.
I must admit, I’m a little obsessed with Julie Kent. I think she’s one of the most beautiful women in the world and knowing that she’s the mother of two and forty-three is enough to make me want to bow down and raise my arms up and down.  
I think most people hear ABT and think Swan Lake, Giselle, and Sleeping Beauty but ABT does progressive contemporary ballets oh so well. It feels fresh and right to see a classical ballet company dancing modern. Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor, Martha Clarke, Merce Cunningham are just some of the modern choreographers that have worked with ABT. 
Company B has the zippy feel of the 1940s with the swinging lindy and fast-paced polka. Listening to the Andrew Sisters brings back the spirit and hopefulness that Americans had during World War II. ABT danced to Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Tico-Tico, Bei Mir Bist Du Schön … Paul Taylor originally created Company B for Houston Ballet in 1991. The audience was swaying along with the dancers as they moved to the Andrew Sisters, even singing along…
I could say bella, bella, even say wunderbar
Each language only helps me tell you how grand you are
I've tried to explain, bei mir bist du schoen
So kiss me, and say you understand
Also on the ABT bill was another modern pioneer, Merce Cunningham who choreographed a set of charming Duets for six couples back in 1980. Duets mesmerized the audience with their abstract but balletic and playful movements. The bold colors of the costumes and movements had a clarity and preciseness that kept the delighted audience thoroughly engaged during the John Cage electronic drumming music.
In Duets, each couple related to one another in a gentle but exacting manner. Watching their bodies, I felt like they had on point shoes because their lines were long and their length kept building with the percussion of the music. The music made me imagine South Africa but the dance style reminded me of Ireland because the arms laid low and the focus was on the power of the lower half. I loved the end when all six duets returned to the stage in a fiery rush of controlled chaos.
I’ve always been fascinated that Merce Cunningham worked without music first. True to Cunningham’s form, the piece Duets was rehearsed without music and to keep the ABT dancers on their ‘modern’ toes, the music was mixed into eight variations so they wouldn’t get in the habit of predicting the music. Merce Cunningham only recently passed away in 2009 so it was a lovely tribute to him and helps keep his dance alive.
Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas is what most people imagine contemporary ballet to be…free, flowey, and fresh. The pure white costumes matched the emotion of the piece. I found myself leaning into the stage and moving toward the dancers. The pianist, Barbara Bilach, was on stage with the dancers and only increased the mood. You can’t beat live music.
Alexei Ratmansky (artist in residence) choreographed this beautiful piece that made the audience gasp with delight. It was delicate and flirtatious. Julie Kent played the perfect coquet as she teased Alexandre Hammoudi then abandoned him on stage. He kept looking back to see if she was watching him dance. When she reappeared, she pointed to him and he shook his head yes. The art of flirtatious gesturing made Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas my favorite performance of the night.
Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux from the 1960s was breathtaking with the lovely Paloma Herrera. She is faster that a jackrabbit. Tchaikovsky’s music was originally meant for Swan Lake and this Pas de Deux is a little treasure that almost never happened due to a cast away Tchaikovsky piece.
With ballet, everything is up, light, and effortless; modern dance is the opposite, with everything being grounded into the Earth. To have ballet dancers dance modern was a pleasure for the eyes as well as the soul. As with everything, you must go down to go up. Classical modern is my favorite style, it’s just beautiful! I really admire the ABT dancers in this performance because it is exceedingly challenging to switch from ballet to modern in the same show.
As the audience retired, the Andrew Sisters song, “I Can Dream, Can’t I” happily stuck in our heads…For dreams are just like wine, and I am drunk with mine. Thank you ABT, for the pleasure of leaving the Winspear intoxicated by the champagne of ballet. Please don’t wait another thirty years to return. Bei mir bist du schön!

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