From the revival of a beloved Balanchine classic to a premiere haunted by its guests, the ghosts of performances past could be felt Wednesday as American Ballet Theatre took the stage at the David H. Koch Theater for its annual fall gala.
The evening started with a nod to the company’s roots, beginning with Balanchine’s acclaimed “Theme and Variations,” a technical marvel that was originally staged for Ballet Theatre in 1947. The imperial affair, danced under a glistening ceiling of five chandeliers, was led by principals Devon Teuscher and Cory Stearns. While the staging of the corps de ballet highlighted the daring precision at play within the piece, Teuscher’s musicality and development of line during her solo moments and the central pas de deux imbued the performance with soft romanticism.
If “Theme and Variations” represented the depth of the company’s history, the program’s concluding piece, Twyla Tharp’s “A Gathering of Ghosts,” offered up a look at its current legends. Choreographed in celebration of principal dancer Herman Cornejo, the debut marked the first time that Tharp, a central figure in the ABT repertoire, has had a world premiere with the company since her 2008 “Rabbit and Rogue.” The premiere was also the first presentation of the season spotlighting the achievements of Cornejo, who will later be honored Oct. 26 with a special program.
Divided into four movements, the mythical ballet finds its central character, Cornejo, the host of an unruly group of ghosts and consorts. At first, the apparitions, outfitted in designer Norma Kamali’s glittering costumes, seemed to dance independently of Cornejo, who took to the stage with a crackling presence that moved seamlessly between serpentine jigs to heroic jumps. In contrast, the consorts who followed, dressed in identical stripes, partnered Cornejo with ease, as if they were summoned from distant memories. Past and present surmounted, the full cast came together in the end, adorning Cornejo with a long, silver cape and ushering him to the front of the stage, where he took his place as the master of processions.
Choreographer Jessica Lang’s jazz-infused pas de deux, “Let Me Sing Forevermore” also made its New York premiere during the gala, establishing Lang as a frequent contributor to the company’s slate of new works. Set to music by Tony Bennett (who made an appearance in the audience), the piece was performed by soloists Catherine Hurlin and Aran Bell, who both took on the role with simmering, jubilant energy.
Top Image: Herman Cornejo in Twyla Tharp’s "A Gathering of Ghosts." Photo: Rosalie O’Connor.