Seeing ABT a Second Time

Mar 30, 2019

What I’ll watch for in In the Upper Room, Songs of Bukovina

“The photos don’t do it justice,” I told my boss in October immediately after we both saw American Ballet Theatre perform Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room at the David H. Koch Theater

As Northrop’s Communications Manager, one of the easiest parts of my job helping to market dance performances is having access to the strong, compelling visuals that convey the drama and athleticism of the pieces.

And even though we had been using a variety of ABT-approved images for In the Upper Room—featuring a variety of dancers in black and white striped costumes with red socks or white shoes—I was struck immediately how seeing the performance live is so different from just seeing the images (and even watching the videos). Neither fully capture the playfulness, the fluidity, the increasing intensity—nor do they tap into Philip Glass’ spectacular soundscape that fits perfectly with the choreography.

I’m excited to see ABT perform the piece again Tue, Apr 2 to compare my initial reaction to another viewing, more informed about the piece since seeing it in New York. In this blog post, I learned about the creative process involved when Twyla Tharp first began rehearsing the piece, that the two groups of dancers called themselves Bunheads and Stompers, and a fascinating tidbit that Glass’ music was absolutely perfect on the first run through: “As we came rushing to the final movements of the section and hit the last pose, the music and movement ended at the exact same time. We all just stood in silence and in shock. It was the oddest feeling—like it was meant to be,” writes dancer Jamie Bishton.

Another element I will particularly look for is the haze used in the performance. I recall seeing the fog during the New York performance but since then, Northrop has conducted a trial run of the effect and discovered it can fill the theater if conducted as a worst-case scenario. We all learned from that test and have adjusted.

Another piece I saw during that October performance, Songs of Bukovina, also is on the Apr 2 program. It opened the evening and reminded me of a time when my husband and I were traveling through Europe and witnessed a magical street folk dance in Romania years ago. Alexi Ratmansky’s ballet is set in Bukovina, Romania and tells a similar story.

The third piece I experienced in October was the premiere of Jessica Lang’s Garden Blue, featuring principal dancers Misty Copeland, Herman Cornejo, Stella Abrera, and others. It was a treasure to see Copeland dance and we realized later Lang was just two rows in front of us for the premiere. While this piece is not part of Northrop’s program, I am very much looking forward to seeing Songs of Bukovina and In the Upper Room again and glad the order remains the same, ending with Tharp’s propulsive piece. See for yourself to do it justice.

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