American Ballet Theatre’s “ABT Forward” at Segerstrom Hall offers three different ballet programs, each delightful in its own way. The music varies from Leonard Bernstein (played by live orchestra), to moody jazz compositions by Jason Moran, to swingy crooning by Tony Bennett with a dash of Lady Gaga.
The dance varies according to the music—including wonderful new choreography by Alonzo King—and all showcase the exceptional talent and skill of the ABT dancers!
“Bernstein in a Bubble”
The first piece, “Bernstein in a Bubble,” features eight compositions by Leonard Bernstein from his 1980 “Divertimento for Orchestra,” played by a live orchestra (the Pacific Symphony, expertly conducted by Ormsby Williams).
Seven male and female dancers execute with verve Alexei Ratmansky’s playful choreography, fitting to the compositions’ range of styles, including “Waltz,” “Samba,” “Blues,” and “March.” Especially memorable is the humorous “Turkey Trot” with Skylar Brandt, Patrick Frenette and Tyler Maloney.
This program premiered digitally in March 2021 due to pandemic constraints but can now be performed live. It is joyful to see ballet deconstructed, in a way, to accompany Bernstein’s different compositions and tell abstract relationship stories through movement. Costuming by Moritz Junge is also colorful and informal, as if the dancers are playing and inventing in their studios.
“Single-Eye” (World Premiere)
The second piece, choreographer Alonzo King’s new “Single-Eye”—set to complex and moody jazz compositions by Jason Moran—is perhaps the most interesting and successful of the three programs.
Robert Rosenwasser integrates the set and costume design with an appealing aesthetic that is both earthy and spiritual. A gold curtain hangs across the stage at the beginning, giving way to a sheer curtain as dancers flow across the stage, which then also parts so the performers are fully visual, as if we are entering a dream or a different plane.
Costumes (constructed by Joan Raymond) and backdrop curtains range in color from light blues to ochre to browns to reds, sustaining an airy yet grounded feel as the dancers engage King’s meditative choreography with precision and feeling.
The set and costumes also work well with Moran’s complex and transporting music—earthy, ethereal, rhythmic, melodic—as do the dance motions. Isabella Boylston and Thomas Forster perform an early duet, with carefully choreographed steps highlighting their poise and strength. Calvin Royal III then performs an impressive solo with sinewy tautness that works with the mood and complexity of the music.
A final duet between Skylar Brandt and Cory Stearns is somewhat less compelling perhaps because it’s slower, in line with the music but with seemingly less inventive choreography. The remaining four pieces of Moran’s music engage the full company of about 12 dancers variously. Of the chorus, Chloe Misseldine somehow stands out for her extremely precise yet fluid motion.
Altogether, “Single-Eye” is an emotionally immersive dance and music experience not to be missed.
The final program of “ABT Forward” is its most energetic, set to 10 Tony Bennett numbers and even featuring a blowup of one of his ink drawings as a backdrop. Perhaps fittingly, costumes (Wes Gordon for designer Carolina Herrera) evoke the 1950s—with white sailor pants and poodle skirts in polka dots and primary colors—as does much of the choreography (by Jessica Lang).
“ZigZag,” which first premiered in October 2021 in New York, is like one of those iced confections that both look beautiful and provide a very sweet sugar rush. Giant zig-zagging lines (designed by Derek McLane) provide a backdrop that, along with dynamic lighting (Nicole Pearce), engages us visually and complements the high-energy motion of more than a dozen dancers.
However, though detailed, the choreography sometimes literally interprets song lyrics rather than reinterprets them, and only about half seems to be ballet. Though it’s wonderful to see such talented dancers performing 1950s-style dance moves, they don’t necessarily have to be ballet dancers. And those non-ballet parts seem like they should involve dancers with shoes rather than ballet flats.
But frankly, “ZigZag” is simply a blast to see as the very talented dancers give it their all, often running across the stage between dance moves, such as for “What the World Needs Now” and “It don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.” Standouts are Joo Won Ahn in a solo for “Blue Moon” and in a duet with Cassandra Trenary for “It’s De-Lovely.” Cory Stearns is also engaging in “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
Accompanied by Bennett’s soothing tones and impressive vocal range, “ZigZag” literally bursts with exuberance, flair and visual de-loveliness—a tour de force performance to cap off a very “forward” dance and musical experience.
American Ballet Theatre’s “ABT Forward” continues at Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, through March 19, with performances Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $39 to $129 and can be purchased online at SCFTA.org or by calling the box office at (714) 556-2787. Proof of vaccination and mask-wearing is required.