Frabjous Times

Hereafter, a ballet

This evening we went to Lincoln Center in NYC to take in a ballet. This was a pleasure for me, since I've loved orchestra and dance ever since I was able to see them growing up in San Francisco back in the '60s. The company I work for has a corporate box for the ballet and for the opera which they make available for the benefit of employees and their guests, sort of on a lottery system. This is the third performance by the American Ballet Theater we've been fortunate enough to see this way, ensconced in the plush "parterre" level private box directly across from the stage: pretty much the best seats in the house.
The performance was the last one of a new work Hereafter performed by the ABT and their orchestra along with the NYC Choir. The first part, "Earth," was set to the music of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana with all of its garish splendor. Pam said that this was the one big draw for her to attend this evening, as this choral work had been one of her late father's favorites, so we were attending in memory of him.
The staging put the choir way up in two tiers above the stage, with a long staircase in between reaching up toward a sort of Incan-looking motif in the backdrop, with ladders and scaffolds down at stage level. There was one principal male dancer and three principal females, a couple of other fellows who looked like Aztec priests with headdresses and all, then maybe twelve other dancers making out the rest of the company. The Playbill mentioned South American and Australian Aborigine elements in the director's concept of the work, but I also had flashes back to Mayan (that stair like the Mesoamerican pyramid stairs), Stravinsky (from Orff's use of percussion), Indonesian gamelan (the stylized, ritualistic gestures at the beginning and the end of the act), and even vaudeville (the way the women flounced their deeply slit skirts brought to mind none other than the Hoochie Coochie). There were three vocal soloists, with the soprano making particularly effective use of the unearthly high vocal range at times. The audience seemed to respond best to the most athletic portions of the ballet, which has for some years now featured particularly fine male leads from what I understand. Sexy and spritual, at times complex and other times childish, its vital energy was a fitting memento of my father-in-law George.
Something was bugging me, though, during the latter part of this performance. I attended to business at intermission, however, whipping out my mobile phone to call the gym to make a reservation for spin class on Saturday morning as usual. I think all the athleticism reminded me that I'd forgotten to do this earlier. Like a good citizen, I did turn the phone back off before returning to the parterre, and I heard no sign that anyone else in the audience had ignored the dire warnings posted about this point of etiquette either.
The second part of the program was actually printed up in Playbill as being the first part. Perhaps the stage director realized that the two parts played better when switched around. This section, entitled "Heaven," was set to the music of contemporary composer John Adams' work "Harmonium" and used the full chorus to give voice to one poem by John Donne and two by Emily Dickinson. I felt my breath taken away when the curtains parted silently and a sort of metal and glass circle started descending from the rafters, a man lying at its center. The crystal ship having delivered its passenger to the stage, it again ascended out of view. The music was minimalistic and strongly tonal, with thick, dense chords powering the presentation throughout. The gestural language of the dance evoked themes of death, love and separation, finally transcendence. The lighting reinforced the storyline as well, with a yellow square seeming to stand in for the warmth of sun, an orangey flood from the footlights highlighting something like the line of ancestors and descendants over time, and a cold white spot on the figure of Death who leads the protagonist at the end back to the spaceship to heaven. It was perhaps a bit intense for Pam to see at this time, but I felt that the music and the dance had a fundamental message of acceptance which seemed to be comforting.
Such emotion and beauty. I hope this work finds a place in the repertory so many can see it.
Originally published: 2003/05/22 23:42:24