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Jack Anderson

Conscience, Elegies, and Ballet Theatre

American Ballet Theatre
New York City Center, 130 West 56th Street
Closed Nov. 5
Reviewed by Jack Anderson Nov. 6, 2006

American Ballet Theatre deserves praise for once again including "Dark Elegies," Antony Tudor's ritual of mourning, and "The Green Table," Kurt Jooss's anti-war ballet, in its autumn season. Both are ballets of conscience and compassion.

"Dark Elegies," which Tudor created in 1937 to Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, retained its austere eloquence when I saw it Nov. 4. Despite striking solo roles, this is essentially an ensemble piece in which Tudor emphasizes broken choreographic lines from the First Song onward. That song introduces a grieving soloist (Michele Wiles) and a stoic community, moving with halting walks.

In the Second Song, whenever a man (Roman Zhurbin) lifts a woman (Melanie Hamrick), she either crumples up or grows rigid. The Third Song begins with lines of people holding one another in what look like solemn folk dances. Then a soloist (in this case, the admirable Jared Mathews) detaches himself from the group in leaps that make him resemble a wounded bird.

A woman (the equally effective Adrienne Schulte) moves uncertainly in the Fourth Song until men try to shelter her. The Fifth song begins with turbulent ensemble steps, before giving way to bewildered, pain-wracked leaps for a man (Carlos Lopez). Despite hints of pent-up violence here, the choreography never explodes. Instead, the community is finally seen with hands clasped as if in prayer, and everyone exits in resignation. But the last woman's faltering steps suggest that this is no facile happy ending.

Both "Dark Elegies" and Jooss's "Green Table" focus on serious issues. Jooss shows a war, yet never tells us what that war was about. War is inherently terrible, he implies. "Dark Elegies" presents the aftermath of a disaster without indicating the nature of that disaster. Although the texts for Mahler's songs concern a family tragedy, Tudor goes beyond private grief to depict communal mourning. But what has occasioned it?

Many years ago, a press representative for England's Ballet Rambert told me that whenever that company toured "Elegies," communities that had recently faced disasters at sea (and Nadia Benois's scenery does depict a stormy coast) assumed that the ballet concerned tragedies akin to their own, while inland audiences related it to mine collapses or factory fires.

"Dark Elegies" evokes all such situations, making local events universal. Like Jooss, Tudor honors and pities people struggling in terrible times. We live in such times now. No wonder "Dark Elegies" and "The Green Table" have such a lasting impact.

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