Ballet pays tribute to George Harrison

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP  |  Oct. 23, 2002 at 6:00 AM
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NEW YORK, D.C., Oct. 23 (UPI) -- An exciting new ballet danced to music by Beatle George Harrison is being given its world premiere by the American Ballet Theater, which commissioned four choreographers for the work titled "Within You Without You."

It is one of two new works being introduced by ABT in the course of its fall engagement at the New York City Center, running through next Sunday. The other, "Sin and Tonic," is a wittily dance dramatization of American composer Edgar Meyer's "Violin Concerto."

American choreographers Ann Reinking and David Parsons and Australian choreographers Natalie Weir and Stanton Welch contributed to "Within You Without You," and Canadian choreographer James Kudelka created "Sin and Tonic."

It marks the first time that songs by Harrison, the British rock star who died last November, have been used for dance, but it is not the first ballet to use rock music. The Joffrey ballet has made successful use of commissioned rock scores for "Astarte" and "Trinity" and for "Billboard," set to music by Prince. Twyla Tharp also had a hit with "Deuce Coupe," set to Beach Boys' music.

"Within You Without You" may be the best of them all and is certainly an audience-pleaser, as evidence by the ecstatic reaction of audiences at City Center. Of the six individual ballets that make up the work, Welch's "Isn't It a Pity" and Parsons' "My Sweet Lord," both ensemble pieces, are the most striking choreographically.

The ballet opens with Welch's "Something" danced by the outstandingly talented Angel Corella with Gillian Murphy posing as his muse. Corella plays a young man courting a pretty girl by impressing her with virtuoso leaps and spins, occasionally taking time out to scratch his back, until the girl walks out on him.

Next comes "I Dig Love," Weir's impassioned love duet that becomes a triangle, dazzlingly performed by Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel with Herman Cornejo playing the intruder. There is a lot of tricky dancing, but none of it adds up to much except as a demonstration of how classical ballet technique can be stretched to interpret a modern musical idiom.

It is followed by Reinking's first choreographic effort on behalf of ABT set to "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." This duet of carefully matched movements, sometimes using a folding chair as a prop, is danced amorously by Sandra Brown and Jose Manuel Carreno, whose up-and-down lifts and other calisthenic movements seem effortless. Brown even does a split, not on the floor, but on Carreno's shoulder.

"Isn't It a Pity," Welch's second contribution, is performed by 10 dancers who occasionally pair off to perform intricately patterned cross-stage movements while Joaquin De Luz pursues his chosen partner, danced by Xiomara Reyes. The pity is that he doesn't get her when the piece ends in a musical crescendo, but the exuberance of this piece is totally winning.

Cornejo and Murphy are then paired in Weir's second dance number, "Within You, Without You," which plays galvanic movement off against the lugubrious musical setting played on the sitar. Cornejo, wearing only khaki pants, does most of the dancing while Murphy wanders about in a pale blue chiffon dress.

The finale, Parsons' "My Sweet Lord," has the full cast sweeping the stage in a joyous whirlwind of movement including some daring turns in the air. Julie Kent leads this happy band of couples to a spine-tingling conclusion, then salutes the image of George Harrison that suddenly is projected on the backdrop.

Catherine Zuber has stuck to a color scheme of red, maroon and garnet for most of her costumes styled as pared-down street clothes. Brad Field's subtle lighting is always poetic, but never more so than in "Within You, Without You."

Kudelka, artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, lives up to his reputation as one of ballet's most original choreographers with "Sin and Tonic," a technically demanding romp involving a couple in love (Kent and Marcelo Gomez), two mischievous horned sprites representing Sin and Tonic (Craig Salstein and Carlos Lopez), and Cupid (Corella).

Kent and Gomez start out as loners but are brought together by Corella, who wears an all-white costume and white wings to denote his match-making role. Cupid is full of mischief, and the sprites exude deviltry, mixing movements with the more relaxed lovers who negotiate around a wall of five men dressed in black as their affair moves from flirtatiousness to inebriation and a lovers' quarrel and finally to bliss.

Dennis Lavoie has costumed "Sin and Tonic," giving the lovers everyday clothes to wear while Cupid and the sprites get corset-like costumes put together with straps, possibly a classical illusion. Scott Zielinsky's lighting does wonders for the work, and Kudelka's concerto is lilting and lovely. The composer was recently the recipient of one of the annual MacArthur "genius" awards.

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