After watching "Contredances," Glen Tetley's latest creation for American Ballet Theatre, given its Washington premiere at the Kennedy Center last night, one was inclined to think that perhaps the choreographer should be taking his rightful place in the body fitness industry.
Natalia Makarova and Anthony Dowell danced the paired leads expertly, and won an ovation for their efforts. But in Tetley's idiom generally and this ballet especially, all the performers-and movements-seem interchangeable. One is conscious not of dancers but of physiques, not of steps or kinetic patterns but of sinews and anatomy.
"Contredances" has with it three early orchestral scores by Anton Webern, rectilinear architecture in skeletal perspective. But in what way the dancing relates to these things, or to the title (aside from certain facilities of alignment for the seven couples involved), passes understanding. Willa Kim's taut, light-blue costumes do their job more obviously-they reveal the body.
The choreography, as with most other familiar Tetley ballets, is unabashedly promiscuous with movement. The lifts begin right off, in twisting, curling or cruciform shapes, and continue leaps. Spines fold forward, backs arch, limbs swirl like vines or pinions, torsos coil into fetal retractions, and all this stretching and writhing proceeds full out, draining every ounce of muscular tensility every second. But there's so little discernible, motivation for it that one comes away feeling the display belong not on a stage but in a gymnasium.
An account of John Cranko's handsome, if oddly truncated, "PAS deDeux, Holberg," new to the ABT repertory and winningly performed by Martime van Hamel and Kevin McKenzie last night, will other notable items from Sunday's programs. For now, he it noted that Kristine Elliott was surprisingly strong, poised and persuasive in her first "Theme and Variations" on the matinee, as sensitively partnered by McKenzie.