On repeat viewings this weekend of "Field, Chair and Mountain," David Gordon's sensational new work for American Ballet Theatre, the mind is sent reeling along a Mo bius strip of images that seem to become more infernally clever with each viewing. This already notorious work for 20 dancers and 19 folding chairs, which received its world premiere at the Kennedy Center Opera House on Thursday, is on one level bifurcated. However, on closer inspection it becomes clear that the material from the first "classical" section reappears in the "chair" section with the chairs serving as partners, sometimes instead of and sometimes in addition to their human counterparts.
What you see is definitely not what you get in this and other dances constructed by Gordon. For what you see turns out to be only the visual trigger for a series of associated images -- kinetic, linguistic, metaphorical, literary, historical, musical and so on. Gordon's work is not for everyone; he is the thinking man's choreographer.
This turns out to be true not only for the audience but for those dancing as well. This was clearly in evidence yesterday evening in the only Washington appearance of Elaine Kudo and Johan Renvall as the lead couple. Technical failures hampered things, particularly in the requirements of the unisex partnering, but mostly it seemed a case of a failure to understand and trust the wit of Gordon's conception that muddied the ballet. In particular, Kudo's vamping and coy commentary were not only inappropriate but a clear case of vandalism.
However, Thursday's infamous "booing" incident was matched last night by an equally extraordinary scene as Gordon strode to the edge of the orchestra pit at the end of the ballet to applaud his dancers.
Other cast changes at ABT matinee and evening performances yesterday generally proved more felicitous. In the afternoon, Martine van Hamel's bravura performance of "Paquita" captured well the brilliant sun of Marius Petipa's Spain. Merce Cunningham's "Duets" was much cleaner and tighter -- more recognizably in the Cunningham style -- than were its idiosyncratic performances here earlier in the week. Completing the matinee program were a technically shaky "Theme and Variations," with a harried-looking Cheryl Yeager partnered with Peter Fonseca, and a repeat performance of Twyla Tharp's "The Little Ballet."
Cynthia Harvey's evening "Paquita" was all lush splendor as she continues to develop a distinctly elegant and mature personality in her classical roles. Also at the evening performance, Kevin McKenzie made his Washington debut as Amnon in van Hamel's "Amnon V'Tamar." McKenzie's Amnon was physically fiery, but the absence of choreographic motivation for his tortured scenes meant that this role, and indeed the entire ballet, remained a cipher.