Artistic Director Mikhail Baryshnikov's unflagging search for new choreography for American Ballet Theatre has hit pay dirt with Clark Tippet's "Enough Said," which had its Washington premiere Tuesday night at the Kennedy Center Opera House.
An earlier version of the ballet was seen in an ABT choreographic workshop program last fall at New York's Joyce Theater. One achievement on this level is enough to validate a hundred such workshops. After the official premiere of "Enough Said" in January in Miami Beach, Miami Herald critic Laurie Horn called it "possibly the most exciting new ballet to come out of American Ballet Theatre in a decade."
The more I ponder this the more I'm inclined to agree. A lot of new work for ABT has passed under the bridge since Twyla Tharp's landmark "Push Comes to Shove" in 1976, some of it very fine. It's hard, however, to think of another opus in that interval as strikingly individual, as durably constructed or as promising for the future as Tippet's. The exception may be Tharp's "Sinatra Suite," which isn't really comparable; it was transcribed from a work for Tharp's own company and was very much a personal vehicle for Baryshnikov (and partner Elaine Kudo, presently no longer with ABT). Tippet's ballet is for eight ABT dancers, none of them of principal rank.
"Enough Said," moreover, is Tippet's first ballet, though I'd defy anyone who didn't know this in advance to guess it. There's nothing tentative about the choreography -- it's altogether sure of itself. And though the movement lexicon doesn't seem conspicuously original, the ballet as a whole has a sharp choreographic profile that never looks like diluted this or warmed-over that. Nor does it depend on gimmicks. This is a serious piece of work, exciting and absorbing at first sight, but complex and pithy enough not to feel used up by a single viewing.
The wiry, nervously percolating music by George Perle -- his "Serenade No. 3 for Piano and Chamber Orchestra" -- dictates both the form and the emotional texture of the ballet. There are five sections, the first two of which introduce soloist Nora Kimball with three male dancers and then soloist Robert Hill with three females. Wariness and sexual tension emanate from their rangy acrobatics. The third section, in which the music becomes leaner and slower, and which is labeled in the score "Elegy (in memory of George Balanchine)," brings Kimball and Hill together into a kind of erotic scrimmage and test of wills. The last two sections, which recapitulate and expand upon earlier motifs (for example, a circle of jumps by Hill with his head in a tilted roll), lead to a final reconciliation of Kimball and Hill within a triangular scheme of couples.
The form-fitting costumes by fashion designer Giorgio di Sant'Angelo, in electric colors thrown into stark relief by Jennifer Tipton's dramatic lighting, carve the dancers' bodies into skeletal segments and evoke both the circus and the playing field.
Kimball, a Stuttgart Ballet soloist before joining ABT two years ago, dances this work with an imperious authority and allure that are extraordinary. She's beautifully matched with the newly strengthened, streamlined and intensified Hill, who has become the company's most consistently riveting young performer in the year since ABT was here last. The rest of Tuesday's cast was splendid all around.
The performance of "Donizetti Variations" that opened the Tuesday evening bill with Amanda McKerrow and Gil Boggs as leads was technically polished but expressively humdrum. In the accounts of "Etudes" that ended both Tuesday and Wednesday nights' programs, there were outstandingly virtuosic contributions from Cheryl Yeager, Johan Renvall and Julio Bocca. Highlights of the Wednesday program included wonderfully spirited dancing by Deirdre Carberry, Wes Chapman and Bonnie Moore in "Les Rendezvous," and Kathleen Moore repeating her superlative characterization of Hagar in "Pillar of Fire."