What Makes the Firebird Sing: At ABT, Alexei Ratmansky’s Action-Packed Version Has Energetic Bird, Engaging Maiden

But Graeme Murphy’s 'Swan Lake' is dead in the water

The Australian company, celebrating its 50th anniversary, also brought with it a mixed bill mysteriously titled “Infinity.” It began with an unfortunate show-and-tell of bits and pieces it performs combined with a mini-documentary about its history that might have been interesting if the spoken narrative hadn’t been battling to be heard over crashing music. There were a number of pas de deux (yes, the Don Quixote was one of them, the tempo so sluggish it felt like a train slowing down to let passengers off) and an excerpt from the second act of Giselle—a truly dreadful idea, not unknown to ABT galas. These were all performed with solemn correctness—the company’s strong training shone through all too clearly, as at a school graduation performance. (If only all these capable dancers could open up!) Nothing shone through Stanton Welch’s terrible Divergence except one’s relief that the Welch wavelet of a few years ago had passed on to Houston, where he’s now the resident choreographer.

Wayne McGregor’s Dyad 1929 is a good example of this capable British choreographer’s work. It’s highly energized and relentless—the music is Steve Reich’s “Double Sextet”—making its dancers work hard (and actually loosening them up). There’s excitement in McGregor’s work, but what’s it all about, Alfie? Better, however, this kind of assured competence than no competence, and Dyad 1929 is a step up from the Millepied and Martins pieces City Ballet served up this season. But like them, it’s more an exhibition of proficiency than a meaningful statement. (You only have to spot the references to The Four Temperaments to realize how deeply, perhaps unconsciously, Balanchine’s innovations have penetrated contemporary ballet.)

To wind things up, choreographer Stephen Page and some of his dancers from the Bangarra Dance Theatre joined in with one of his faux-primitive jamborees, Warumuk—in the dark night. It was dark night up on the stage of the Koch theater, all right; apparently the aborigine population never gets to see the light of day. It was all so carefully engineered, so handsomely accoutered, so passionately performed—so empty.

editorial@observer.com