American Ballet Theatre’s 2023 Fall Season Brings Together Classical and Contemporary

Three programs, thoughtfully curated by ABT's new Artistic Director Susan Jaffe, showcase eight ballets that offer something for everyone.

There is so much to look forward to in American Ballet Theatre’s 2023 Fall Season. Three programs, thoughtfully curated by the Company’s new Artistic Director Susan Jaffe, will feature eight ballets ranging from classical to contemporary, including several the Company hasn’t performed in many years.

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Gillian Murphy (Titania) and Daniel Camargo (Oberon) in Frederick Ashton’s ‘The Dream’. Rosalie O'Connor

The works deal with dreams and rituals, death and desire, war and sex. You will hear Classical, Romantic, Neoclassical and Jazz music. You will see cherry trees and swords and donkey heads, elaborate sets and exquisite costumes, and so many talented dancers.

“Many of the works are big works that include our corps de ballet,” Jaffe told Observer, “so the audience will really get to see the depth of talent within our ranks.”

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While most of the casts are quite large, the Fall Gala on Tuesday, October 24 focuses on the small. It will feature a series of pas de deux performed by ABT Principal Dancers, in excerpts from beloved classics like The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet, along with a World Premiere pas de deux by Principal Dancer James Whiteside (performed by Isabella Boylston and Aran Bell).

Classics Old and New

The first program of the season, Classics Old and New, is perhaps the most exciting in terms of its breadth of styles and moods. There is something here for everyone, and balletomanes will appreciate the lineup of influential choreographers.

The program opens with Alexei Ratmansky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (2013) set to Dimitri Shostakovich’s “Concerto No. 1 for Piano, Trumpet and Strings [Op. 35]”. Ratmansky, born in Russia and raised in Ukraine, was ABT’s first Artist in Residence for 13 years (he stepped down in June to join New York City Ballet as their Artist in Residence) and is regarded as one of the greatest living ballet choreographers. The abstract piece is energetic and technically impressive—a visual representation of the musical score. Like Shostakovich’s 1933 composition, the piece is complicated and beautiful, but something lurks beneath: something that feels a bit like the end of the world or perhaps another beginning.

Skylar Brandt in ‘Piano Concerto No. 1’. Rosalie O'Connor Photography

Next is the Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort (1991), set to the slow movements of two of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s piano concertos, originally created for the Salzburg Festival on the second centenary of Mozart’s death. It received its ABT Premiere in 2003 and was last performed by the Company in 2004. Jaffe was delighted to bring back Kylián’s work (staged by Elke Scheppers) for the program. “He is one of the kings of choreography,” she said. “He’s one of the most creative voices of the last century and this century.” The sensual, aggressive, visually striking piece consists of six men, six women and six foils. It is unlike anything else in ABT’s repertory.

Last is Danish-born Harald Lander’s Études (1948), set to music by Carl Czerny and originally created for the Royal Danish Ballet at the Royal Opera House in Copenhagen. The piece, staged by Thomas Lund and last performed by the company in 2008, is a dancer’s dance. It is a dance about learning to dance, following the structure of a ballet class—barre, adagio, petite allegro, grand allegro—to illustrate the development of a dancer’s technique and artistry. Études lacks narrative so is considered an abstract ballet but is also an homage to August Bournonville’s Romantic ballets—specifically La Sylphide. The finale, performed by the three lead dancers as well as thirty-six corps de ballet members, is one of the most thrilling things you will see on stage this fall.

20th Century Works: Balanchine and Ashton

The second program of the season, featuring ballets by George Balanchine and Frederick Ashton, is the most traditional and transporting. For two hours, you will escape the daily grind and be immersed in otherworldly beauty.

First is Balanchine’s Ballet Imperial (1941), created for Ballet Caravan (a precursor to New York City Ballet) set to Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky’s “Concerto No. 2 in G for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 44”. The grand and elegant ballet, staged for ABT by Colleen Neary, was last performed by the Company in 2005. Like most of Balanchine’s neoclassical work, it is plotless, though as an homage to the Imperial Russian Ballet, it also draws on the style of Marius Petipa and the St. Petersburg tradition. Rouben Ter-Arutunian’s scenery and costumes are magnificent.

Following the trip back to 19th-century Russia, you will enter the magical woods of Victorian England in Frederick Ashton’s The Dream (1964), a retelling of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The comedic ballet, set to a score by Felix Mendelssohn, received its World Premiere by The Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House and was first performed by ABT in 2002. The Dream is fun and lovely, as are David Walker’s sets and costumes.

21st Century Works: King, Ratmansky and Bond

The third program of the season, featuring 21st-century ballets, is most in alignment with Jaffe’s vision to make the Company more diverse and inclusive. One choreographer is Black, and another is a woman. While this shouldn’t be rare in the ballet world of 2023, it unfortunately still is.

Alonzo King’s Single Eye (2022), the newest piece of the season, is a welcome burst of fresh air on the stage. King was born in Georgia to civil rights activists and is considered a visionary choreographer for infusing classical ballet with individuality and a raw, emotional depth. Jaffe was pleased to bring Single Eye back this year, sharing that King is “an extraordinary choreographer with deep creativity,” and how much the dancers enjoy performing his innovative movements. The piece is set to music by jazz artist and composer (and frequent collaborator) Jason Moran and speaks to finding peace in times of trial and tribulations.

Next is the New York Premiere of Gemma Bond’s Depuis le Jour (2017), set to the Act III soprano aria from Gustave Charpentier’s French opera Louise. Bond has said that the pas de deux, like the famous aria, is a testament to naturalism and the everyday. “Everyone can enjoy it… you don’t have to go to the ballet every week to connect with what we’re doing.”

A scene from Alonzo King’s ‘Single Eye’. Marty Sohl

Closing out the program (and the season) is Ratmansky’s production of Sergei Prokofiev’s On the Dnipro (2009). The score was originally commissioned by the Paris Opera, and the original ballet received its World Premiere in 1932 by the Paris Opera Ballet. For his production, Ratmansky followed the original libretto (by Sergei Prokofiev and Serge Lifar) but updated the choreography. This was his first full-length work for the Company, and though the story was close to home (it is set in Ukraine along the banks of the Dnipro river) the themes of war and heartbreak are even more relevant now.

It is no accident that Jaffe placed Ratmansky’s ballets at the opening and closing of the season. She remains an ardent fan of his work. “He takes classical ballet steps and reinvents them in ways you would have never thought of. Having two of his works in the programming, for me, is very special.”

American Ballet Theatre’s 2023 Fall Season runs from today through October 1829 at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater. 

American Ballet Theatre’s 2023 Fall Season Brings Together Classical and Contemporary