Sometimes an ambitious failure can be more interesting than the same artist’s easy successes. Consider “Chamber Symphony,” the centerpiece of the three-part bill that opened the engagement by American Ballet Theatre at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Thursday.
Choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky -- best known for slick, empty remakes of solid-gold titles -- it attempted to harness the intense melancholy of a score by Dmitri Shostakovich (arranged by Rudolph Barshai) and impose on it a complex pseudo-narrative agenda.
Unfortunately, Ratmansky’s technical and expressive instincts were constantly at war here, sometimes literally as when two dancers execute intimate character mime on one side of the stage while the corps swirls turbulently and pointlessly on the other.
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Premiered just six weeks ago, this saga of a man’s doomed relationships often provided a virtual rummage sale of 20th-century ballet: a depiction of an anguished outsider longing to connect with a surging throng à la Antony Tudor’s “Pillar of Fire,” for example, or the mechanics of one danseur simultaneously partnering three ballerinas à la George Balanchine’s “Apollo” (danced on the same Thursday program).
None of it took you deeper into the music, but every so often the sense of Ratmansky feverishly straining against his creative limitations yielded something compelling, as when the mini-corps repeatedly threw Yuriko Kajiya at James Whiteside and then repeatedly spirited her away. Group action and individual emotion meshed seamlessly here and even managed to suit the music.
Whiteside made you feel his pain and proved a disarmingly lyrical virtuoso. Kajiya remained arresting even when her character’s motives were incomprehensible, and effective contributions came from Isabella Boylston and Julie Kent as Whiteside’s other lost loves. Glowering faces dominated George Tsypin’s backdrop and rather flossy costumes by Keso Dekker were muted by Jennifer Tipton’s somber lighting design.
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As for Ballet Theatre’s “Apollo,” it offered a performance by Marcelo Gomes in the title role that physicalized every shift of impetus and rhetoric in Igor Stravinsky’s score.
This wasn’t a deep, nuanced Peter Boal-style portrayal, but one notable for faultless skill, limitless energy and abundant charisma. Paloma Herrera danced Terpsichore with the same musicality, while Devon Teuscher and Melanie Hamrick also stayed on target as, respectively, Polyhymnia and Calliope. Staged by Richard Tanner, the production kept every technical innovation in the vintage choreography ideally fresh and absorbing.
Closing the program: Balanchine’s spectacular, celebratory “Symphony in C” (to Bizet), which reshuffled phalanxes of principals up through its dazzling full-cast finale.
The corps assignments sometimes looked soggy, and partnering strain infected many of the duets, but sharp proficiency from the likes of Eric Tamm (opposite Stella Abrera) in the first movement, Kajiya again (opposite Daniil Simkin) in the third and Sara Lane (opposite Sascha Radetsky) in the fourth sustained excitement.
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In the serene second-movement adagio, Veronika Part exuded the requisite majesty but a lack of pliancy made her curiously stodgy, behind the music. Thomas Forster partnered her attentively. Merrill Ashley and Stacy Caddell staged the production.
The quality of orchestral playing represented an unexpected pleasure in this one-night prologue to a weekend of the full-evening ABT “Le Corsaire.” Indeed, the locally recruited musicians gave “Chamber Symphony” a unity and authenticity the choreography cannot match.