Review: American Ballet Theatre Serves Up a Legacy of Longing and Nostalgia at the Auditorium Theatre

The American Ballet Theatre is a venerable institution also known as America’s National Ballet Company. Their stop through Chicago at the Auditorium Theatre proves that it is a title well-earned and deserved. Opening night was a delight of traditional European-inspired ballet that segued effortlessly into sybaritic and passionate dances to the music of Ennio Morricone and the American Songbook via Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. ABT is now under the artistic direction of former principal dancer Susan Jaffe, who worked with legends of dance such as Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Jerome Robbins.

Opening the performance was Songs of Bukovina choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky, formerly of the Ukrainian National Ballet, with music from Leonid Desyatnikov. The dances and music are based on Ukrainian folk tales and life in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. The moves exhibited exquisite control and form with the staccato music played beautifully by Jacek Mysinski. It felt like pulling back the curtain on the dance studio with live accompaniment. The exacting coordination between the musician and the dancers started the evening off with a bang. There was a feeling of mourning and elation with the opener. The intimacy among the dancers felt detached—perhaps the result of years of tumult and war in the region. It was a departure from traditional American optimism. It was poignant and beautiful.

João Menegussi and Calvin Royal III. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

Touché was the second performance with Calvin Royal III and João Menegussi in a sensual pas de deux that brought down the house. Choreographed by Christopher Rudd, Touché explores male love and the journey from self-loathing and shame to beauty and surrender. Royal and Menegussi begin without music shouting into the dark, punching and choking themselves and then each other. They disrobe and are clad in flesh-tone pants revealing stunning physiques in motion. The movement was slow and fluid as they moved about the stage morphing into different shapes and positions. The dance ends with a denouement of acceptance and a loving embrace. The music from Ennio Morricone and Woodkid was moody and atmospheric.

Some Assembly Required choreographed by Clark Tippet was a more literal pas de deux featuring Katherine Williams and Jarod Curley. It is a take on relationships and the love/hate dynamic. He pursues and she head-butts him in a rather sadomasochistic game of playing hard to get. The music by William Bolcom—Second Sonata for Violin and Piano—is a perfect accompaniment. The piano carries a straightforward tune while the violin is a counterpoint in sound and rhythm reflecting the dance. The music converges in harmony and tempo then diverges to reflect the discord between the couple. Gary Lisz’s costumes for the pair of jeans and a floral dress gave an edge of weird reality and voyeur flair. This seemed like a couple I would see bickering in the park—watching while trying not to be seen watching.

Katherine Williams and Jarod Curley. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

The final offering of the evening was ZigZag choreographed by Jessica Lang and set to music from American composers Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, and others in the pantheon of the American Songbook, as interpreted by the great Tony Bennett with an assist from Lady Gaga on Porter’s It’s De-Lovely. The last set was a wonderful smashup of traditional, jazz, and curated freestyle. The costumes were by Wes Gordon for Carolina Herrera and took me back to the days when people dressed for dinner with gloves, gowns, tuxedos, and their best manners. The scenery was designed by Derek McLane with a giant zig-zag design in the backdrop, an old Manhattan skyline, and lush saturated lighting by Nicole Pearce. A painting of a jazz ensemble by Tony Bennett was lowered from above for part of the final act. It was a dazzling display of movement, colors, and patterns from the dancers and a fitting tribute to Bennett. Grab a date, dress pretty, and revel in the beauty of American Ballet Theatre.

American Ballet Company. Photo By Rosalie O’Connor.

American Ballet Theatre at the Auditorium Theatre runs for two hours with three intermissions. ABT will play for two more performances on Saturday, April 15, at 7:30pm and Sunday, April 16, at 2pm. Saturday features a post-show Pride Night Celebration discussion about Touché with Zachary Whittenburg from , Magazine. Tickets are $40-$146 and you have to RSVP for the post-performance celebration on Saturday. For more information and tickets, please visit

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Kathy D. Hey
Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.