story by Steven Woodruff
The Library of Congress exhibit of memorabilia and photos covering the early years of American Ballet Theatre to the present currently on view at Disney Hall in Los Angeles is a poorly organized hodge podge but the photos, scores, and playbills themselves are well worth seeing. The exhibit is uncomfortably squeezed into the tiny, dark Ira Gershwin Gallery on Disney Hall’s second floor. The pieces themselves give an interesting but incomplete look at ABT’s 75 year long history.
Two of the most interesting photos which were taken 60 years apart show identical scenes from Anthony Tudor’s “Pillar of Fire”. The black and white photograph of the original cast with Hugh Laing, Nora Kaye, and ABT founder Lucia Chase was taken by Alfredo Valente. It is paired with a 2003 photograph in color by Marty Sohn with Marcelo Gomes and Gillian Murphy. The two photos are remarkable for the consistency and emotion of the poses. An iconic Valente photograph of Diana Adams in a swirling skirt also is from “Pillar of Fire”, one of Tudor’s early successes with the company. Other works reprise a style of black and white studio work that used to appear regularly in ABT programs during the ‘40s and ‘50s. Included is the well-known portrait of an airborne John Kriza (also Valente) in Eugene Loring’s “Billy the Kid” and a Maurice Seymore portrait of Chase from “Les Sylphides” taken in 1940.
Other highlights include an informal shot from 1976 of Alvin Ailey, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Judith Jamison working on Ailey’s “Pas de Duke”. In the shot Jameson towers over Baryshnikov. The photo is uncredited. Twyla Tharp is shown in a 2008 rehearsal shot from “Rabbit and Roque”. An icy 1990 tableau from Agnes de Mille’s “Fall River Legend” with Cynthia Gregory is paired with a stage shot from a 1960 “Rodeo” by photographer Louis Peres. Both are black and white. From the Robbins’ years there is a motion filled on stage moment of “Fancy Free” by photographer Walter Owen with Shirley Eckl, John Kriza, Zachary Solov, and Michael Kidd. The shot is from 1944. Both Eckl and Kriza were in the original 1944 cast. Along with programs dating from the ‘40s with cover artwork by Chagall are other archived pieces including an original manuscript page of “Intro to the Open Prairie” from Aaron Copland’s score from “Billy the Kid”. Copland, a Jew from Brooklyn, excelled in writing big country music invested with a deep spirit of Americana.
Bring a flashlight. The photos are presented in glassed-in cases. They may be mounted for protection but they are nearly impossible to see and much of the exhibit forces you to stoop over to get a decent look.
(The exhibit “American Ballet Theatre: Touring the Globe for 75 Years” continues through August. Don’t actually bring a flashlight. Thanks.)