The American Ballet Theatre’s summer tour “ABT Across America” made a stop at Middleburg’s Salamander Resort and Spa this past Monday, where, in the sweltering July heat, Virginia patrons gathered for the return of dance. After a pandemic without live modern dance performances, it certainly felt akin to being set creatively free.
Waltzing across America via caravan, the company tour is covering 3,100 miles to present outdoor, socially distanced performances to audiences in 14 states.
Seated in lawn chairs facing a custom-built stage erected on Salamander’s lush Grand Lawn, audience members casually sipped prosecco and melted, in the early evening sun, into a fanciful world brought to life by 20 ABT artists.
It is hard to recall seeing classical performances — and performers — as joyful as those in “Across America.” The dancers’ energy was contagious as they took unexpected dips and snake-charmer turns. The inherent strength and control of artists trained to this caliber did not falter over four distinct sets, even on a sweat-slicked stage.
“La Follia Variations” was the perfect opening, a gem tone-infused, imaginative yet classic, flight, tipping more than one hat to modern dance, while retaining the core elements of traditional ballet. Movements were deliberate but unencumbered by the formalities typically prescribed to the genre.
The second act was a nod to those who’d come for the classics. “Swan Lake (Act II Pas de Deux),” danced by Devon Teuscher and Cory Stearns, was flawless. But for me, the highlight of the evening came in “Let Me Sing Forevermore,” a ragtime and jazz accompanied compilation that spun us through choreographer Jessica Lang’s meet-cute love story performed by Betsy McBride and Tyler Maloney. Movements had echoes of film noir, fittingly timed to tunes like Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon (in other words)” and McBride and Maloney emitted palpable chemistry, befitting a post-pandemic summer night.
The evening’s finale, “Indestructible Light,” was created by ABT dancers and filmed during the Covid crisis, making its stage premiere at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa, California in April of this year. The company piece included jazzy and risque duets and trios, and at times comically dramatic group dances that were a delight to “ooh” and “ahh” over, especially considering the solemn context under which they were conceived. In short, I don’t think I’ve ever spent 50 minutes watching other people dance — and I mean really dance — wanting so badly the whole time to get up on stage and join them. With its contagious vitality, “ABT Across America” is a testament to the healing power of the arts.