Idiotic ballets come along from time to time, just the way idiotic books, movies, songs, and dance reviews do. And how could they not? If you insist on putting your work before the public, you take the risk of making a fool of yourself; that’s the deal. It’s really just the sheer overwhelming size of HereAfter that plucks it from the ranks of ordinary clunkers and wins it a place on the roster of legendary theatrical disasters. Premiered during American Ballet Theatre’s current season at the Met, HereAfter is monumental in every respect, including the awe-inspiring scale of the idiocy.
As its title suggests, HereAfter has two of everything—including names; in fact, it’s two ballets, each a portentous vehicle for characters with names like Death, Fate, and The Man. Act One, choreographed by Natalie Weir, is set to the John Adams choral work Harmonium, a thoughtful piece of music that simply gets lost amid the visual commotion. After intermission, we find choreographer Stanton Welch wrestling mightily with Orff’s Carmina Burana, a torrent of faux lechery well known for its propensity to eat choreographers for lunch. Massed onstage, seeming to float behind the dancers on two huge, elevated wings, are 120 singers from the New York Choral Society. And there are solo singers, squadrons of dancers, and scenic effects galore. The great designer Santo Loquasto, who rarely hits a wrong note, this time hits nothing but. Welch’s cast gets the worst of it, encrusted in a sort of Thai-Aztec mélange of straps, beads, headdresses, and embroidery.
Both ballets begin with their heroes getting born, Weir’s in especially startling fashion: He’s lowered from on high, draped inside a kind of junkyard Ferris wheel. Welch’s hero makes a simpler entrance: He just shows up and does a few calisthenics flanked by Fate and Fortune. At the end of each ballet, these birth motifs return as if to suggest reincarnation—a truly unwelcome concept under the circumstances. Look, if there were a single passage of honest choreography anywhere in this mess, maybe we could start to forgive the staggering degree of pretension. There isn’t.