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Within You Without You: A Tribute to George Harrison

Music and Lyrics by George Harrison
Choreography by David Parsons, Ann Reinking, Natalie Weir, Stanton Welch
Costumes by Catherine Zuber
Lighting by Brad Fields

Four choreographers -- Broadway dance maker Ann Reinking, modern dance master David Parsons, and two Australians, Natalie Weir and Stanton Welch -- were asked to choreograph pieces to music by the former Beatle, George Harrison.  Six songs were selected from Mr. Harrison's days with the Beatles and his album "All Things Must Pass," including such beloved pieces as "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "My Sweet Lord."   

Mr. Welch choreographed the first piece of the ballet, "Something," and the fourth piece, "Isn't it a Pity?" Within You Without You is the second of three works that he has choreographed for American Ballet Theatre, the other two being Clear in 2001 and HereAfter in 2003. 

The work was popular with audiences and received a glowing review from The New York Times.

Writing in the October 21, 2002 edition of The New York Times, chief dance critic Anna Kisselgoff observed of the work:

"American Ballet Theatre's latest instant hit, 'Within You Without You: A Tribute to George Harrison,' is the tribute set to music by a rock idol that its title proclaims.

To call it just a rock ballet is to limit the scope that its four choreographers offer to Ballet Theatre's versatile dancers, who delivered a sensational performance at the work's premiere on Friday at City Center.

Clearly inspired but not enslaved by six Harrison songs (recordings from his days with the Beatles and his album ''All Things Must Pass''), the ballet is lively and lyrical. It is direct rather than complex and also uneven simply because its dance makers are not all working on the same level.

In the end, there is an artistic coherence about the piece. Its choreographers, the Americans David Parsons and Ann Reinking and the Australians Stanton Welch and Natalie Weir, share an attitude that yesterday's pop music can be looked at from today's perspective.

Within is a plotless mood piece that occasionally exploits the dancers' technical brilliance, including the sexual gymnastics needed for a duet by Ms. Reinking that is performed with phenomenal abandon and fluency by Sandra Brown and José Manuel Carreño. In keeping with the idea of Harrison as the gentle Beatle, there are wistful expressions of hope for a better world. Mr. Parsons's richly textured parade set to ''My Sweet Lord'' is a closing ode to joy.

Artful, abstract and only rarely literal, Within is not a pious dirge for Harrison, who died last year, nor a nostalgia piece. The ballet has a strong creative edge.

It is not strictly the type of rock ballet that was very much an expression of its time, a genre that was pioneered by the Joffrey Ballet in the 1960's and 1970's. Rock ballet's distinguished era would automatically include Robert Joffrey's fabulous Astarte and Gerald Arpino's Trinity, both set to commissioned rock scores, as well as Twyla Tharp's Deuce Coupe, set to songs by the Beach Boys. The Joffrey led the way with these works and others, but Fernand Nault's Tommy for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens reached a different public that its rock star creators, the Who, could not. The same could be said of the 1993 Billboards, set to music by Prince and a big hit on the Joffrey's national tours.

It has become trendy to denigrate Billboards, but the fact is that its four choreographers included leading experimentalists. Laura Dean's segment was one of the most dazzling pieces she has choreographed. Elizabeth Parkinson, late of ''Fosse'' fame and currently appearing in Ms. Tharp's Movin' Out on Broadway, came to notice in the powerful Pierrot-like solo set to ''Rain'' that was created for her by Charles Moulton, once with Merce Cunningham's company.

Like Billboards (the other two choreographers were Margo Sappington and Peter Pucci), Within is a suite of dances held together by the style of its composer. Harrison's interest in Indian music extended his range away from the standard rock beat, and this is important in terms of dance pulse. So while it is all right to consider Within a rock ballet, its music is treated for the most part as a classical score, and that is a virtue.

Mr. Welch begins the ballet with the love song ''Something.'' It is a solo for two people: Gillian Murphy stands in a corner while Angel Corella woos her with his dancing until she walks out.

Mr. Corella wears one of the red jersey shirts with brown or maroon pants that Catherine Zuber has designed for most of the dancers as a bright stylization on everyday dress.

Energy becomes expression as Mr. Welch has an extraordinary dancer depict an ordinary Joe who was apt to grasp his chest and scratch his back. But he also soars upward and spins into pirouettes as only Mr. Corella can."

American Ballet Theatre premiered the work Within You Without You:  A Tribute to George Harrison at City Center in Manhattan on October 18, 2002.

Photos: Courtesy of www.georgeharrison.com