Real men wear pink gloves. And plenty of Wildroot cream-oil on the hair. "It has a subtle talc scent that blends well with other manly smells,” you may recall.
Both were important tools for Herman Cornejo’s Peruvian who was trying to win the most beautiful and seductive French glove seller this side of St. Petersburg in last night's Gaite Parisienne. But alas, pink gloves were no match for the much taller baron's pink jacket. In a blink of the pink, the baron had the glove seller wrapped up more artfully than Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrap air – at least for this evening. Tomorrow the game would start anew.
Along with Veronika Part (the glove seller), Cory Stearns (the baron), and a high stepping, high kicking cast of players, Cornejo breathed life into ABT’s fall season that has been suffocating from poor taste, bad judgment, and loosely focused dancing. He was as oily as the best of them – Johan Renvall, Julio Bocca, Gil Boggs – and sported an over-confidence that marked him as a loser the moment he appeared, like Groucho Marx crouched over chasing after Marilyn Monroe. Veronika’s glove seller was fizzy like a fox, selling everything she had to anyone willing to buy. To be sure, she would always get more out of every deal than she had to give out. A single, unshielded glance at those gorgeous, perfectly formed legs in an attitude with plenty of French attitude, and the looker was under her control.
Joseph Gorak stepped in for Eric Tamm as the Dancing Master and let rip some Plisetskayas to the back of the head in an overall outstanding performance. Joe should dance himself over to BAM to speak with the Mariinsky in January and then bolt from ABT without looking back.
The evening opened with Raymonda Divertissements that still lacked polish as it did on opening night. Hee Seo didn't do anything more with Raymonda than Julie Kent might be able to do with it these days, and frankly, that isn’t nearly enough. While we wouldn’t in a million years expect a performance on the order of Oleysa Novikova, we do expect some sense of regal and royalty. Dropping the chin and grinning doesn’t accomplish much. One wonders why the most difficult solo variation of Raymonda’s was not danced by Raymonda, but instead was assigned to a soloist. Was it because the first-cast Raymonda doesn’t possess the technical chops needed to dance it and so no Raymonda will dance it? Last night, some thought that was the reason. Apparently it’s still true that the royal family has its subjects perform all the hard labor.
The Jean de Brienne, James Whiteside, was as wooden and inelegant as ever. A couple of diagonal passes of cabrioles and a short spurt of coupe jetes had him looking like a stiff-legged monster on attack. His knees bent upon landing but there was never any sense of plie. His lines lacked grace and looked like a gymnast’s who you wished had some turnout.
The male pas de quatre didn’t embarrass itself like in past performances and managed a clean finish. Alexandre Hammoudi was replaced last night in the quartet. He had a terribly sloppy opening night in the pas de quatre and a poor showing in his variations when he subsequently danced the lead opposite Gillian Murphy. What is going on with this soloist? Ratmansky was able to turn him into a prince for Nutcracker but McKenzie can’t do a thing with him. His mandate seems to be to jump as big as he can regardless of what it looks like. His pirouettes and tours en l’air are all over the place. His lines are beginning to look as workman-like as Whiteside’s.
Tom Forster, on the other hand, holy cow. Such beauty, power and grace in Raymonda's male quartet. The eye is quickly drawn to this dancer as soon as he steps on stage, not because he is the tallest man on stage but because his dancing commands our attention. In many, many respects, he is on a par with Roberto Bolle already, particularly in the generous flexibility in the back, beautiful leg lines, and the gorgeous feet.
It was a pleasure to see the ease with which Skylar Brandt repeated her faultless variation. Christine Shevchenko struggled with the more challenging variation normally danced by Raymonda. Having seen Devon Teuscher sail through this tough section the other evening almost as well as the beautiful Christine Dunham did decades ago really rekindled some hope for this company. Maybe that’s putting too much pressure on this brand new soloist, but her pairing opposite Cory Stearns in Jardin Aux Lilas last week looked like it had classical stardom written all over it. Unfortunately, McKenzie’s current practice is to put the most competent classical artists on ABT's backburner for their entire careers while promoting or importing second rate dancers who look like they came out of a Salvation Army thrift shop. So let’s not get our hopes up too high for Devon.
Sarah Lane and Misty Copeland were an odd mismatch in their demi-soloist variation. Sarah’s confident but unpushy refinement opposite Misty’s I’ll-stoop-as-low-as-I-need-to-go-to-get-what-I-want – or whatever her current and ever changing tag line is – with chin forced up arrogantly was hardly attractive. Why does ABT continue to allow Misty to force the hyperextension in her knees? The legs are so mis-bent that they look like they are about to snap in two when she stands in a B+. It’s less noticeable in contemporary work where no tights or beige tights are worn, but in pink tights under a classical tutu, the excessive hyperextension is truly ugly, and it’s dangerous. It’s just one more thing that this dancer exaggerates beyond what she should.
It would have been interesting to see Sarah and Misty matched up in the variation that Devon and Christine did. It would have revealed a lot about who the better, more classical dancer is. Or forcing the actual Raymondas to do their own variations would have been enlightening as well.
The middle of the evening’s program, Bach Partita, was the most satisfying and well-danced piece on the program. Years ago, Haglund thought that in his next life, he would come back as Pinchas Zukerman’s violin on a Mozart night. Forget that. He’s coming back as Charles Yang’s violin on a Bach night. There were points in this ballet where one had to close the eyes and just experience the energy and life in the music. One wishes, though, that Yang would have been positioned less far to the left in the orchestra pit – more central – for the benefit of those on the right side of the house. Better yet, why not on the side of the stage? After all, Bach is the true star in this ballet and was being played in the house where the music always comes first in importance.
The cast was led by Gillian Murphy/Marcelo Gomes and Stella Abrera/Calvin Royal III along with Misty Copeland/James Whiteside. Skylar Brandt and Craig Salstein gave their little bit in the fourth section principal importance with their sparkling wit and technical brilliance that was tossed off with ease.
Gillian and Marcelo danced like branches budding off the Tharp tree – so perfectly bent to her style with an understated sass that was prevalent in Tharp’s earliest works. An unassuming balance on pointe that Gillian held so casually seemed even to surprise Marcelo who stopped himself from interrupting it too soon.
Tharp’s challenge when adopting ABT decades ago was to get the women to dance on pointe with the same casual, off-center aloofness that marked the style of her own company members when they danced in soft shoes. It set ballet on a new path that is now copied the world over but has never been replicated with skill equal to Tharp’s.
Stella and Calvin celebrated seamless harmony in their pas de deux that took them from one unlikely move to another. Stella’s 6 o’clock developpe with the front leg up Calvin’s chest didn’t stop for applause; it continued right over the top of herself as a somersault like a smooth shot of whiskey down the hatch. They were the most musical of the pairs – accenting split lifts with swift closings and just going on about their sparkling business with the air of nonchalance that endeared Tharp’s works to us.
It was difficult to watch Whiteside and Misty try to turn Tharp’s choreography into a muscly display of tricks without treats. There was no sense of casual I-could-do-this-everyday ease. The lifts and turns were labored and made as big and flashy as possible with no understatement or surprise inherent in them. They don’t get Tharp. Nor does the costume favor Misty.
We sure are glad that we’ve got Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews this weekend in Giselle to save ABT’s fall season – oh wait, they quit, didn’t they? Something about seeking opportunities. It all sounds so sadly familiar.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award, the devil’s Halloween stiletto, is bestowed upon Stella Abrera and Calvin Royal who fanned the warm flickering flame of Tharp's genius in just the right way.