Mr. Vasiliev, we’re planning this wonderful gala tribute in your honor. There’s this little catch: it’s actually a “working” gala tribute in your honor – you know, like a “working” vacation? If you wouldn’t mind rehearsing Ms. Bouder in the Tarantella from Anyuda and Ms. Obraztsova in Sentimental Walse? Appreciate it. Then, if you wouldn’t mind rehearsing Ms. Part and Mr. Davis in Macbeth? Then, if you wouldn’t mind rehearsing Ms. Lane and Mr. Ribagorda in the Pas de Deux from Anyuda? Then, if you wouldn’t mind spot-checking some of the other variations and directing the coda? And lastly, if you wouldn’t mind choreographing the gala program closer and, of course, performing in it. Well, you know, Mr. Vasiliev, 70 is the new 35. Now, about the sound and lights ....
MANY, many thanks to the folks at YAGP for presenting one terrific gala celebrating the legendary Vladimir Vasiliev last evening. It was fitting that the greatest dancing on view was by the honoree (via film clips) and that the most glamour of the evening was provided by the host and a former partner of Vasiliev‘s, the also-legendary Carla Fracci. When Ms. Fracci entered the stage in a Renaissance-styled white, flowing gown with black hair parted down the middle, Haglund half-expected ABT's David Hallberg to leap from the wings and begin the Giselle PdD with her. Ms. Fracci’s opening remarks set the tone for appreciating the artists of an earlier generation who made possible everything that the current generation now does. The film tributes to Vasiliev’s accomplishments pounded her point home.
Lasting from 7:00 pm until about 10:30 pm, this gala was a smorgasbord of artists and choreography. The Moiseyev Dance Company performed as Argentine Cowboys and Two Boys in a Fight (which was really just one boy, but it’s too hard to explain – ya hadda be there.) Yevgenia Obraztsova (Mariinsky) and Emmanuel Thibault (POB) performed the PdD from La Sylphide beautifully. Hallberg performed Ashton’s The Dance of the Blessed Spirits, which – but for some changes in speed and direction – didn’t really look all that Ashtony. But it was nice to see a master’s rarely performed work performed by a master. The Sleeping Beauty PdD by The Royal Ballet’s Sarah Lamb and Sergei Polunin was stunning in its effortlessness and grace. Ms. Lamb has an aura of serenity about her that is very appealing and perfect for Princess Aurora.
Mr. Vasiliev’s choreography made up much of the second half of the evening.
Ms. Obraztsova performed Sentimental Walse with perfect delicacy, the kind that made the audience sigh at the end.The evening’s offerings included other more contemporary choreography that relied upon arbitrary hyperextensions and angst-driven arm movements, as is the current, sad trend.
Sarah Lane and Luis Ribagorda (ABT) had the most challenging choreography of the evening with the “farewell” PdD from Vasiliev’s Anyuta. What a treasure! Longing, passion, and sadness all wrapped up in choreography of swoops, turns and lifts that fully embrace the gorgeous music by Valery Gavrilin. Haglund would love to see this PdD performed more frequently. Here’s a YouTube link to a performance of it by Vasiliev’s late wife, Ekaterina Maximova..
Ashley Bouder (NYCB) performed a spirited Tarantella – also from Anyuta.
In an excerpt from Macbeth, Gray Davis (ABT) was the tortured Macbeth who was consumed with guilt from killing King Duncan. Veronika Part’s Lady Macbeth, who was wrapped in a flowing, blood-red dress, approached him from behind and began manipulating his grief as she locked her long legs and seductively arched feet around his body. Chilling.
One highlight of the gala was Daniil Simkin (ABT) in Les Bourgeois by Ben van Cauwenbergh. If it looks spectacular on YouTube, it’s even more so in the theater. His comic routine fueled by an astonishing display of aerial ballet moves, Simkin crazied the crowd with his double tour assembles en l‘air followed by huge aerial cartwheels. It would be such a pleasure to see this piece as part of ABT’s spring gala.
Polina Semionova (Berlin State Opera Ballet) and David Hallberg beautifully performed a PdD from Bejart’s Romeo and Juliet. While Bejart’s ballet is based on the idea of Romeo and Juliet, it hardly tells the story. Where Kenneth MacMillan took human movement and human moments and turned them into compelling choreography, Bejart, in this instance, seemingly found his steps first and then attempted to manipulate them around a story. It’s what many current choreographers do, and it’s why their work product is not dramatically convincing. It lacks humanity though it’s full of movement.
Ana Sophia Scheller (NYCB) and Joseph Phillips (ABT) performed Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux. Ms. Scheller has smoothed out many of the rough edges since the last time Haglund saw her perform this. Mr. Phillips gave the piece the energy it truly deserves and excited the crowd with his coupe jetes and pirouettes. Haglund appreciates Mr. Phillips’ maximum effort whether it always results in five pirouette revolutions or not.
The final choreography of the evening was the premiere of Mr. Vasiliev’s Piece D’Occasion for himself and the very lovely (and very young) Daria Khokhlova of the Bolshoi Ballet. Seeing Mr. Vasiliev slouched over in a chair with his head in his hands, his human moment clearly exposed and instantly recognizable, most of the audience understood and felt his grief. The Chopin piano made it gut-wrenching. As he chased the memory of the love of his life, one could feel the collective chest of the audience tighten. It was a sad note on which to end a happy evening, but it would have been impossible to have it any other way.
The audience stood and roared its appreciation for Vladimir Vasiliev. The dancers piled bouquets at his feet. One wondered whether he truly understands the magnitude of his influence on the art form.
We celebrated a legend who has given us much to treasure over more than a half century, and it would be selfish to ask him to continue contributing to the art form. But we just can’t help it. How nice it would be to have Mr. Vasiliev working in our midst on a more regular basis. After all, 70 is the new 35.Once again this year, the Haglund's Heel Medal of Honor goes to the YAGP Gala: