Haglund has never missed Herman Cornejo more than last night – his beautiful legs and feet that look so handsome in white tights; the classical lines of his legs; the crop of dark curls that bounce freely but never seem to stray out of place; the modesty in his brilliance; and especially his unwillingness to pander to the uninformed members of the audience with gross athletic tricks so sloppy that they wouldn't even impress gymnastic judges. Never has Herman Cornejo been missed more than last night.
ABT opened a series of five performances of Frederick Franklin's staging of Coppelia last night. Xiomara Reyes was a charming Swanilda - feminine, slightly goofy at times, a troublemaker you could love. The technique requirements of Coppelia are mild compared to what has been on the ABT schedule the past few weeks, and perhaps Coppelia could have been placed in a better slot in the spring season, but the production with its tastefully colorful sets (by Tony Straiges) and costumes (by Patricia Zipprodt) received a warm welcome from the audience last night. Victor Barbee – who is getting a workout this season, having just completed a series of stage-grabbing comic performances in The Bright Stream – portrayed Dr. Coppelius, the toymaker who can't keep track of his house keys. Gemma Bond as the Lead Mazurka Lady and Christine Schevchenko and Blaine Hoven in the Mazurka and Czardas were prominently highlighted in the character dances and were all wonderful. Stella Abrera and Maria Riccetto as Dawn and Prayer were pristine perfect in their Act II variations. When has the stillness of standing en pointe in fifth position ever been so beautiful as last night when Stella managed it without so much as a quiver of the ankles? The beauty and solemness of Maria's Prayer were nearly interrupted twice by the audience which wanted to express its appreciation. Haglund is so excited about seeing Maria's debut as Coppelia on Saturday along with Jared Matthews' brand new Franz, but last night, he was reminded how nice it would be to once again see Maria's Mozartiana, too.
There is a very good reason why God made the word "balletic" rhyme with the word "aesthetic." He intended them to be combined. Note that God did not make the word "balletic" rhyme with "high-flying fireplug." So, one wonders why ABT cast as Franz a guest artist, Ivan Vasiliev, who has the athleticism of a Russian folk dancer and class B gymnast, but nothing that even remotely resembles a balletic aesthetic - not a classical line in his body - not in his feet, not in his legs, not in his torso, not in his arms, not in his hands, not in his head. And why, upon announcing the casting of this particular guest artist, did ABT immediately blank out the back three rows of the orchestra to install its screamybobbers for the performance? Perhaps to create an impression that this is a dancer who we cannot live without? Haglund doesn't ever want to see this guy in pink or white tights again. Ever. In anything. Ever again.
The question that deserves an answer is why ABT neglected its own phenomenal athletic dancers, e.g., Erica Cornejo, Joaquin De Luz, Danny Tidwell, who actually did and still do possess enormous amounts of classical sheen, and then turn around and spend gobs of money on athletic guest artists who do not match the aesthetic of the company nor enhance it. If anything, it proves that ABT is still in the midst of an identity crisis. So much has been spent on establishing a high profile school and training system with very specific values, and yet, the company which the school is intended to feed goes out and hires less-than-the-best guest stars who do not conform to or compliment the established standards. Don't you wonder why the great foreign ballet companies of the world aren't tripping over themselves trying to hire ABT's principals as guest artists? It's probably because ABT has created the perception that its own principals are of less value than the guest stars they can buy.
So, thank you to ABT for Coppelia, but no thanks for the guest artists.
The coveted Pump Bump Award goes to Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo for the brilliant and charming Coppelia that we may someday see: