Before some nasty NYT dance critic decides he wants to compare "balletomanes" to compulsive and competitive eaters, let's get a few things straight. While all ballet performances at Lincoln Center this spring haven't necessarily been nutritionally complete, most have had at least several delicious and nutrient-packed elements that were well worth gobbling up. The final weekend performances of Onegin were just such an offering.
Friday night and Saturday afternoon, Joseph Gorak, a third year corps member, performed the role of Lensky opposite Maria Riccetto and Yuriko Kajiya, respectively. Haglund has been following Gorak with more than mild interest since he first showed up on the YAGP circuit six or seven years ago when he was still in short pants. He was ridiculously talented, meticulously trained, and young and impatient. As a new member of ABT's corps, he immediately stood out - not by jumping higher than the other members of the ensemble or by doing odd things - but by doing every step more clearly than anyone else with pinpoint musicality. He was dead serious about being perfect, but with a handsome, sunny smile to let you know just how easy it all was for him. He has feet that bend like soft butter, beautifully shaped legs, and a masculine elegance. As the old ballet saying goes – if his hips were any looser, he'd be arrested.
During his performances this week, Gorak was impressive in his solos, as expected. What was not expected was how impressive he was in his partnering. Standing behind his Olga, on the first count both hands went to the top of her hips; on the second phrase the right hand moved to the front side of her pelvis; on the third phrase he guided her leg back to arabesque. He was required to do this twice for each of his partners, and each time his movements were Xerox copies of the previous time. No variation. No fumbling. No estimating. He executed each series exactly as the previous one. After watching Gorak do this for two performances in a row, Haglund could stand behind a ballerina and replicate it - it was that clear and precise.
By contrast, on Saturday night Daniil Simkin searched with his wiggling fingers through the layers of fabric of Olga's skirt looking for the correct place to hold her while her foot was well on its way up her leg to passé. It looked like he was deciding as he went along where he should place his hands rather than having them in place and ready to support his partner before that support was needed. His Olga, Sarah Lane, is such a strong and centered soloist that she didn't need a lot of help and she wasn't thrown off by what appeared to be indecisive partnering. Simkin's solos were executed very well, particularly his extended solo in Act II right before Lensky's dual with Onegin, but they were not any better than Gorak's and did not match Jared Matthews' theatrically complete performance last Wednesday night. And Simkin did not look like an adult on stage. That's a major problem, and there is no dancing around it. He looked nearly as young as Aran Bell on stage. While this type of youthfulness would be fully appreciated in roles like Billy the Kid and Prodigal Son, it is a detraction and a distraction in much of the repertory. What ever the basis was for the decision to cast him as Siegfried this summer, it wasn't related to matching the dancer with the role. Haglund hopes that ABT doesn't throw away one of its Swan Lakes by casting the two lead roles so inappropriately - especially when there are talented soloists and principals who would be more appropriate, are more deserving, and some have even performed the roles before. The casting this season looks so ridiculous that people are beginning to ask if roles for certain dancers were purchased by big donors.
Maria Riccetto, Yuriko Kajiya, and Sarah Lane each carved out very individual interpretations of the role of Olga. Maria seized every moment of attention that the male characters offered her. Yuriko was mischievous and wondrously delicate. Sarah was confidently flirtatious and minx-like. All three of them are strong enough dancers and accomplished enough actors to perform the role of Tatiana. Or Odette. Or Giselle. Or Juliet. Why are these senior soloists, along with the tragically under-utilized Stella Abrera, being cast aside like homely step-children instead of being given the leading principal opportunities that they have actually earned?
The roles of Onegin were danced with mixed success over the weekend. Cory Stearns didn't really register in the role. His partnering has improved – a very positive sign – but his acting is dull and inert. David Hallberg certainly was not dull, but at times he went from standing around to instant full-out passion or angry outburst. The reason for his character's overt cruelty when dancing with Olga wasn't clear. Roberto Bolle's Onegin became grabby with Olga in the name of good natured flirting and also to dispel any public perception that he was interested in Tatiana. He wasn't cruel, however. Bolle's interpretation of Onegin was the most sophisticated and nuanced of the three men who Haglund saw perform the role. Some of Hallberg's lifts were compromises. In those where Tatiana was supposed to be rotated and then lifted so that her back arched high off of Onegin's shoulder, Hallberg ditched putting her on his shoulder and just held Tatiana in his arms. He did, however, complete the fanny lift.
Saturday afternoon Hee Seo danced Tatiana whereas in the evening Irina Dvorovenko performed the role. Seo captured the innocence of Tatiana but not the character's maturity in Act III. Dvorovenko captured the maturity in Act III but not the innocence in Act I. Both danced with their Prince Gremins as though they were passionately in love with them whereas Julie Kent hit the mark in her performances by conveying that her marriage was a lot less than what she had dreamed about as a young girl. On Saturday the Prince Gremins didn't help matters by trying to be romantic princes whereas in the Kent/Bolle performances, Roman Zhurbin's posture and expression perfectly conveyed an absence of passion.
The weekend's Pump Bump Award, a sky high stiletto of unusually clean design by Louboutin, is bestowed upon Joseph Gorak for his wonderfully danced Lensky on Friday and Saturday.