Why do ballet choreographers keep trying to redo more famous choreographers' ideas? Is there a shortage of source material for new ballets? Has all the "good" Shakespeare been choreographed? Have all the interesting characters in Greek mythology already danced across the ballet stage? Has ballet exhausted its literary source material? If ABT spends one more cent on someone's "rethinking" of someone else's successful, literary-based ballet, the company deserves to lose its audience, go broke, and go out of business.
ABT's new Firebird choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky isn't the worst thing that ABT has put on the Met stage, but it might be the worst re-creation of a ballet it has tried to sell. If a viewer had never seen Firebird before, he might be able to sit politely through this version, politely applaud, politely smile with lips together, and politely keep his disappointment to himself. But choreography that banks on the ignorance of the audience instead of its experience is, at its base, offensive, and the substitution of gimmickry for ballet vocabulary is repugnant.
Slides on pointe, spinning arms overhead, tossing apples, steppy trick-for-the-sake-of-trick phrases that matched the musical counts without revealing the beauty of the music itself – this is not the stuff of genius. The production values were high in their stimulating effects on the senses without ever transporting the viewer to the place where the artists were telling the story.
Within the first five minutes, Haglund was ready to go home. The choreography was a bunch of steps that had nothing to do with any of the characters' predicaments and did little to convey the story of the Firebird. The dancers, of course, managed the steps mostly perfectly, but there was no reason for us to care. The PdDs were tricky without being the least bit interesting or musically fulfilling. The final few minutes of the glorious and passion-filled score had men wearing white suits rolling out from inside tree trunks and then jumping up and down in saute passes. Add maidens in white dresses with really bad blond wigs, and you get the picture.
Haglund is disappointed – in part, because he wanted so badly to see a new beautiful production of Firebird but also because ABT created expectations that that's exactly what everyone would see. But that wasn't what was delivered. What we got was some cartoonish, Dr. Seuss-inspired mess of a ballet. Thank goodness Firebird is the second half of next week's double bill that includes Ashton's glorious, never tiring, genius creation The Dream. Haglund won't be the only one leaving at intermission.
Last night's program included Wheeldon's Thirteen Diversions in which a number of ABT's supremely gifted soloists and corps members starred as principals. Stella Abrera and Eric Tamm were sublime in their PdD to the solemn Chant of Benjamin Brittens' Diversions for Piano (left hand) and Orchestra, Op.21. Eric Tamm personifies romance from head to toe. He partners gallantly and poetically like Ivan Nagy used to do and is such a joy to watch whenever he's on stage. Stella was out of this world gorgeous in her musical phrasing; her shapes in sudden stillness were poignant and beautiful. Misty Copeland and Gray Davis infused their PdD with controlled passion. Misty has blossomed so beautifully in these past two years and offers such a grown-up elegance these days. The marvelous principal cast was completed by Maria Riccetto with Craig Salstein and Christine Shevchenko with Daniel Mantei. The superb corps danced mostly in partial darkness, but oh how easy it was to spot Gemma Bond with Joseph Gorak for their classicism and class.
Also on the bill was Balanchine's Apollo - the earlier, longer version that includes a birth scene and a final journey up the steps to Mt. Parnassus. David Hallberg was a fine Apollo who didn't dance the role with his weight into the ground the way the Apollos at NYCB do, but nevertheless, his was a handsome and dramatic reading. The acute thinness in his arms and shoulders created a youthful impression, necessary for the early section, but didn't serve the image well when he raised his arms in Apollo's iconic pose. Hallberg's PdD with the stunning Veronika Part as Terpsichore was nearly perfect and was without the struggle we have seen when these two danced in the past. His long legs, her long legs. His blondness, her dark beauty. His gorgeous feet, her gorgeous feet. His uncompromising form, her uncompromising form which last night included a 180 degree extension with no perceptible displacement of the hips. Kiss.
Stella Abrera could dance Calliope at NYCB. Her lines were as sharp and clear and neo- as could be. The overall quality of her dancing is higher than other principals and guest artists, and she clearly improves with each stage appearance. So why has McKenzie truncated her career? Hee Seo didn't have the technical chops for the role of Polyhymnia, in particular the "pique pirouette to arabesque sequence with the finger to the lips," and she looked out of her element.
Even though this performance of Apollo was very enjoyable, Haglund prefers the NYCB's version of Apollo that ends with the sun-fan pose.
The Swarovski First Position Pump Bump Award, is bestowed upon Stella Abrera, who ABT continues to underrate and under-appreciate, but who excels in every role given to her and deserves so much more respect and opportunity.