Last night ABT closed the book on the worst shipwreck of a season in a half century and closed the performing chapter of Ethan Stiefel's New York career – a career that spanned a couple of decades and included stellar stints with both ABT and New York City Ballet. But last night's story didn't end the way it should have.
As Medora and Conrad gripped the rock that saved them, Ali should have been there, too. No one doubts that he survived the storm or that he'll be back in that all important sequel in which Ali rises up to lead the pirates and slaves to commandeer the USS Ugly American Bolshoi and return it safely to its proper territorial waters for refurbishing. Hopefully, that will be sooner than later.
Story ending aside, the performance was magnificent in every way, including the music. David LaMarche was having his own party on the conductor's podium. Always animated, he was crazy animated last night waving the baton like a pirate's sword.
The principal cast of Ethan Stiefel, Marcelo Gomes, Sascha Radetsky, Craig Salstein, Gillian Murphy, and Stella Abrera focused the sometimes nervous energy on the task of making memories for themselves and for us. Stiefel, Gomes - one after the other finished variations in backbends with their heads thrown back near their back legs; and well, if they had to slowly and carefully unfurl those positions into which they got themselves, it could be a sign of wisdom as much as age. Stiefel's perfectly formed split jumps and turns a la seconde with the supporting leg jumping are images burned onto the mental disk, saved and backed-up to be played again and again at will. Gomes' aerial turning arabesques with one leg pulled under him were of perfectly beautiful form and were huge, just huge. His menacing, jeering looks at the audience incited the crowd to pitch fever. Nobody looks at us that way and gets away with it – except Gomes.
Radetsky was an insanely brilliant Lankendem who threw in a "Le Cornejo" piked spin to punctuate one of his variations. This guy had definitely sold a few sex slaves before and knew that pashas have their preferences. So when the pasha rejected the lovely Odalisques Sarah Lane, Luciana Paris, and Yuriko Kajiya, Lankendem knew that he had to offer up his own tantalizing lady in yellow in order to get the pasha in a buying mood. Abrera's Gulnare arrived with glistening beauty, spacious jumps, lovely changements en pointe, blistering turns, lingering balances, and arrow-perfect penche arabesques en pointe. Sold. To the pasha and to all of us.
Murphy's Medora would not escape the forces of the market, but she also would not be denied her fun or independence. Her fun came in the form of four revolution fouettes with the arms overhead - again and again - nice arms, classically shaped arms held overhead. Her PdDs with Gomes were rapturous. They knew they were killing the audience with their stuff – supported pirouettes spun with one hand, huge lifts, her horizontal leaps into Gomes' arms flung with flair and classical form – and the glints in their eyes said they were loving it.
Salstein as Birbanto was running the traffic in every scene that he was in. If only he could have spoken the lines that were running through his head as well – it might have taken Le Corsaire to a brave new height of ridiculous fun. His dancing was so sharply accented and forcefully shaped that it served as a reminder of the way Corella used to dance Ali.
So when all was said and done, the flowers piled up, the confetti fell, and the people who played a part in Stiefel's New York career came out one by one to congratulate him. Damian Woetzel, Amanda McKerrow, Ethan Brown, Stiefel's parents and family - to name a few who we don't usually see at these occasions. Peter Martins and Darci were in the audience but vacated their seats at the first intermission. Haglund wishes that Twyla would have been up there on stage. There are a few orthopedic specialists who could have taken bows, as well.
The one thing you can say about Stiefel is that he continually created options for himself during his performing career, and in doing so, has left performing with more options and promise ahead of him than almost anyone else. Let's hope that, ultimately, he chooses New York. Nobody really cares which company; just make it New York.
The Pump Bump Award, a Louboutin red souled fish toe stiletto with golden spikes, is bestowed upon last night's principal cast with thanks for the great memories.