In Manhattan a siren is heard about every three minutes or so in nearly every neighborhood. We’ve learned to tune out most of them. Even walking along the sidewalk in Hell’s Kitchen when Engine 54 with its catchy painted slogan Never missed a performance barrels by with its 120 decibel trumpets, we just nod respectfully and let it pass without even covering our ears. Every so often, however, a siren comes by with such striking force and drama that it causes us to pause in admiration of its beauty and power. Yes, of course we are talking about Veronika Part in her debut as The Siren in last night’s performance of Balanchine's Prodigal Son opposite Daniil Simkin. Who else would we be talking about?!
Oh my my. As Veronika’s Siren stalked Daniil’s young and impressionable Prodigal Son around the stage, it almost seemed time to call the police; but even their sirens would have been no match for Veronika's. She was going to get her man-boy and he was going to like it – at least initially. She wrapped herself around her victim like some sexy python-lady, tender at first, and then she went for the hard squeeze. And it was all but over. It was a miracle that he managed to survive her. But he did. When after a few days of hard partying he struggled to his knees for the long crawl of repentance back to his father, he was truly defeated and humbled.
Simkin’s Prodigal Son is not yet close to the interpretative level of Daniel Ulbricht or Joaquin De Luz who currently perform it at NYCB or to Angel Corella whose performance in the role left vivid memories. Given the infrequency that ABT performs the ballet, he may never have enough chances to perform the role in order to build into the character but we’ll take what we got last night. His attraction/fear of Veronika’s Siren looked authentic. It was not the wild ride he had with Irina Dvorovenko some years ago, but it was pretty darn good.
The Drinking Companions (listed in the program as Ahn, Frenette, Holloway, Lyle, Ogle, Sumitani, Vendt, Whiteley, and Zhang) easily measured up to the Companions at NYCB, and may have even been slightly more impressive due to their generally larger size. Alexei Agoudine and Sean Stewart danced and mingled well as the Servants to the Prodigal Son. Initially we were paying close attention to their main stage duet until we noticed Veronika’s Siren up stage with her back to the audience begin pawing with lingering fingers at the hesitant-but-receptive Prodigal Son. Then we couldn’t take our eyes off the action at the back of the stage.
Also on the program was Ashton’s Monotones I and II for which we had the good fortune of a cast change in Monotones II. Veronika, Cory Stearns and Thomas Forster replaced Hee Seo, Alexandre Hammoudi, and Sung Woo Han. The grande adage à trois of the twin men partnering the moon-inspired woman between them exquisitely echoed many of the formations and movements seen in the terrestrial-inspired Monotones I which was performed by Stella Abrera, Joseph Gorak, and Isabella Boylston. Stella and Joseph have complimentary physiques of length and grace. Isabella, with her dropped pelvis and dreadful upper body simply looked out of place – in the trio and in the ballet. While we understand how much it pleases Stella to dance the role created on her late coach, Georgina Parkinson, we would prefer to see her advance to the role in the front and see Isabella moved to the role in the back - if only for the sake of the audience.
Sandwiched between the Ashton and Balanchine was Ratmansky’s Serenade after Plato’s Symposium. It doesn’t compare favorably to either of the other dances on the program. Overly packed with steps, underwhelming in drama or narrative, oddly costumed, and minimally lit, the whole dance was quite simply virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake. The virtuosity was fabulous. The virtuosity was impressive. The virtuosity stunned in some cases. So what? Haglund loves over-the-top virtuosity when it is presented honestly, like in Etudes, Theme and Variations or even in Le Corsaire. In Symposium, there was an effort to make us think that it was all so very important and meaningful, but it was a failed effort. The dancers loved doing all the steps, loved showing off with virtuosity, loved pretending that it was intellectually stimulating. So what? They didn’t pay $100 to watch it.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award, a jeweled stiletto with octopus tentacles hugging the heel, is bestowed upon Veronika Part, the Siren of every man’s dreams.