If Orange County didn’t already have enough reasons to adore Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream at the premiere on Wednesday, they got another one Thursday night when Herman Cornejo as The Boy arrived on stage with Gustavo Dudamel hair curls hanging in his face. In the same role the night before, Daniil Simkin was able to capitalize on every aspect of his eternally too-youthful appearance that has been an obstacle for him in most principal casting. Cornejo, on the other hand, while lacking height, has never had a problem being perceived as an adult on stage. Thursday night he had to find his inner 7-year-old and convince the audience of the authenticity of his character without appearing to be an obnoxious adult acting childish. We’ll dispense with details and just say that Cornejo was straight out of Art Linkletter’s Playroom. Sure, it was all choreographed; but when he stood still on center stage in his white Confirmation shorts while intensely focused on what was before him and then casually lifted up a foot to scratch the back of the other leg, his kid’s character was cemented.
At the beginning of Act II when The Boy awoke and realized that he was in the hospital and being watched by a twitching eye suspended from above, he reacted quite precisely like ABT's Juliets who upon awaking in the crypt, then turn on their knees to face the back of the stage to look upward while expressing horror at the winged sculptures above. The copying of this moment in MacMillan's staging was obvious the first night as well and came off as Ratmansky trying to make a joke of another choreographer’s superior work. (Thumbs down on this and on any and all quotations, borrowings, and references to other choreographer's creations.)
Over the years we have seen Cornejo dance many brilliant variations in every type of costume. But blistering allegro is not exactly what tends to explode out from under a hospital gown, if you get our drift, the way it erupted from under Cornejo's in his dazzling solo. Many thanks to whoever came up with the idea of actually showing us that the bed pan next to The Boy’s hospital bed was in need of emptying.
Yes, Cornejo was brilliant, and Cassandra Trenary as Princess Praline matched him step for step. In the premiere performance, Sarah Lane’s Princess Praline was sweet and nutty; Thursday night Cassandra’s character was a little more saucy and knowing. Her dancing was stunning in its clarity and force, if perhaps less nuanced than Sarah’s. Every arabesque made a strong statement. Every position was crystalline. All in all, she gave an exceptional performance and was a very good match-up with Cornejo. Sure, there were a couple of PdD elements that could have been more smoothly coordinated between the two, but their chemistry was vibrant. Cassandra has one of the bolder stage personalities that Cornejo has danced with, and it brought a little extra out of him.
Hee Seo and Cory Stearns as Princess Tea Flower and Prince Coffee made less of an impression than Abrera and Hallberg the night before. There was prettiness in Hee's dancing and a coyness in her expression, but not much else. Her dancing didn’t have the crispness and definition that Abrera’s had. Cory’s Prince Coffee came out strong and steamy but soon after seemed decaffeinated. His actual dancing was very good — no complaints whatsoever – but the development of character dissipated early on.
Calvin Royal III’s Prince Cocoa was terrific. He had good control of those incredibly long limbs and had a deep stage presence. Perhaps he wasn’t the whiz that Joe Gorak was the night before, but who is? Arron Scott as Don Zucchero also danced well, but like last night, we found ourselves wanting to turn our eyes away from that unfortunate costume.
Christine Shevchenko, Alexander Hammoudi, and Thomas Forster were magnificent as the three liquors. Mature artistry, fabulous chemistry, knife sharp dancing technique among the three made this much more than a PdT of bufoonishness.
Once again, the stars of this production were the designs by Mark Ryden. If Whipped Cream were on Broadway, Ryden would win a Tony Award which he would then share with Camellia Koo and Holly Hynes who managed the processes that brought his imagination to life.
This ballet is a marketeer’s dream; it is hard to imagine a ballet being easier to sell. It's possible to think of hundreds of ways to whip up enthusiasm, if not hysteria, about it. But ABT, always in a “let it sell itself mode” is not likely to engage in any aggressive or creative marketing. We just have to pray that we don’t see a revised version of that 20-year-old TV spot with the same droning announcer’s voice hawking the season like a public service announcement encouraging everyone to get flu shots.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award, a delight that comes in either vanilla or chocolate (recipe on cakecentral.com), is bestowed upon Herman Cornejo for his detailed, brilliantly danced creation of The Boy.
Last night at the Segerstrom Center in Orange County, ABT served up sweet after sweet in its world premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s Whipped Cream - a full length ballet to Richard Strauss’s music and libretto entitled Schlagobers (1924), which is the German equivalent of whipped cream. The ballet's main character, a young boy celebrating his Confirmation, over-indulges at a sweet shop, gets sick, goes to a hospital, and has one crazy nightmare. Strauss’s creation did not initially receive much respect from critics who complained that the composer had demonstrated a “dreadful tendency toward triviality and kitsch.” His retort was reportedly, "I cannot bear the tragedy of the present time. I want to create joy. I need it.” Oh, my. How much times have not changed.
Whoever said that ballet doesn’t always have to be "a big, pink, puffy, glittery nightmare" forgot to mention just how much fun it is when ballet is exactly that. (Christopher Wheeldon has since eaten his words and has gone on to create some pretty big and impressive puffy stuff himself.) This Whipped Cream, swirled throughout Mark Ryden's brilliant surrealistic designs of pink, pink, and more pink, earns two Michelin stars, i.e., Exceptional cuisine, worth a detour – if your aim is to find a good dessert. If you’re looking for hanger steak and veggies, this may not be the plate for you.
Upon walking through the doors of the Segerstrom Center, Haglund spied The Candy Table. Six dollars got you all the skittles, gummies, and you-never-know-what-you’re-really-eating sugary things that you could pack into a Chinese food carton. “Fill it up. You don’t have to be able to close the lid either,” said the candy-pusher who was also tending bar. “Sure, you can take it into the ballet. Hey, you can get a lot more candy into that carton.” All of a sudden the skittles and gummies were bouncing all over the table and onto the floor as Haglund tried to pack down the contents of his carton.
Up one flight to the Orchestra level lobby and there was another Candy Table and more! A pink Mark Ryden designed tee-shirt?! Gimme gimme. Who could resist the same design in black? Not Haglund. He was now out $66 in souvenirs and candy and hadn’t yet made it to the bar for a drink. The 5-minute bell rang not a second too soon.
Act I opened on a scene so magical that Haglund’s eyes started to mist up. First candy, now a pony! Not a real pony – better than a real pony! Ryden’s imagination was brought to life – larger than life – with enormous character heads spectacularly detailed with curling eyelashes, wrinkly skin, and expressive features. The huge size of the character heads worn by all the adult figures and animals overwhelmed the size of the dancers portraying children and helped to convince us of their youth.
The door of the chapel opened and out scampered children dressed in white confirmation clothes who climbed in the cart behind the pony and ventured off to the pastry shop. Among the children was Daniil Simkin as The Boy whose appetite for sweets got the best of him. Pettifores of petit allegro ensued until The Boy pinked-out with a stomach ache and was carried off to the hospital with his friends following, not to be seen again until Act II.
Now we were in the pastry shop by ourselves (Who hasn't had that dream?) but not really alone. The cakes, candies, and all the goodies suddenly sprang to life. From within the shelves loaded with delights appeared Princess Tea Flower, Stella Abrera, accompanied by her tea leaf attendants April Giangeruso, Catherine Hurlin, Paulina Waski, and Katherine Williams. For those unfamiliar, flowering teas are handcrafted into rosette bundles by tying tea leaves around a flower. The rosette is then placed in a clear glass tea pot or tea cup. As hot water is poured over the bundle, the flower magically begins to bloom as the tea steeps. It’s tea theater, or to some, tea thea-tre.
Princess Tea Flower is a step-intensive petit allegro role of the type that we have come to know in Ratmansky’s ballets. In fact, most all of the dancing in Whipped Cream is in a similar vein. Stella is exceptionally adept at producing the quick, off-centered changes of direction and the unexpected darting quality that the choreographer favors. More than most, she can execute it all while maintaining an airy lightness in the quality of movement thanks to her soft, quiet feet. This she did last night to spectacular effect. In her tutu of green tea leaves with narrow pink bodice, Stella was the jasmine tea flower in full bubbly bloom.
Enter Prince Coffee, David Hallberg, in percolating pursuit of Princess Tea Flower. Their PdD, a light roast with overly complex herbal essences, was always interesting to watch but it was so packed with choreographic minutia that there was very little room for the dancers to contribute their own artistry. In fact, a sense of hyperactivity pervaded most of the dancing throughout the ballet. David’s own solo wasn’t of the type that allowed us to admire his lines and general elegant style, but it was a happy relief to see him not only dancing well but seeming to relish being in the midst of a lot of craziness.
Prince Coffee had some competition for Princess Tea Flower’s affections in the way of Joseph Gorak’s Prince Cocoa and Blaine Hoven’s Don Zucchero, but of course, he ultimately won her over. While Joe Gorak’s variation provided some of the most dazzling dancing of the evening, we may have had trouble appreciating Blaine’s work due to the unfortunate costume design that was rather like a big white tent shift dress.
Act II provided nearly all of the thin story line. The Boy lay sick in his enormous hospital bed on a darkened stage. A glowering eyeball (a Ryden specialty) staring down from above told us that his environment was dangerous. He was, however, rescued by a sweet, slightly nutty Princess Praline, Sarah Lane, who danced her little feet off in allegro so complex and fast that it required Theme and Variations type skills to get through.
Sarah and Daniil (The Boy) danced an enjoyable kinetic PdD with no visible partnering issues. It was all just as complex as the PdD of Princess Tea Flower and Prince Coffee and even had similar choreography. Simkin’s part in this ballet allowed for the most amount of character development which we thought he handled the best that we’ve ever seen from him. His final solo to music from the main waltz of Strauss’s composition was a high-value technical display of the type for which Simkin is best known. But it fit perfectly; after all, here was a boy happy to have recovered from his stomach ache and ready to start all over again indulging in sweets if given the chance.
The final scene of this ballet is to die for. It will send the sugared-up kids of all ages over the edge. Mark our word, the matinees of Whipped Cream at The Met this year are going to be pure pandemonium.
For all the diehard classical ballet fans out there, rest assured that Ratmansky didn’t forget that we all want to see a White Act in a full length ballet. Actually, there are a couple of White Act-type scenes in this ballet. In Act I of Whipped Cream, you may observe something that reminds you of the white Shades in La Bayadere coming down the ramp – if you can think of them slip-sliding on their butts. And in the Act II hospital scene, you may see something that reminds you of a group of fierce Wilis – although they might also remind you of Nurse Ratchet (“It’s medication time, everybody”). Gosh, already we’re giving away too many details.
As for similarities to The Nutcracker, there were very few times during the evening when that came to mind. One of the times was during the PdT of Marianne Chartreuse (Catherine Hurlin), Ladislav Slivovitz (Duncan Lyle), and Boris Wutki (Roman Zhurbin) which came across similar to the three Russian bumbling buffoons in Ratmansky’s Nutcracker. Perhaps the two men made us think of the Nutcracker buffoons because they have always acquitted themselves so well in those particular roles, too. The Marianne Chartreuse character seemed to be modeled off of the Princess Tea Flower character in her ditziness and coyness – too much so.
Last evening was a complete pleasure and we’re looking forward to this evening as well. Whipped Cream is whipped cream. It’s not caviar. Some weeks ago, we wrote that we were anticipating this ballet in the way we approached The Met Opera’s Hansel and Gretel which isn’t many people’s favorite opera, but it draws large audiences of both adults and children due to the incredible production values. Our approach turned out to be right on target. The fantastical production values of Whipped Cream make this ballet a special treat and one that as many children as possible should see. Surely, it will draw the New York art crowd interested in Mark Ryden’s unique work and maybe bring them back for other ballets as well. For a first foray into translating his art for the stage, this is a spectacular success. If the choreography simply goes along for the ride, that’s okay, too.
Bravo to the whole creative team and especially to the dancers for their outstanding performances all evening. The proverbial icing on the cake last night was the return of David Hallberg to the ABT stage after a long injury-induced absence. We're so happy to see him on stage again.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award, a torta zapato, is bestowed upon Mark Ryden who back in 1998 presented a solo art show in Pasadena that was called The Meat Show and featured, yeah, that. Almost 20 years later, he's back in town with his desserts.
ABT has posted some Whipped Cream costume photos on its website. There are some very imaginative designs including the costume in which Justin Souriau-Levine seems to have graduated from the Little Mouse in Nutcracker to the Master of Ceremonies in Whipped Cream. How time flies.
Before anyone begins grumbling about this production being copied off of The Nutcracker, please be aware that the original Whipped Cream ballet, under the German name Schlagobers (1924), preceded the popularity of The Nutcracker which had its first performances in the U.S. in 1944.
The costumes from 1924 were pretty outlandish. Here is a link to an image of the original production at the Vienna State Opera maintained at the U.K.'s Lebrecht Music and Arts Photo Digital Library. Here's another one from Theatermuseum - Straus und die oper.
Here's hoping that ABT knocks it out of the park with this production and that it draws a lot of interest from the family-oriented audience. It's odd how there is no mention from ABT that Ratmansky already choreographed this ballet in 1994 with Tatiana in the lead. We're wondering if this is all new or if it is part revision. It doesn't really matter. Today's choreographers don't seem too keen on revising their works after the initial publicity dies down; so, if an important one shows that it can be done successfully, that will be a plus – maybe even start a trend.
Looking forward to the premiere.
Reminder about the Lincoln Center Festival Jewels jubilee tickets:
Pre-sales are in process for donors. From LCF:
This is the schedule:
Monday, February 27: Member levels $1,000 and above
Monday, March 6: Member levels $500 and above
Monday, March 13: Member levels $100 and above
Monday, March 29: General Public
We will be announcing the full lineup for Lincoln Center Festival on March 20, so stay tuned.
This is going to be such a huge event!!!
Speaking of huge events, don't forget about the April 14th YAGP tribute to Julio Bocca which will also mark his 50th birthday. What a perfect year it would be for him to move back home to New York. What a perfect time it would be for ABT's board to do something about the sorry state of the company's directorship.
Look at this video of Julio as he speaks (in Spanish) so articulately and passionately about his company Ballet Nacional Sodre. He is so youthful and full of energy. Imagine all of the glorious Latino talent from around the world that would be beating down the doors at ABT to get in if Julio were the director here. (Print summary here.)
If more of ABT's board members would get out to see the quality of dancing at NYCB, they would realize what a piss poor job McKenzie is doing. Very few of the ABT dancers, regardless of rank, would qualify for a corps position at NYCB. The difference in institutional achievement is that stark.
Thanks to CMM for alerting us to the new casting for the premiere performances of Ratmansky's Whipped Cream in Costa Mesa in March. Stella Abrera, David Hallberg, Sarah Lane and Daniil Simkin will star in the world premiere on March 15th and at the final Sunday performance. The second night and Saturday night boasts Herman Cornejo, Cassandra Trenary, Hee Seo, and Cory Stearns. Gillian Murphy, James Whiteside, Simkin, and Lane will dance at the Saturday matinee.
Haglund is approaching Whipped Cream exactly as he approached the Met Opera's Hansel and Gretel. On the surface, it will be for kids with all the fantastical scenery and costumes designed to appeal to their little imaginations. But it will also include enough impressive dancing to appeal to adults. Haglund loves the Met Opera's Hansel and Gretel. Hopefully, Whipped Cream will be good, too.
Seeing Hallberg and Abrera together for Whipped Cream will be nice, but it ain't gonna be no Giselle. Come on, ABT, fork it over. Get it on the schedule somehow, some way, somewhere -- and we are not talking about Oman, either.
In other good news, a brand new David Howard Foundation Scholarship has been inaugurated at Ballet Academy East in Manhattan. The scholarship will be awarded annually to a BAE student to help support tuition and housing. The first recipient is Tallison Costa from Brazil.
This is such good news. We all miss David Howard so much. Still today on the ballet stages of New York, Houston, San Francisco, and other places, one can see his positive impact on dancers. He did so much to help students understand the whys & hows of good classical technique. It's nice to see BAE, one of the top ballet schools in New York, create this opportunity for students.
The Sunshine Cinema on 143 E. Houston Street in Manhattan will be showing the Royal Ballet's Anastasia tonight at 7pm. Marianela Nunez has the title role the role of Kschessinska. This charming historic cinema's days are numbered, unfortunately. While its lease runs through 2018, the property on which it is housed is being primed for a $35 million sale to build a redevelopment project.
It was great to hear confirmation of David Hallberg's impending return to the stage in The Australian Ballet's Coppelia in a couple of weeks. Hopefully, that bodes well for ABT's spring season. However, we might have to gouge out our eyes if Hallberg ends up in the one uncast Albrecht opposite ABT's worst (to date) Giselle instead of opposite Gillian Murphy or a second Giselle with Stella Abrera. Stella could do two performances on consecutive nights, easily, and we've been waiting over a decade for their promised pairing in this most important ballet of all time. It would be just as easy to change the Saturday night Giselle casting to one with some integrity. Tickets are simply too expensive to waste money on garbage. Hopefully, ABT will show some respect for the art form and for Hallberg, but don't count on it.
Happily, the second week of Nutcracker at New York City Ballet brings the Sugarplum/Cavalier couple of Erica Pereira and Anthony Huxley on Sunday December 4th at 1:00 pm. There aren't many tickets left. This is perhaps Erica's best leading role in ballet to date, and she and Anthony are paired perfectly. The notoriously difficult choreography has rarely been danced more delicately and effortlessly than when Erica steps on stage as the Sugarplum Fairy. Also in the cast will be Ashly Isaacs as Dewdrop, Lauren King in Marzipan, and Harrison Coll debuting as Drosselmeier.
Thanks to former ABT corps de ballet dancer Nicola Curry, now flourishing at The Australian Ballet, for giving us this ray of hope regarding David Hallberg’s recovery and return. Siegfrieds in ten performances of Swan Lake still are not cast (seven in Washington DC and three in New York); maybe something will come of this. Unfortunately, McKenzie continually douses flickering ticket sales by trying to force people, who are appalled by the poor dancing of one artist, to buy a ticket to see an outstanding artist who has been coupled with the atrocious one. How dreadful is the idea of seeing Hallberg try to pull off a comeback with integrity in a Swan Lake opposite the likes of Boylston, Copeland, Seo or some obnoxious guest artist. Hopefully, reason will reign, but don’t count on it. There’s no reason to believe that most of the Swan Lake pairings won’t be just as awful as they have been in recent years.
While we’re exceptionally interested in seeing Devon Teuscher’s upcoming Swan Lakes, a poor matchup would prevent us from buying tickets - just exactly like it stopped us from buying tickets to Veronika Part’s Swan Lake last year when she was cast with Whiteside. Nor are we going to invest in the absurd combination of Copeland and Cornejo. We’ll leave Valentino Carlotti to buy all the tickets for those performances and give them out for free.
Now that Copeland has proven several times that she cannot muster the technique required for a professional level Swan Lake, McKenzie has rewarded her with double the number of performances and two performances of Kitri which require even greater technical abilities. But her fans never know when she’s not doing the steps, anyway, nor do they care. She’s like the Trump of ballet; she triumphs through their ignorance. She’s popular so long as the tickets are purchased by her sponsors and given out free; but without her sugar daddy and sugar agent she can’t muster a butt in a seat.
We were excited to hear that Christine Shevchenko would be dancing Kitri until we learned that she would be dancing opposite the import Alban Lendorf whose atrocious lines due to his wide backside and thighs make it impossible to enjoy any ballet that he’s in. He’s even worse looking than Vasiliev although he can manage something closer to classical technique. Trying to watch him during Ashton’s Symphonic Variations was the second most unpleasant experience of the fall season. So, it looks like we’ll skip this Don Q, too. We should be seeing Calvin Royal III as Basilio opposite Shevchenko since they are preparing a Don Q PdD for an ABT benefit. Shevchenko will certainly wipe the floor with the other Kitri debutante; her technical ability and artistry are so far above and beyond Copeland's that it is a shame that she’s not the one getting a second performance during the run of Don Quixote with a complimentary Basilio. The greater shame, however, is that Skylar Brandt and Cassandra Trenary, both of whom are heads and shoulders above Copeland in technique and artistry and would also wipe the floor with her in a Don Q, are being made to sit on their hands. We understand that it is their white privilege that has kept Copeland from practicing her fouettes and hops on pointe all these years. But no worries – since her fans with free tickets won't know what they're missing, Copeland can just leave out all the hard steps and still bask in their cheers.
We were very excited to hear of Stella Abrera’s debut in Onegin. But after seeing Cory Stearns wash out at City Center in The Leaves Are Fading, we’re more than a little concerned about what he’ll be able to muster opposite Stella. He has always risen to the occasion when he has been onstage opposite Dvorovenko or alongside Gomes – two artists who demand high level performances from everyone on stage – but when he has to help carry the evening voluntarily, he’s often not around. We just don’t know what to expect but are not particularly hopeful.
It will be wonderful to see Stella reprise her gorgeous Giselle opposite Gomes for his 20th Anniversary celebration. She is, after all, the company’s best Giselle. How ridiculous to see that Copeland, who should not come within a mile of any Petipa tulle ballet, has been granted two performances opposite the ill-fitting, gross in white tights Lendorf. It will be like watching two tanks together lumbering around on the stage. But of course, her fans won’t care because they don’t know any better. Like Trump, she triumphs through their ignorance.
As far as the new Whipped Cream, we have no high expectations that it will be anything other than the same steppy stuff that we’ve seen in most of Ratmansky’s choreography – overloaded with steps, overloaded with costumes and kitsch, overloaded with fake childish charm. Hopefully, it also won’t be overloaded with remnants and borrowings from this Whipped Cream/Schlagobers ballet choreographed by Karl Alfred Schreiner for the Ballett vom Staatstheaters am Gärtnerplatz. It looks exactly like the kind of stuff to which Ratmansky aspires.
We’re afraid that the ABT's spring season of ballet will not be the beauty that saves the world or soothes our souls.
Our Stella Abrera balancing on the clam shell (and releasing her partner's hand exactly on the musical cue) in Sleeping Beauty Act II courtesy of a perfect set-up by our dashing Alex Hammoudi. We are eternally grateful to akouavi_ for this video:
Thanks to mayssafl for this video of the thunderous ovation from the sold-out house for Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo:
Nine years ago when the ill-fated Kirkland/McKenzie Sleeping Beauty premiered during the Spring season at The Metropolitan Opera House, Sarah Lane was a 22-year-old member of the corps de ballet. She had already spectacularly danced the lead in Balanchine’s Theme and Variations as well as Anne Boleyn in Christopher Wheeldon’s VIII. Her assignment for the Sleeping Beauty world premiere was Fairy Charity, a juicy opportunity for any corps dancer, but she was also cast as Princess Florine and Fairy Joy later in the run.
During the first week of July, ABT announced her promotion to soloist effective the next month. A few days later, she was assigned to learn the role of Aurora which she would perform (while still technically a corps member) opposite Herman Cornejo in Sleeping Beauty in Orange County in about two weeks time. Herman’s original partner, Xiomara Reyes, had become injured.
All reports out of Orange County cooed, purred, whistled, and raved about Sarah’s and Herman's outstanding dancing and the fabulous Rose Adagio. That night the lights on the Empire State Building may have gone green for New York balletomanes’ envy and Carabosse-worthy jealousy at Orange County’s coup in scoring this Aurora’s debut. We would have to wait until the next spring to see her.
The next season we were rewarded with her astonishing Aurora as we have been many times since then. It doesn’t matter who has designed the production: ABT's Sleeping Beauty is at her most eloquent when danced by Sarah Lane. It’s more than because of the steps. She embodies the grace, humility, restraint of ego, strength of spirit, benevolence, all of which bubbles to the surface in this particular role.
Friday evening in Alexei Ratmansky’s historical restoration of Sleeping Beauty – only a few hours after Kevin McKenzie had delivered his own annual performance of de facto public rejection of her for promotion to Principal in front of all of her colleagues – Sarah summoned her deep reserves of composure and commitment to create an Aurora whose bloom held a fragrance precisely as Ratmansky intended in his staging. No flash, no excess, no outward display of ego – just beauty awakened in every petal of this rose. The heirloom style of this production was revealed with classic elegance in Sarah’s delicate, crystalline clear shaping of the steps and the softness of their complementary port de bras.
Her handsome prince, who seemed even more handsome this year by the apparent alterations of his red hunting jacket, won Aurora through his own brilliant and evocative dancing that was at once selfless and authoritative. Herman Cornejo was exceptionally precise with his partnering on Friday. He provided Sarah with both security and freedom while establishing a rapport which convinced us that his love and admiration for Aurora and for his colleague, Sarah, were genuine. His own taxing allegro variations in Act III streamed effortlessly like rapid whitewater across riffles – keeping its turbulence well below the surface.
Earlier in the week, Haglund stopped by the Met to watch Act I of 22-year-old Cassandra Trenary’s Aurora. She was beautiful, technically secure, appropriately youthful, and radiated like few other ballerinas in ABT. Unfortunately, she generally deviated from the heirloom style prescribed by Ratmansky who carefully interpreted the choreography and style from the Stepanov notes.
While Haglund, himself, has never scoured the Stepanov notes, he would wage all on a bet that they do not include instructions for the ballerina to snap her head, whip her face back and forth, jut her chin forward toward the audience, and generally employ staccato in the upper body that would be appropriate for Mercedes in Don Quixote. Let’s be clear, the audience responded magnificently to all the head snapping and chin jutting. Wow, look at her. The audience also responded to her awesomeblés – gigantic and powerful assemblés where the legs gathered and crossed high above the stage while traveling forward - assemblés of the type that ballerinas didn’t perform until sometime around the 1950s-60s when Balanchine made them a staple. But let’s be clear, the audience just loved all the departures from the authentic Petipa Sleeping Beauty style and didn’t seem to notice that anything was askew. Nor, apparently, did NYT critic Alastair Irrelevant observe it. He, too, seemed to be caught up in the audience's enthusiasm.
Haglund’s take on all of this is that historical reconstructions do not hold any where near the commercial/audience appeal of ballets that employ evolved technique and include big jumps, multiple pirouettes with the foot in the retiré position, and higher extensions that all can be accomplished while maintaining the aesthetic harmony of classical line. While this particular production continues to acquire interpreters who can convince audiences of its heirloom beauty, ABT should be exceedingly careful about turning back the clock on any of its few successful productions such as Giselle and Swan Lake, not that Swan Lake couldn’t use a good tune-up and tire change in Act IV.
Haglund also watched Act I of Gillian Murphy’s Sleeping Beauty on Tuesday night but left at intermission due to the obnoxious behavior of a large group of comp ticketholders who had no clue that they weren’t supposed to eat potato chips, talk, and complain about not having been given as good free seats as during Romeo and Juliet. That annoyance coupled with the terrible acoustics in the side orchestra which yielded double bouncing off the walls and side overhangs of the brass notes and percussion was more than Haglund was willing to put up with after a tiring day. Gillian danced a secure, seemingly effortless Act I with joy and lightness. It's not our favorite production for her, but she certainly respected the style to the letter.
Gillian, along with Sarah, had the absolute best possible team of Princes for her Rose Adagio. Alexandre Hammoudi, Thomas Forster, Blaine Hoven, and Roman Zhurbin were as big and bold as the front line of the Dallas Cowboys. Roman as the Indian Prince sported strands of pearls and a pink-plumed turban that would have been the envy of Carnac the Magnificent.
Sorry, couldn’t resist that. These four guys were incredible and made sure that both Auroras shone brightly in the magnificent climax of balances and promenades.
Another Met Season is finished with the lows outnumbering the highs. It seems that more and more of the core audience is attending fewer and fewer performances. ABT’s answer to that is to paper the house night after night with people who will never spend their own money on tickets. It is as though ABT honestly doesn’t know how to build its core audience. Hint: it starts with building internal quality rather than substituting purchased celebrity. But we don’t expect ABT to ever wake up to this fact, not in a hundred years.
Our final H.H. Pump Bump Award is bestowed upon Sarah Lane who has the patience of Job and a bottomless reservoir of tenacity in addition to all of the artistic qualities of a magnificent classical ballerina.