Friday was the official opening day for the observatory at the new One World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, and Haglund was there among the masses who snaked along queues for nearly two hours before packing into an elevator that skyrocketed us at a whistling speed to the top to behold a view that hadn’t been seen in quite a number of years. The landscape has changed, of course. It would have changed dramatically over the past decade and a half even if the city had been spared historical events. But the charge to the top by the masses on the first day was less about the view and more about perspective. Changing one has led to a restoration of the other.
This photo looks down into the memorial waters of the footprint from the 102nd Floor. Click on the picture for a better resolution:
In the evening, Haglund attended ABT’s New York opening of its new production of Sleeping Beauty and returned for the Saturday matinee performance. The premiere performances of this reconstruction by Alexei Ratmansky, with costumes and scenery by Richard Hudson, occurred in Orange County in March. Those performances were enthusiastically received, but revealed that this production is more about the costumes and wigs than about the dancing. The costume/wig opulence has been magnified while the dancing has been moderated to erase most evolutionary changes in ballet technique since the 19th century so that we see Sleeping Beauty as it was originally intended to be seen.
Here in New York, where the non-costumed ballet was born with the intent to emphasize the importance of choreography (substance) over costume (style), it might be tough to sell this Sleeping Beauty to the audience. Orange County was brought up on Disney. New York was brought up on Balanchine. That’s why there are 2,500 good miles between us.
A few words about wigs.
Yes, it’s true that at a point in history, wigs were a sign of affluence and power – the bigger, the better – but their basic purpose was to deal with head lice and the balding side effect of syphilis. If the hair didn’t fall out from venereal disease, then it was shaved off to eliminate crawly things. In ABT’s new Sleeping Beauty, the historically-minded viewer might spend an inordinate amount of time wondering about what was growing within the Queen’s tall hive on her head or how the ladies wearing starchy yellow-tinged unattractive wigs acquired their syphllis. Maybe, you say, we shouldn’t make too much of the wigs? Well, ABT certainly made much of them and spent much on them; so, it’s all the more reason to speak up if we don’t like them. ABT needs to find wigs that don’t make so many of the women look ugly and the children look like they are part of The Addams Family.
The costumes are intended to overwhelm just as they did historically, but overwhelm whom is the question. Their scope overwhelmed the viewer but also seemed to overwhelm some of the dancers, most notably poor Herman Cornejo who could barely be seen under his hat and whose long red hunting jacket swallowed him up. Speaking of ridiculously overdone hats, on Friday night, Roman Zhurbin’s Indian Prince wore an enormous pink turban and pearls that made him look like Johnny Carson’s Carnac the Magnificent. A lot of money went into those hats, costumes, and wigs - probably enough money to pay for a few new world class classical coaches for a year – maybe coaches good enough to be able to teach ABT’s ballerinas what they need to know to be suitable to dance Nikiya in Makarova’s La Bayadere. It’s odd how Makarova can set her production on companies all over the world and use those companies’ dancers, but can’t seem to find a crew of acceptable ballerinas in New York. Few if any people want to pay money to see the pointless, tragically ordinary, and unappealing Kochetkova dance Nikiya once, but McKenzie and Makarova think she’s just what we need to see three or four times in one week. It must be the language connection that keeps her employed here, because it sure isn’t her dancing. Haglund will skip Herman Cornejo’s brilliant performances rather than have to sit through Kochetkova while the enormously talented Sarah Lane sits on the sidelines.
Back to Sleeping Beauty – we’re not going to indulge in presentism, but a literal reconstruction of Sleeping Beauty is more likely to appeal to academics than anyone else. Try talking to the Met Opera about doing a literal reconstruction of La Boheme that requires everyone to sing exactly as they did in 1896 and see how far you get.
The first two casts of this Sleeping Beauty have been superb although both ballerinas had trouble with the little bit of familiar virtuosity remaining in the ballet - those Rose Adagio balances. Gillian Murphy and Sarah Lane are ABT’s most reliable balancers (now that Yuriko Kajiya is gone) and have brilliantly exceeded expectations in their performances of the Rose Adagio in the prior production. But each had trouble completing her sequence this week, and Sarah slipped off releve during her third promenade in attitude. Up to that point, however, each ballerina interpreted the historic choreography with glistening sensitivity and style.
Sarah, in particular, illustrated the beauty in the quickness of pirouettes that opened instantly to arabesque or other position as opposed to the rhythmical pirouettes that finish leisurely - which can also be pretty. We were seeing the music - to borrow a phrase from across the Plaza. Also, Sarah has mastered the most articulate pas de chat under the sun. We saw them earlier in the season in Theme and Variations where her feet scooped so quickly and cleanly beneath her. We must also compliment Sarah on the articulation of her saute ronds de jambe, her beautiful backbends, the softness of her port de bras, and the gradual redefining of Aurora from Act I’s eager young princess to Act II’s spiritual vision, and finally, to Act III’s elegant bride-to-be. All in all, a lovely debut in this production. Though we hadn’t planned it, we’re going to buy a ticket to her performance on June 11th because we’re pretty sure that we will see some spectacular balances in the Rose Adagio.
Gillian had more confidence in the role on opening night, in part, due to having performed Aurora in Orange County a couple of times already. She wore the antiquity of the style with complete ease and grace, particularly the lovely demi-seconde positions of the arms and hands. She wore the heavily layered costumes more easily than Sarah who would have looked much better had she been wrapped in less fabric. Gillian seemed more committed to the lower developpes and doing the pirouettes with the foot closer to the ankle than she was in Orange County in March, and they were prettier.
The Princes in this production have little to do until their Act III variation. Both Marcelo Gomes and Herman Cornejo dispatched their steps brilliantly. We’re accustomed to Herman’s incredible allegro form, but seeing the big guy Marcelo move at high speed with clarity was a treat. Both partnered admirably while executing different versions of the fanciness in the Wedding PdD. Marcelo and Gillian performed the fishdives that we are accustomed to seeing. Herman and Sarah performed something closer to the original choreography where Sarah launched a double en dedans pirouette with the leg in attitude devant and finished with a fast opening developpe en ecarte. As she and Herman performed this three times, it became rather clear how simply and naturally this step evolved into the more complex fishdive. This version was interesting to see but was much less pretty than the fishdives. Let’s hope that Sarah and Herman get a chance to do it the modern way for their next performance.
In addition to fishdives, other bits of evolution could be reintroduced without compromising the idea of the reconstruction. Aurora’s diagonal of triple pirouettes could be returned to the Act I variation as a replacement for Ratmansky’s lame attempt at wide-eyed humor in this section. Did the Stepanov notes dictate exactly how this diagonal should be characterized or was this Ratmansky’s extension of a theme picked up earlier? Haglund thinks it’s misguided and comes perilously close to slapstick. Aurora should be demonstrating that she is a supremely beautiful and talented princess, not struggling to be so.
The Lilac Fairies – Stella Abrera on Friday and Devon Teuscher on Saturday – each were lovely in their brief but killer variations where each step could have spelled disaster for lesser skilled dancers. Still, we missed seeing the Lilac Fairy dance in Acts II and III; here she was simply a character role.
The Bluebird and Prince Florine were extremely well danced at each performance – Daniil Simkin and Cassandra Trenary on Friday and Blaine Hoven and Stella Abrera on Saturday. Haglund loves how this section no longer has the strange, ungainly awkwardness that was common in the prior production’s choreography. When Simkin’s Bluebird did split jumps high off the ground, it was no surprise because we’d seen Simkin do that sort of stuff before. But when the big guy Blaine launched into the air and stretched those legs, they went from goal post to goal post. Beautiful.
Of all the Fairies in both performances, one stood out as most composed, scrupulously styled, and elegant. Gemma Bond as the Breadcrumb Fairy on Friday and the Sapphire Fairy on Saturday was the exclamation point for why we love watching this ballet over and over again. Lauren Post as the Silver Fairy on Friday and the Breadcrumb Fairy on Saturday also embodied those same qualities.
Courtney Lavine and Calvin Royal as Cinderella and Her Prince gave their couple of minutes a good whirl on Friday night. They’re both very likable artists, and Courtney projects great warmth and generosity in her dancing.
A quick side note – Some of the minor adult character dances in Act III were fielded to non-ABT dancers from around the area. What a fabulous sight, and surely a cosmic sign, to see Katia Raj in the role of Scheherazade on Friday. After being somewhat ignored at the JKO School several years ago, Katia found her way to Gelsey Kirkland who performed her own reconstruction on this dancer and turned her into a lovely performer. Haglund fondly remembers a particularly spellbinding Swan Lake Act II PdD that Katia performed with Alexander Mays during one of the Kirkland Academy’s performances. They had been coached by both Gelsey and Ivan Nagy and were ravishingly beautiful. In Friday night’s Sleeping Beauty Alexander Mays was Bluebeard. Another of Gelsey’s gems which she is currently polishing is Marcus Salazar who was Mandarin on Friday night. We just saw him as Sancho Panza a few weeks ago with the Gelsey Kirkland Ballet at the Schimmel Center where both Katia and Alexander also performed. It's all a cosmic sign of something or other, for sure.
The HH Pump Bump Award by Valentino is bestowed upon Sarah Lane, who despite an imperfect Rose Adagio, was a perfectly genuine Aurora who danced delicately and decisively just the way a princess would.