Tom Forster and Luciana Paris have been long overdue promotions to soloist, as well. Skylar Brandt, Cassandra Trenary, Arron Scott - all fine choices, too. Misty Copeland, well, let's hope she keeps working so that we don't always moan that she didn't deserve it.
Every year it seems that we depend on Veronika Part’s Swan Lake to save us from so much misery in ABT's season. Not only did she save us again last night, but she gave us new reason not to jump off a cliff ourselves: Veronika’s Swan Lake is even better than ever.
After the rather small dancing in Act I on Wednesday evening, Veronika's entrance in Act II was an avian miracle that dropped gently from the night sky, legs outstretched reaching for the Earth, her body high and straight to brake against the wind. Her wings lifted above her head with a flutter, and then, oh lord, Odette began her story….
“The lake is filled with my mother’s tears; the evil one turned me into a swan queen; I need someone to swear his love to rescue me.” Just as Haglund was about to jump over the side of the tier and rush to save Odette, her Prince Siegfried, Cory Stearns, showed some signs of life. "Before I agree to save you, we need to dance a little and test the waters, so to speak,” he seemed to convey. Haglund wanted to scream, “Just look at her! Siegfried, when in your career are you ever going to dance with anything more miraculous?”
Veronika’s expressiveness in the role of Odette has always been honest, genuine, and heartbreakingly beautiful, but last night she exhibited a new depth of emotion conveyed through the slow unfolding of her long limbs and the pliancy of her torso that devastated the viewer. One knew that she was living Odette’s predicament – not acting it – and that her deep reach into Odette’s soul was possible only because of decades of absolute devotion to her art form.
The delicious evil in Veronika’s Odile came not from glaring looks or an imposing lifted chin. There was nothing haughty about this Odile; she was pure seduction. Siegfried wasn’t her first victim. Her playbook and history already had so many chapters that it was as thick as a Manhattan phonebook. She had Siggy’s number, alright, and he was helpless.
Technically brilliant throughout the night, Veronika balanced, turned, jumped, and drew shapes and stories with her limbs like Aivazovsky's brushstrokes creating The Ninth Wave and The Storm. Her fouettes travelled slightly forward but maintained clear form and she firmly held Odile’s character while performing them.
Regardless of what other companies may have done, this company’s and most major companies’ 21st century stagings require the ballerina to make the effort to do the 32 counts of fouettes. Every ballerina has to invest the effort to make them happen. Sniff at them, if you will, but they are a rite of passage, a measure of technical ability and fortitude, and if a ballerina can’t do them and other spectacular technical maneuvers when they are part of the staging, she has no business demanding that she be handed the role to perform. ABT History may have been made yesterday afternoon at the matinee performance when the dancer attempting to convince everyone of her exaggerated worth became the first ABT ballerina in history to bail out of the sequence at the halfway point having possibly planned to in advance. Less time spent cultivating celebrity and more time spent addressing glaring technical deficiencies should be the mandate. Those who sniff at the 32 counts of fouettes never give any valid reasons for doing so. Everyone who CAN do them, DOES.
Let’s talk a little about the other players in last night’s performance. Cory Stearns’ Siegfried didn’t come alive until Acts III and IV. The great energy he showed in his variations in La Bayadere earlier in the season was gone. He had difficulty getting up in the air except, curiously, in Act III when Marcelo Gomes’ Von Rothbart was observing from his throne. Stearns always performs better when Gomes is on the stage, too. There is more life in his step, more energy in his dancing, more drama in his posture. Stearns’ partnering of Veronika was fine except for a little mess up in a finger pirouette in the Act II PdD. He finally convinced Haglund that he cared about Odette in Act IV, but seeing that earlier would have been better.
Happily, Marcelo Gomes’ Von Rothbart becomes more operatic each season. Every year we wonder where he will take the character next. It’s evident that not many on the stage even know in advance where beyond the steps Marcelo will take the character. Everyone in Act III always seems to be a little more alertly on his or her toes when Marcelo is performing this role so as not to miss an opportunity for spontaneous interaction.
Thomas Forster as the Von Rothbart swamp creature acquitted himself well. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to catch his performance of Von Rothbart’s alternate personality on Tuesday night, but we heard it went well, also.
The Pas de Trois was a minor event in last night’s performance. Cassandra Trenary was lovely but inserted way too much Princess Florine into her variations. Luciana Paris had some nice moments but it was disappoiting to see her not be able to manage the flying entrechat six or the entrechat six in place. She didn’t even try to do them, but come to think of it, neither did Hee Seo ever make the effort. Zhiyao Zhang had some nice qualities in his dancing last night but there was no sense of urgency at all. It was all too pretty. This Pas de Trois crew needs to go back and take a look at the Cornejo-Reyes-Cornejo tapes or more recently the Hoven-Abrera-Riccetto tapes to see how to sell this dance. Last night’s interpretation had McKenzie’s boredom in every step.
Melanie Hamrick was drop-dead gorgeous dancing among The Aristocrats, as one of the Two Big Swans, and in the Spanish Dance. There has always been such incredible potential there and it hurts more and more to see it go to waste.
The corps de ballet was exceptionally brilliant last night. Haglund was so surprised at their crispness and energy. They all seemed totally up to the standard being set by Veronika Part.
We wish Veronika could dance another Odette this week but alas it seems that won’t happen. She’s such a treasure to this company – whether they know it or not – and is one of the greatest Odette/Odiles of our time. We have a special H.H. Pump Bump First Position Award that we have been saving all year for Veronika:
The pushing forward of Misty Copeland to the next level when she has failed to master the skills required at the current level and may never be able to master them would be Social Promotion at its most flagrant. ABT would be conveying that the integrity of the art product that it puts on stage is less important than the personal success of this one overly ambitious, whiny individual. ABT would be conveying to all of its dancers that lying about one's past and one's accomplishments and making false accusations, as Misty Copeland has done over and over again in her book and in interviews, will get one ahead more quickly than hard work. ABT would be conveying that after 14 years with the company, it’s not necessary to meet the technical and artistic requirements of any role in order to get cast in it; you just need to find a hungry agent who will promote your whining and false victimization to the media. For Copeland, who has never been able to do the harder steps in her roles, ABT has just eliminated them to make her look like a success.
Misty Copeland’s skyrocketing media career for the past 18 months has been supported on a platform of lies studded with false assertions of victimization, false assertions against her colleagues, false assertions against the art form that initially embraced her, and the most arrogant refusal to recognize all of those black dancers who came before her and paved the way for her success. She has been on a rampage to win her promotion despite her obvious deficiencies. It has been one of the ugliest examples of a selfish opportunist proclaiming that the end justifies the means, any means, no matter how immoral or unethical or untruthful. And it has been a story too appealing for the mainstream media to resist or even to check for authenticity. Copeland’s story has made her a lot of money and brought her more and more media opportunities that she has exploited in her all-out effort to win a principal title at ABT without the customary qualifications. She still can’t do the steps while everyone around her does them better and better. People know that she is a fraud, but it doesn’t matter to Copeland because being a fraud pays better than being truthful and authentic.
This past fall Misty Copeland won her Artistic Director’s heart by standing on stage and having her tits pummeled by a white guy as choreographed by Liam Scarlett. It seems that Kevin McKenzie may have believed that there is a potential new ballet audience out there that gets off on watching a white male rough up the tits of a black woman in front of thousands of people and have her act like she enjoys it, and McKenzie wanted that audience to come to the ballet. Poor Sarah Lane in the alternate cast preferred not to volunteer to be a victim of sexual violence on stage for the benefit of her Artistic Director’s vision – a reluctance that did not serve her well in the spring castings. Lane, unquestionably a much better dancer than Copeland, failed to win castings in Romeo & Juliet, for which she had already been trained, or in Swan Lake, a ballet in which her performance had been acclaimed internationally. Those roles were given to the one who invited ABT to pummel her tits on stage – Copeland. Because of the lack of these major performing assignments, we probably will not be seeing Sarah Lane promoted to principal despite the fact that she is unquestionably a greater artist than Copeland.
Sarah should sue - not only because ABT placed her in an uncomfortable position where she had to express reluctance to submit to sexual violence on stage for their benefit, but because ABT failed to promote her while promoting the one who would go the limit for the Artistic Director. It would be a good thing to sue ABT (and all of its directors) at this time, because there is a very real need to make ABT disclose its criteria for employing and promoting artists in an era when the public has little confidence that such decisions are being made ethically by this publicly-funded and tax-funded institution. It would be a very good thing to sue ABT (and all of its directors) at this time to force the transparency that it owes to the public that funds it. A GoFundMe effort would probably raise enough money from sympathetic balletomanes to fund the suit and a big party afterward.
The Social Promotion of Misty Copeland at the exclusion of better dancers – which would include most everyone in the company, but in particularly soloists Sarah Lane and Stella Abrera – is based on ABT’s misguided decision to use race as a marketing tool. Copeland delivered a race-based challenge to them for which they have tried to develop a race-based solution that makes them look like a winner. Neither the problem nor the solution bears any authenticity. It is all pure gimmick.
Many African-Americans object to Copeland and ABT using race as a marketing gimmick, and Haglund has heard from several of them. A former professional ballet dancer in a top tier company very recently wrote:
"I have been increasingly irritated by what I’ve seen as the use of race as a marketing tool in ballet. As an African American ballet dancer myself, I find it not only embarrassing and ridiculous, but it also pays a tremendous disservice to the many incredible dancers out there—past or present—who have stood on their talent and artistry alone.”
Those African-American women soloists at ABT who stood on their talent and artistry alone, and paved the way for Misty Copeland have yet to be honored by her. She doesn’t want anyone to think of any black female soloists at ABT except for her. She has trampled over them from the beginning without ever looking over her shoulder. It is selfishness, greediness, and dishonesty sanitized by what may pass as good old aggressive PR work. But it is what it is.
Before ABT rewards Misty Copeland with a social promotion for her own aggressive social promotion, the company should think about the long-term harmful effects - the further alienation of donors, subscribers, followers, and all those who used to think that ABT was a company of some integrity that was committed to producing high end art, not artifice.
It seems that the "star power" of Maria Kochetkova is dragging down sales to Herman Cornejo's Swan Lake scheduled next week. Haglund knows people who would like to see Herman but are staying away because of the unappetizing guest artist who not only has no audience pull, but is an audience repellent. Maybe Rachel Moore can sign her up for a long term contract before Moore pulls out of ABT with her tail between her legs to go wreck some other organization.
One would think that when a guest artist is dismissed for unprofessional behavior that the New York Times would dig into it the way they dug into the firings of Gelsey and Patrick Bissell decades ago. Isn't the buying public who invested in the guest artist's performances due an explanation? Oh, wait - maybe we can ask her ourselves if she shows up for performances next week with the Royal Ballet.
There is lots to be excited about with Pennsylvania Ballet's 2015-2016 season. Angel Corella's brand new Don Quixotein March will likely be one of the most important dance events in the U.S. Haglund already has his subscription ordered and Amtrak tickets for the premiere.
Rachel Moore's present to ABT on its 75th Anniversary is to bail out on the declining institution. Now if we could only get the same present from her mate on the artistic side.
The LA Music Center has hired ABT's CEO as its new president and CEO, replacing 65-year-old Stephen Roundtree who resigned last December after 12 years to take over the Center Theatre Group which is one of the LA Music Center's tenants. The CTG had been rumored to be the group that would be hosting Susan Stroman's Little Dancer with Tiler Peck later this year. As of December, though, it was still in the discussion phase.
Mr. Roundtree's last reported salary at the Music Center was $740,889 with benefits of $109,398. Moore's last reported salary at ABT was $291,537 with benefits of $9,117.
Were it not for the extraordinary dancing of Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo along with a few secondary players last night, this reconstruction of Sleeping Beauty would have seemed more like salvage. That's not to take anything away from salvage art - because, well, Haglund is a collector.
Here is a photo of two of his favorite pieces (click on image to enlarge): the artist’s “canvases" are ceiling tin panels reclaimed from late 19th Century buildings in the area that were demolished for redevelopment. The artist prepped the battered tin panels with a trademarked process and then created his own art over them. Reclaiming and repurposing architectural salvage as art created something new and beautiful that also literally came from the late 1800s. Salvage makes our lives richer.
Of the three Auroras who Haglund has seen in Alexei Ratmansky's new production (Vishneva, Murphy, Lane), Sarah Lane’s version comes closest to capturing the qualities of ballet’s bygone era while infusing it with modern sensibility. Eliminating the common virtuosity of current times – the large sweeping legs, multiple pirouettes, grand jumps, high extensions, audience milking – and substituting small swift articulation, delicate poses, and more of a darting quality than lyrical, has its risks. It’s suited to a smaller dancer like Sarah or someone who can rein in expansiveness inherent in 20th-21st century dancing. It’s also suited to an audience that has a taste for something other than McDonald’s-quality ballet.
In Act I of last night’s performance, Sarah seemed a bit unsettled at first, but nevertheless, throughout the night she delivered a musically sensitive performance of Aurora with arabesques that slowly closed into passe while en pointe and arabesque fouettes where the front leg held a shapely 90 degree extension while on balance. The articulation and swiftness of her allegro were unstrained, unrushed, and joyous even though the tempo was quite a bit faster than the tempi given to other Auroras. Her coupe jetes were light and covered a good amount of space while keeping the torso high above the hips. Those initial battements to the side that came in quickly to passe were breathtaking in their eloquence. Sarah’s musicality throughout the night, particularly those supported pirouettes that opened brilliantly fast to arabesque, reminded Haglund of Margot Fonteyn. Her port de bras is now one of the best in the company - so natural, generous, lengthened, and integrated that it often draws the eye.
Princes with long, skinny arms should never be part of a Rose Adagio crew. Aurora needs strong arms like those of Blaine Hoven and Roman Zhurban that she can depend on. (Blaine and Roman were assigned to Vishneva’s Aurora.) Calvin Royal’s Spanish Prince arm wavered like a flapping wing and provided almost no support for tiny Sarah’s balances. At times, it looked like she was trying to balance him instead of vice versa. But it seems that she was prepared for the lack of support (being fully experienced in that regard) and was particularly self-reliant on the first of each set of balances. The remainder of the Prince crew (Duncan Lyle, Craig Salstein, and Grant DeLong) got Aurora around with greater assurance.
Once her Prince Desire arrived on the scene, however, Sarah’s Aurora fully blossomed. She and Herman Cornejo were exquisite together - perfectly matched physically and temperamentally. With his own variation, Herman woke up the audience which seemed sleepy from the nonstop parade of costumes - like it had eaten a heavy meal with too much wine. If there is one thing that makes almost every Sleeping Beauty production less interesting than it should be, it’s the lack of choreography given to Desire. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know – we have to live with it because that’s the way the ballet was conceived. OK, so we’ll live with it, but be forever unsatisfied.
There's really no reason, though, for us to continue to be dissatisfied with the substitute for the fish dives – a double en dedans turn in attitude devant that ends with a severely leaning extension in ecarte. In the first instance last night, the whole move very nearly pulled Sarah off the ground, which may be exactly how it originally evolved into the fish dive - by mistake. Their final pose – a deep, deep fish going the opposite direction with both of Aurora's legs crossed behind her – was very pretty, indeed. We hope someone got a picture of it.
Our Lilac Fairy, Devon Teuscher, didn’t have as clean a performance as earlier in the run. The variation is a killer, and it just wasn’t Devon’s night.
The fairies and attendants were messy last night, out of line, out of sync. The Fairy Violente is becoming increasingly annoying. Again, we have to ask, is this very hard reach for humor something that was in the Stepanov notes or is it Ratmansky’s idea? It doesn’t work. The costume is hideous. The wig is ugly. We withheld applause.
Our Diamond Fairy, Skylar Brandt, was brilliant and glistening but also a little loud in the feet. Princess Florine (Misty Copeland) and The Bluebird (Gabe Stone Shayer) were heavy and lackluster. The Bluebird had trouble with his tours and leaps in second position and, if Princess Florine even tried to do the hops on pointe, we didn’t see them get off the ground. The reverberation in the ankles from every eschappe was evident. It all looked very simplified and mundane – especially when compared to the illustrious performances of Trenary & Simkin and Abrera & Hoven. Maybe Princess Florine is saving herself to dazzle everyone with fast single pirouettes inserted in place of fouettes in Swan Lake.
Courtney Lavine and Tom Forster as Cinderella and Prince Fortune were a breath of fresh air. We wish we could see more of these two dancers before they, too, begin withering on the vine. Actually, we wish we could see them hook up with the Royal Ballet when it comes to visit this month. And Sarah and Herman, too.
Because there has been so much to discuss with this production over the weeks, we have overlooked mentioning what an excellent job Alexei Agoudine has done in the character role of Catalabutte. He makes the highly animated mime look like the norm and also important. Even his work on the side of the stage where he reacts to what is happening in the center has been enjoyable to watch.
The H.H. Pump BumpAward is bestowed upon Sarah Lane whose artistry continues to glisten and grow despite the evil fairies around her.
If McKenzie is not bothered by the height differences between Cojocaru and Hallberg or Osipova and Hallberg, he should not be bothered by height differences between Sarah Lane and Marcelo Gomes or anyone else.
Sarah knows the role of Juliet and can be ready on a moment's notice to dance it. Everyone knows that she would be the hit of the week – and maybe that is exactly the problem. The dirty politics and enormous purchasing power of one ambitious soloist seeking celebrity at all costs is costing the most talented at ABT their opportunities and costing the audience the joy of seeing one of its most beloved artists rise to the occasion.
We need Sarah Lane as Juliet on June 17th which has opened as the result of Osipova's withdrawal. In fact, she should have gotten the nod when Semionova withdrew. Had that happened, we could now have the opportunity of seeing yet another one of our own step into the role and sweep us off our feet.
The small-mindedness of McKenzie keeps ABT on its tried and true course into the chamber pot.
Haglund observed some glorious dancing in yesterday afternoon’s La Bayadere. He also observed that ABT has a principal ballerina who cannot accomplish a double pirouette even with three tries. How can double pirouette be an ongoing problem for a so-called principal dancer at ABT? Other than that offense in her Act II variation, Hee Seo's performance in the leading role of Nikiya was flat and uneventful. She has a large face that allows opportunity for much expression, but we saw nothing – except for the same expression that we get for all of her Juliets. In Act III when she rushed down to interrupt Solor and Gamzatti’s wedding, it looked like she danced “excuse me . . .” The temple dance and most everything between it and the earthquake spoke like a student. Congratulations are in order for Seo's completion of the turns in the scarf section, which were a surprise, but everything else looked like she didn’t even know the story that she was supposed to be dancing. No imagination. No authority. It was all an utter disappointment, but not really unexpected.
Meanwhile, Cory Stearns gave a surprisingly pleasant performance. It has taken five years, but he has a Solor of some weight now. Maybe it’s due to his less strenuous schedule than in prior years, but he seemed to have a high - yes, folks, a high level of energy with enough power in his butt to make his jumps impressive. Pirouettes were drilled into the floor instead of twirling pretty spins, and his manege of double assemble tours had an urgency that you don’t normally associate with Stearns’ dancing. The pedestrian elements of his choreography had import and weight. While it was sometimes hard to see what was going on with his face due to the smallness and closeness of his features, the drama clearly registered in his torso and limbs. He danced yesterday as though ballet mattered to him rather than as though he had lots of other options.
The Bronze Idol was dreadfully miscast. Corps dancer Zhiyao Zhang has impressive dance technique but none of it looked like it belonged in this variation which seemed far more like Swan Lake PdT than Bronze Idol. Is ABT hiding videos of Angel Corella, Herman Cornejo, and Johan Renvall from its current Bronze Idol dancers so that no one knows how performances thrilled back in the days when La Bayadere was worth watching? Don’t put prettiness on the stage and call it Bronze Idol. Yesterday’s performance was 100 miles from being a Bronze Idol and had none of the fierce staccato quality that it must have.
Finally, there was Stella Abrera as Gamzatti, the only woman on stage dancing at a principal level. Where is ABT’s respect for this dancer? Not only was her Gamzatti a technical tour de force, it was a dramatic tour de force. When Gamzatti offered Nikiya her necklace, she displayed Malnificent’s confidence that Nikiya could be bought off and then her rage when the necklace was refused. The varied hues in her acting created a brilliant and interesting spectrum of character in Gamzatti. Secure pirouettes, Italian fouettes, regular fouettes - all of the dancing was clean, energetic, bright, full of drama, AND interesting. Where’s ABT’s respect for this dancer? Where is her promotion to principal? Why isn’t she dancing Nikiya?
The corps de ballet had it’s Act II together impressively. Gemma Bond, Cassandra Trenary, and Skylar Brandt as the first three shades down the ramp were of a single mind and force, and most everyone followed them faithfully. There was, however, one large shade in the front row with a deer-in-the-headlights look in her eyes who maybe should have been a few rows farther back.
And what a bad idea it was to put an unprepared, ill-fitting apprentice in the Pas d’Action. Oy. The D’Jampe Dancers looked lifeless. Nobody stretched their legs - going forward or backward. The dancing in this section has never looked so small.
Luciana Paris was a sparkling first shade soloist – her every step a joy to watch. April Giangeruso gave up a lot of form in order to get her leg up to her ear and crush the tutu into her torso which created a most unpretty picture in the second shade solo. Katherine Williams showed promise in the third variation but her dancing lacked authority from the waist up.
Tom Forster gave a mammoth performance as the The High Brahmin. Okay, but this man can actually dance up a storm and could easily field a respectable Solor for any number of taller Nikiyas and Gamzattis. The last thing we need to see is Forster being pegged into big character roles when we need him as a danseur. He can act, obviously, and he has a soft romantic side to him. Let him dance Solor. Let him dance Apollo and certainly Conrad. Jeeze Louise, it is heartbreaking to see the waste that is going on at this company simply because the incompetent fool running the place doesn’t know how to build from the inside out.
There were years when Haglund couldn’t bear to miss a single performance of La Bayadere. Now he can barely watch it. It reflects too many things wrong with ABT. It’s certainly not the production itself that is the problem, but it's the management of it that kills the beauty in the art. It’s another dead limb on an old tree that may not be worth saving.
The HH Pump Bump Award– a wild cat stiletto with teeth, spikes, chains and proud tail – is bestowed upon Stella Abrera for her ferocious Gamzatti which she danced with feline grace.
Transparency and honesty would be nice, although it's never expected from ABT.
Marcelo Gomes has intimated strongly that he's dancing Solor in La Bayadere this week, but ABT has yet to put his name on the schedule.
Natalia Osipova has left the country, but she's still on the R&J schedule.
In case you missed the reader comment in the Sleeping Beauty review below, ABT is using a new kind of state-of-the-art floor tape on the stage instead of regular gaffer tape which seems to be contributing to the dancers' difficulties.