. . . and then Hammoudi turned around in the upstage corner, spread his arms wide open, and beckoned Abrera to come to him like Mukhamedov beckoning Bessmertnova. She ran toward him, and took a leap of faith with feet tucked under her that travelled almost to his shoulder. Hammoudi caught her on the rise under the knees and slowly pressed her to a glorious Grigorovich overhead lift. Oh it was wonderful. It was as good as the very first effort by Jared and Yuriko last year. We understand that Jared now releases the left arm when doing The Grigorovich like a true Bolshoi super hero. This particular lift will be on view next Sunday, December 21st in cinemas nationwide when Grigorovich’s fantastic Nutcracker is almost-live streamed by Bolshoi in Cinema. Check your local times and movie houses at this link. We don’t think that Denis Rodkin will disappoint in his debut.
But back to Sunday’s matinee. In her debut as Clara in Ratmansky’s production, Stella Abrera was radiant, rapt, and beautiful opposite the dashing and focused Alex Hammoudi. Prior to this performance, Haglund had not noticed any particular chemistry when the two of them danced together, but in this Nutcracker they showed a rapport that was electric, genuine, and balanced in that neither brought more to the relationship than the other. Their long, lean scrupulous lines and dark hair made them a handsome match.
Their Act I was not as technically strong as Act II but it was nearly as captivating. A single pique revolution inserted into the line of doubles by Stella was an unusual departure from her solid turning reputation, and at times it looked like maybe her back or knee were not functioning at 100% capacity. But that was completely forgotten in Act II when both performed brilliantly with exquisite musical sensitivity. In both the Act I and II Pas de Deux, Alex’s gentle lifts of Stella lingered beautifully as they followed a crescent from point to point. The difficult turns – her pirouettes with the foot behind that opened to arabesque and his successive double tours – were handsome with an element of risk that you didn’t recognize until the turns were finished. The final supported pirouette that evolved into a turning arabesque was thrilling.
What was most satisfying about this performance, though, was the musicality and intelligent phrasing that coaxed extra beauty from Tchaikovsky’s glorious score. Stella and Sarah Lane, in Saturday’s matinee, seemed to weave their artistry through, in, and around the architecture of the music as opposed to pounding at it as we saw in Misty Copeland’s mostly wonderful performance on Sunday evening. Their piques perched lightly and glistened in their easy, un-showy balances. The picks of the toes were weightless and perfectly in tune with the pluck of the orchestra’s strings and the notes of the celesta. Misty’s interpretation was a little more punchy with an attempt to force virtuosity over musicality. Her forced battements to the ear might look wonderful while she's standing atop a piano without any pants on, but they were out of place and hideous in an elegant tutu in this Nutcracker and destroyed the overall classical shape of the image.
To her credit, Misty executed most of the technical tricks with surprising ease, including the very difficult pirouettes. The unusually loud clattering of her shoes was a problem throughout the night but mostly in her variations. The audience was impressed with the force of her energy and applauded enthusiastically whenever there was an opening to do so. Her circle of grand jetes could have been lighter with her body higher above her legs, like Stella’s was.
Misty's partner, the gallant Eric Tamm, was able to manage the energy that she threw his way, and made an impressive save of the Grigorovich lift, pressing Misty over his head with a burst of power that drew gasps and loud applause from the audience. It was troubling to hear that these Nutcracker performances are his last with ABT. Eric has always been a favorite of many, including Ratmansky, and it has been sad not to see him get more opportunities to shine on stage in the major full length ballets. His allegro has always been especially pleasing to watch, and he clearly fits the prince mold. Now we will just add him to the long list of talent recently lost because of under-utilization.
Sarah Lane and Joe Gorak were sublime in their Saturday performance. We really have to thank Ratmansky for matching them up a few years ago. They are a stunning pair who would thrive in any part of the repertoire but especially in Romeo and Juliet. Joe’s partnering is getting better but he still lacks upper body strength. When his partnering is good, it is very good. When it’s bad, you’re glad that his partner is someone as strong as Sarah who has survival instincts developed from years of being cast opposite less-than-ready partners. Her instincts are now on par with those of Xiomara Reyes who can get through anything with anybody and make it work.
Despite some partnering glitches, Sarah and Joe danced beautifully together and in their solos. Always a superb technician, Sarah’s lyrical abilities and upper body grace are among the most beautiful in the company. Her beauty radiates to the back of the house – and it comes from within. Joe is fast becoming one of ABT’s MVPs (Most Valuable Prince). His classical lines and solo dancing are a revelation each time he steps on stage. His effort to get every detail right is one of the things that makes his match with Sarah so satisfying. They dance as though they share the same professional respect for the art form.
Among the supporting cast, there were many fine performances over the weekend. Tom Forster’s Mouse King opposite Justin Souriau-Levine’s Little Mouse was priceless. The Russian crew of Blaine Hoven, Craig Salstein, and Arron Scott wasn’t just the best of the weekend; it was the best that Haglund has seen in five years. They delivered slapstick that was razor sharp with razor thin margins for error. Courtney Lavine showed her remarkable range as Nanny, Sugarplum Fairy, Canteen Keeper, Snowflake, and Flowers.
The music coming out of the orchestra was dreadful at times. The tempi under Ormsby Wilkins at the matinees begged for a swig of Geritol. Last night, Charles Barker kept things a little more lively. But at all three performances, there were major bloopers that almost made you wish for recorded music.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award, a rose gold stiletto from Casadei with lines like pure song, goes to Stella Abrera and Alex Hammoudi for their glistening performance on Sunday afternoon.