What a fabulous Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema transmission on Sunday – and impressively attended! The Bolshoi dancers did fairly well with their two company premieres, Robbins' The Cage and Lander's Etudes, and showed that they are as fluent in Ratmansky's lexicon as any other company with their extraordinary performance of his Russian Seasons.
If the lady insects in The Cage weren't as bitingly aggressive as what we enjoy seeing at NYCB, just give them a little time. They'll come around. Let's hope they don't invite trouble by using theatrical makeup to make either of the intruders look like a less-than-beloved local politician. Uh-oh, we probably shouldn't have said that, but it's too late now... Perhaps our own home company could do something similar, especially if the NEA gets slashed and dismantled. The audience and the dancers would derive much more satisfaction from that than a simple burning in effigy.
Olga Smirnova acquitted herself well in Etudes. Bolshoi Superwoman spokesperson Katerina Novikova explained beforehand that we would be seeing the "1952 version" but didn't explain what that meant. We figured it out though, oh yes, we did. It was the pre-Toni Lander version of Etudes, you know, the one without the bells and whistles. But honestly, Olga was a pleasure to watch in what she did. In this ballet, her extensions a la second were a lot more turned-out and properly placed than what we saw during her unfortunate visit to ABT some years back. She also had those ribs under control.
Johnny Eliasen staged Etudes on the Bolshoi at Lise Lander's request. (She was the 3rd Mrs. Lander immediately after Toni Lander. Without question, Toni is the ballerina most identified with this classic, but Lise didn't mention her during the intermission interview with Novikova.) Eliasen still has some clean-up to do with the ladies in the early tendus section.
The men, Semyon Chudin and Artem Ovcharenko, had mostly successes with their variations but were not especially brilliant. Poor Semyon – the tempo of his first grueling variation was at a pace slower than a Pestov men's class. After that test, though, he was fine. Ovcharenko muffed his series of double tours, but impressively saved them.
All during Etudes, Haglund thought about Devon Teuscher, Christine Schevchenko, and Gillian Murphy. Since ABT now has enough ballerinas who can dance this spectacular piece, why aren't we seeing it? At yesterday's Bolshoi screening, some people were standing up at attention in the aisles to watch the last half of it. We need to see this ballet again in New York, and ABT needs to dance it in order to toughen up and clean up the ranks. These days every dancer there seems to have his or her own version of tendu and personal placement of legs a la seconde. The reality is that a la seconde is a la seconde. Side is side. If the dancer can't get the leg there, he/she shouldn't be in the ballet. At the screening yesterday, those dancers were so perfectly placed to the side that their legs looked like they were plotted on graph paper.
Speaking of lapses of discipline in today's ballet dancers, Diana Vishneva has now followed Paloma Herrera in publicly criticizing the current generation's distractions with the internet and over-focus on its own happiness rather than classical ballet. She also inferred that the students and young dancers are being coddled.
Most importantly, Diana ripped Nikolay Tsiskaridze and Makhar Vaziev for claiming that the Bolshoi and Mariinsky styles are "the same." In recent years, we've seemingly lost a lot of the cherished Vaganova style and perfume in the Mariinsky. That's lost art. To hear that Tsiskaridze and Vaziev claim that the styles are the same is like hearing someone claim that churches, mosques, synagogues, and all houses of worship are the same. Hopefully, when Diana finishes her flirtation with contemporary dance, she'll settle down and help restore Vaganova at the Mariinsky and wherever else in the world they value it – before it's too late.
After the Bolshoi in Cinema screening yesterday, Haglund ran up to Lincoln Center to catch the evening performance of Paul Taylor Dance Company with guest company Lyon Opera Ballet performing Merce Cunningham's Summerspace. Also on tap was Martha Graham's Diversion of Angels. Both were danced in the spirits of their creators and revealed the distinct paths that led to Taylor's own brilliant, very American choreography. Our greatest joy of the evening, however, was in seeing the season's single performance of Taylor's Promethean Fire to music by Bach. Created in the months following 9/11, this dance still packs an emotional punch after 15 years. As the dancers swirled in darkness, piled atop one another, rose from their human rubble, and lifted their arms, the most haunting images of the past still came to mind.
Haglund was unable to get to the Ashley Bouder Project over the weekend but he spoke with people who saw it and who were quite impressed with both Bouder's own choreography and Liz Gerring's. The NYT review of it, however, raises certain serious questions:
Why does Alastair Irrelevant plop down in his theater chair and proceed to watch every ballet on stage through his penis instead of his eyes? He spends an inordinate amount of time focusing on where his big boy might fit in the action on stage. Most every review these days obsesses over whether or not there is same-sex partnering in the choreography. When there is same-sex partnering in the dance, he now questions whether it's sincere or simply gratuitous. He needs to open his eyes when watching ballet and leave his zipper closed. And that's the straight up truth.
My goodness, we've covered a lot of territory on the blog today.
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.
Winter Storm Stella is now only a few hours outside of the New York metro area. Is she really going to sock us in with snow and wind so that we can't get to Costa Mesa to see our own Stella as the first Princess Tea Flower in Whipped Cream? Say it ain't so.
The casting for the Bolshoi in Cinema broadcast on Sunday March 19th looks pretty enticing. We hope that Olga is up to the task in Etudes although we are definitely not expecting to see any hopping fouettes. Praying for energetic tempi and a brave ballerina.
The Novice: Ekaterina Krysanova
The Queen: Yanina Parienko
First Intruder: Nikita Kapustin
Second Intruder: Alexander Vodopetov
Ballerina: Olga Smirnova
Principal Dancers: Semyon Chudin, Artem Ovcharenko
Couple in Yellow/White: Yulia Stepanova, Vladislav Lantratov
Couple in Red: Ekaterina Krysanova, Denis Savin
Couple in Green: Anna Nikulina, Anton Savichev
Couple in Blue: Anna Okuneva, Dmitry Dorokhov
Couple in Violet: Victoria Litvinova, Artur Mkrtchyan
Couple in Claret Red: Victoria Yakushev, Mikhail Kochan
Are we ever psyched that the Mariinsky is bringing La Bayadere to the Kennedy Center during the 2017-18 season and Alicia Alonso is bringing her Ballet Nacional de Cuba to perform both Giselle and Don Quixote! The KenCen seems to be on a ballet authenticity kick for the season.
Christopher Wheeldon's An American in Paris will also be presented during the season. DCers are going to go cray over this production.
There has been a change in casting for the premiere week of ABT's Whipped Cream in Costa Mesa. The brilliant soloist Skylar Brandt will replace Misty Copeland as Princess Praline due to a reported – ahem – injury to the celebrina. We imagine that, injury or not, she was having her share of problems keeping up with Skylar, Sarah, and Cassie, all of whom dance rings around her. Now the over-ballyhooed ballerina can devote more time to figuring out how to fake her way through Giselle in Oman where she has managed to have her face planted first in the traditionally alphabetical listing next to a nearly-disappearing B&W plain-jane photo of senior ballerina Gillian Murphy. Honest to god, why does ABT allow her and her agent to pull this self-serving crap all the time. When she was a soloist debuting in Swan Lake, she took the official marketing image of all of the women performing Odette/Odile and photoshopped it so that her own image was bigger than everyone else's and then sent it all over Facebook. So obnoxious and selfish...
Don't forget about the Bolshoi in Cinema's transmission on March 19th. Robbins' The Cage, Lander's Etudes, and Ratmansky's Russian Seasons are on the bill.
Speaking of Harald Lander's exciting Etudes, it seems to Haglund that it is past time for ABT to present that ballet on a rep program again. Gillian Murphy, Devon Teuscher, Christine Shevchenko, Skylar Brandt, and maybe even that little Kaho Ogawa in the corps could comprise an impressive crew in the major ballerina role. It would be nice to see someone try those hopping fouette turns that the amazing Toni Lander pulled off.
Speaking of the Bolshoi, Maria Alexandrova will appear in a contemporary program with Blanc Li at NY City Center March 29th through April 1st. City Center's website describes Goddesses and Demonesses as Drawing on Greek mythology and the contrasting languages of classical ballet and contemporary dance, Li and Alexandrova explore the dual nature of femininity, transforming into archetypes ranging from nurturing mothers to femme fatales.
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.
March is not going to be the "pause and catch our breath" month that it typically is between the end of NYCB's winter season and the busy spring season at Lincoln Center.
Pennsylvania Ballet will premiere its new Le Corsaire in Philly, Giselle will open at Washington Ballet, the Joffrey will stop by Lincoln Center, Paul Taylor Dance Company will be in season for three weeks at L.C., and ABT's Whipped Cream will premiere in Costa Mesa. Thanks to CMM for alerting us that the Met casting of the gala performance of the new ballet has been posted. It will be Simkin, Abrera, Hallberg, and Lane, who will also dance the premiere in Costa Mesa. We'll make it to most of these, but possibly not all.
Of course Haglund will be reporting on and reviewing the Segerstrom performances, and is fairly excited about seeing Hallberg back in the lineup. As we must continue to point out, Whipped is not going to be the Giselle that we need and deserve to see Hallberg and Abrera dance. Hopefully some sense will be knocked into McKenzie that will enable him to muster up enough respect for the ballet to avoid casting the fakerina twice in every ballet she isn't capable of dancing even once. It seems absurd to hand her three Giselle performances on a golden platter (Oman and two at the Met) all of which she is incapable of dancing at other than an amateurish level, while at the same time only allowing the company's ultimate Giselle, Abrera, one performance.
Haglund was thinking about this while at tonight's Westminster Kennel Dog Show at Madison Square Garden. Lots of the folks in the stands didn't know whether a pooch's frame was too bulky or whether its hind quarters were too big or its legs too short or whether its gait wasn't proper. They just looked at the cute hairy face on the MSG jumbotron and squealed. Those in the audience who spent a lifetime following the competition, love dogs more than most, and care deeply about the quality of each breed couldn't have cared less about what was on the jumbotron. For this dog show, the winner got the blue ribbon based on technical merit, not based on what the dog looked like on an oversized screen or how many people squealed for it. It seems that ABT's criteria for awarding Giselle performances (the blue ribbon ballet of all time) should at least have the integrity of a dog show. Wouldn't you think?
Rumor, the German Shepherd, won the big prize tonight. Haglund's fave, Adrian the Irish Setter, was runner up. They should get married and have little German-Irish Shetters, but we know it won't happen.
The documentary about Marcelo Gomes, that is.
Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer opened the 45th annual Dance on Camera Festival at Lincoln Center on Friday evening where the crowd that packed the Walter Reade Theater included a few of Haglund’s most favorite ballerinas.
At the conclusion of this film, made by David Barba and James Pellerito over a seven-year span, there wasn’t much we didn’t know about Marcelo and there wasn’t much of him that we hadn’t seen. An exposing, revealing, unveiling, intimate portrait of one of American Ballet Theatre’s most theatrically gifted stars, Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer covered every inch of Marcelo from head to toe, from birth to the screening date, from inside out. How this documentary rose above most dancer documentaries in recent years, however, was in its honesty, authenticity in the dancing clips, and the woven-in family story that now carries impending drama into this spring's Met season.
Few balletomanes are aware that Marcelo’s father, from whom Marcelo became somewhat estranged following the divorce from his mother, has never been to New York to see his son in a leading role on the stages of Lincoln Center. Multiple times his father promised to visit but then cancelled his plans. The documentary broached this topic sensitively but thoroughly through individual interviews with Marcelo and his father, and with the two of them seated together. Their tears and the obvious difficulty of their words gripped the audience’s emotions.
During filming in Tokyo where Marcelo retired the role of Solor while guesting in La Bayadere with Diana Vishneva, he mentioned that it was another role that his father had not and now would never see him perform. While explaining the importance that the role of Albrecht holds for him and how it is the role that he eventually wants to retire in as a dancer (while clarifying not this year), Marcelo revealed that he had again extended an invitation, a plea to his father to come to the Met Opera House in May to see his 20th Anniversary performance in Giselle. As of the date of the film’s premiere screening, Marcelo’s father had not yet accepted the invitation although he had repeatedly verified the actual date of the performance through the filmmakers and had watched the documentary. Our fingers are crossed. Boy, that’s going to be some performance – devastating, regardless of what happens with this story line.
The documentary included breathtaking clips of Marcelo with Veronika Part dancing Swan Lake as guest artists in another part of the world. There was a clip of a Giselle rehearsal in Russia with Semionova in which there were major difficulties with the overhead lift in Act II, clips of Kings of the Dance, clips of Marcelo dancing with Vishneva, and endearing clips of Marcelo’s performances as a child.
Conspicuous by their absence, however, were clips of Marcelo dancing with his home company. Likely not the choice of either the filmmakers or Marcelo, the absence of any historical record of him dancing his greatest roles with ABT was shocking given the unfettered access that the company celebrina’s handlers have had to film her total performances and then use the footage for documentaries that are intended to enrich her and increase her celebrity.
At a Q&A following the screening, the filmmakers assured the audience that there would be a DVD available, but they could not say when, only hopefully sooner than seven years. It will be one to buy, that’s for sure.