On the road in Wash. DC
ABT’s Tuesday night performance at the Kennedy Center was dedicated to the memory of former principal dancer Ivan Nagy who expired earlier this year. Nagy was one of the greatest partners in ABT’s history, and is remembered for his unapologetically Romantic performances opposite Cynthia Gregory, Natalia Makarova, Gelsey Kirkland, and others.
There were some lovely, lovely moments in ABT’s opening night performance of Les Sylphides. Stella Abrera, Joseph Gorak, Hee Seo, and Sarah Lane were the principal cast. Adrienne Schulte and Cassandra Trenary led the corps de ballet. But let’s get the main complaints out of the way first.
Shoe noise: Totally unacceptable in Les Sylphides where few steps require the support of stiff, clunky shoe boxes. When Hee Seo landed her little assembles upstage, it sounded like she was wearing metal horse shoes. The corps’ feet looked and sounded like they were wearing shoes prepared for Don Quixote, not a little bit of Romantic bourreeing around. How is it that the Mariinsky and NYCB corps can perform on the Kennedy Center stage with minimal or no noise, but ABT can’t? How is it that the Paris Opera Ballet and NYCB can perform noiselessly on the Koch Theater stage but ABT can’t? Unfortunately, on this first night, the corps seemed to approach Les Syphides like a draw by numbers assignment. Not its best night.
The orchestra: Just like last year, when the brass players made such a mess of Bizet’s Symphony in C, they again mutilated a performance — this time Les Sylphides. Are they maybe playing badly in retaliation for not getting all the paid rehearsal time that they want or are they really so poor that they can’t muster basic Chopin? B.a.s.i.c. C.h.o.p.i.n.
Stella Abrera's ebullient Sylph seemed like a throw-back to the days of Nina Ananiashvili. When she leaned in to whisper into the Poet's ear, there was a suggestion of mischief in her eyes. A little bit of La Sylphide in Les Sylphides? Perhaps - but it worked wonderfully. In her Mazurka solo, Stella gave us wispy Romantic shapes in her grand jetes, not over-split competition jumps. She swept through her half-circles of releves with confidence and security without being showy. Her fast little walking bourrees floated forward like cirrus clouds pushed by the winds. Hers was an individual, fully thought-out, and beautifully danced interpretation –– a welcome change from the generic and clumsy performances that we saw others do last fall.
Joseph Gorak’s Poet will soon be one for the ages. Velvet smooth in 75% of his landings, scrupulous arabesque lines, effortless and expansive tour jetes, contemplative on the verge of moody — he sometimes bore a resemblance to Patrick Bissell. His partnering of Stella - their first matchup - seemed to go very well and there was a good rapport between them.
Sarah Lane’s Waltz solo was kissable - so full of joy, sparkle, and warmth. She had a bit of mischief in her as well. Sarah was not out-danced by anybody and continues to be (along with Stella and Yuriko) criminally under-appreciated by ABT.
Hee Seo had more pretty, ethereal moments than during her performances last fall. It’s a shame that her noisy shoes marred so much of her work which really should have required a minimum of block support.
Marcelo Gomes’ Aftereffect to Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence immediately followed Les Sylphides. It looks like he has been working on it, but the piece still resembled a fairly forgettable plate of Forsythe, Kylian, and Welch cliches. There was no chest beating, but there were plenty of bare chests, and an unexplained clenched fist. Sterling Baca stepped in for Thomas Forster as the first soloist. It possibly could have been Baca's first solo since joining the company, and his technique held together very well under the pressure and scrutiny. Calvin Royal looked like a million dollars. So, we have learned from the past few seasons that Royal is a gifted contemporary and demi-character dancer. May we please see him in a “classical" something-or-other? Swan Lake PdT perhaps? Or Theme and Variations opposite Stella Abrera?
Haglund couldn’t stay for The Dream; he’ll catch that at the Met, probably. The Met casting could undergo a shake-up soon. Everyone knows that Cory Stearns is injured, and believe it or not, we are sorry about that. But everyone knows and has known for quite a while. It’s dishonest for ABT not to announce his replacements so that tickets can be exchanged, purchased, or torn up, as may be the reaction. Hopefully Jared Matthews will get the call and not some stinking guest artist.
In the cinema
Pierre Lacotte's comic ballet, Marco Spada, to music by Daniel-Francois-Esprit Auber and as performed by the Bolshoi Ballet in a recent cinema-cast presentation, is the cat's pajamas.
As the Bolshoi proved, we’re all a little bit French and c’est si bon. Tamping down the tendency for bold, in your face but sometimes sluggish Bolshoi bravura, Lacotte had everyone in this company moving at lighting speed with crystal clarity and French elegance. Oodles and oodles of superbly musical choreography for the corps de ballet framed oodles and oodles of superbly musical choreography for the soloists and principals. It all looked like such fun to dance.
Lacotte dearly loves and respects the language of classical ballet and proved with this new production that there is no “need to update” it with street dance nonsense in order to make it “more accessible” for the masses. The language remains rich; and when the vocabulary is chosen by someone as articulate and musical as Lacotte, the art form wins on its own strengths. Lacotte is Haglund’s new ballet hero, and Pierre is totally forgiven for that little snippy remark about one of Haglund’s favorite NYCB ballerinas that was recorded a few years ago by Frederick Wiseman.
The principals in this performance - David Hallberg, Evgenia Obraztsova, Semyon Chudin, Olga Smirnova, and Igor Tsvirko - were extraordinary in most every way. Lacotte's costume and set designs were extravagant without encumbering his choreography.
Semyon Chudin proved to be the real dancing star of the show. He's not the most attractive man in the Bolshoi company, but he seems to be its best dancer. With feet like bear paws that carry his perfectly proportioned limbs, he is a marvel.
David Hallberg's performance, although incredible by any reasonable standard, wasn't as perfect as we have seen in the past. Landings from tours assemble were a little sketchy and pirouettes weren't as calm and collected as those of his that we remember. His partnering of Obraztsova was sometimes a little off in supported pirouettes. But the main disappointment was with his acting. It just didn't convince, and it seemed to be 110% tongue-in-check while still managing at times to be awkward. When he looked at his daughter, played by Obraztsova, it was as though he was looking at a chair. But Lacotte had the tall guy moving his feet at POB speed with POB clarity, and that was a real treat to see.
Obraztsova was a complete joy in every way and was a good sport when Hallberg didn't quite get the partnering right.
Smirnova was a pleasant surprise from an acting standpoint. She really came across well to the cameras and danced up a storm without any sense of tension or reservation that we have observed previously. One of her PdDs required her partner to promenade her around while her leg was in a developpe a la second. Unfortunately, we then saw that same unattractive turned in and misalligned position that has been seen in her Kingdom of the Shades PdD. Did Smirnova really get through the eight year curriculum at the Vaganova Academy without having to squeeze her po-po when executing developpes a la second? Hard to believe.
The remarkable Bolshoi press person, Katerina Novikova, may have mentioned that the Bolshoi has Marco Spada locked up for the next eight years. So, let's hope that they tour it next year to the U.S., because it is fabulous. Lacotte has done a splendid job. Marco Spada in its early opera form had a scattered narrative, and this ballet is no different. Lacotte could have rewritten the story or added his own chapters in order to "make it more accessible" to the 21st century audience and critics who need their hands held, but he didn't. Good on him.