It was a complete pleasure seeing the Gelsey Kirkland Ballet present the New York premiere of Marius Petipa’s Cavalry Halt Friday night at Symphony Space. Staged by Nikolai Levitsky and Vera Solovyeva, both formerly of the Leningrad State Ballet Company, this little gem of a one-act demi-character ballet was created in 1896 while Petipa was the First Ballet Master of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theater. Created on his own daughter, Marie, and Italian ballerina Pierina Legnani, the comedy ballet pits two women against each other as they try to attract the affections of a village boy. The cavalry arrives with an assortment of characters who interrupt and stoke the women’s rivalry and create general chaos. Legnani, who three years before the premiere had introduced fouette turns and had begun to incorporate them into many of her ballet variations, of course, utilized them in this choreography as a tool to impress the village boy. There is hysteria and confusion created by the cavalry’s general, rotmeister, and coronet player, but it all ends happily with a snappy rendition of Johann Strauss’ Radetsky March. Most of the music, however, is by Johann Armsheimer.
The large cast included many students from the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet in addition to company members and apprentices. Dawn Gierling, Katrina Crawford, Anderson Souza, Alexander Mays, Johnny Almeida, and Erez Ben-Zion Milatin led the Cavalry charge with panache and dancing that proved the worth of Gelsey’s eternal mission to promote the story ballet. Each and every step had the purpose to convey theatrical meaning. Even those fouettes, which came perilously close to the edge of the stage, proved just how far the young woman would go and how much she would risk to impress the village boy. The dancers who performed in the roles of Cavalry Men, Peasants, and Hungarian group delivered the comedy and dancing with great spirit and impressive energy. Much thanks should go to Gelsey and her organization for presenting this rarely seen Petipa jewel.
The PdD from Antony Tudor’s Leaves Are Fading was performed by Dawn Gierling and Cristian Laverde Koenig. The Tudor Trust dispatched Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner to set the work. Gelsey, who was the originator of the role with Jonas Kage, provided the coaching. It all produced a remarkable performance that made the heart flutter. Right off the bat, Ms. Gierling displayed the abandonment that we recall from Gelsey’s interpretation –– a quality that has been missing from most of ABT’s efforts these past years. There were times in this performance when Gierling flew into Koenig’s arms with the lightness of a leaf that caught the upswirl of the wind. For his part, Mr. Koenig managed all of the partnering deftly and tossed off his solo with a fine intensity.
Petipa’s Raymonda Suite, led by India Rose and Johnny Almeida, looked promising with Ms. Rose, always a sturdy technician, offering a sense of mystery and allure in her solos. In the handclapping variation, Ms. Rose sensually slid the palm of her top hand across the bottom palm - more like a Lopatkina version than the smack employed by Zakharova in her version. This Raymonda Suite was an ambitious undertaking and there were some nerves evident in the corps. Feet could have been more strongly pointed and spacing more uniform. But now that the effort has been invested, it would be a shame not to see it again on a future program.
The dancers pulled off the Ballebille from the third act of Bournonville's Napoli with surprising ease. But it shouldn’t have been surprising given the excellent La Sylphide that the company produced in May of 2012. The dancers had the style down pat and looked well rehearsed.
Nicole Assaad and Erez Ben-Zion Milatin didn’t let the small stage stop them from giving an explosive performance of Vainonen’s Flames of Paris PdD. Terrific work from these two dancers. Big energy, big jumps, big turns, and charming stage presence. Ms. Assaad’s fast and scrupulously tidy feet and Mr. Milatin’s determination to will his way through some of the ariel maneuvers made for an exciting performance.
Sir Anton Dolin’s reconstruction of Perrot’s Pas de Quatre was performed by Anastasia Barsukova, Michelle Katcher, Nicole Fedorov, and Katia Raj. The dancers portrayed the famous ballerinas, Lucile Grahn, Carlotta Grisi, Fanny Cerrito, and Marie Taglioni with the lightness and humor that we’ve all come to expect from this piece.
From the Kirkland Academy’s first performances, it has been apparent that Gelsey has programming smarts that others don’t have. This latest evening with the New York premiere of Cavalry Halt and the revival of Leaves Are Fading along with four other classics all performed with stylistic integrity proved that progress is humming along. Hopefully, Gelsey will find the strength and resources to continue on the present path for many years to come.
Gelsey’s company will present Sleeping Beauty at the Schimmel Center on May 16-17.
The Pump Bump Award, a classic Aldo Sacchetti from a past century, is bestowed upon the cast of Cavalry Halt for their fine performance on Friday evening.