In his review of ABT’s opening night performance, the NYT’s Alastair Macaulay said that since 1977-78 he has been bewildered in his efforts to pin down what characterizes a correct or inspired Les Sylphides. He then fully illustrated his admitted ignorance by praising the performance of one of two klutzy dancers in ABT who should never be allowed within 10 miles of a tulle skirt.
Despite the admission of not being able to determine what characterizes a correct Les Sylphides, he proceeded to explain that no one on the stage, except for Isabella Boylston, understood the style. If Macaulay thought that Boylston’s style is what Les Sylphides should look like then he probably thought that the sylphs should have trailing toilet paper stuck to their shoes like in a Mark Morris dance. A little more potty humor in Les Sylphides, pleads Macaulay, as if Boylston clomping around in tulle isn’t enough.
If Macaulay had trouble pinning down what characterizes a correct or inspired Les Sylphides, he shouldn’t after yesterday’s matinee. But he likely didn’t see the beauty of it because of his caligynephobic reaction to the beautiful women who were performing. Veronika Part, Stella Abrera, Sarah Lane, and Joseph Gorak as the Poet were the exquisite cast.
Veronika, whose embodiment of the Romantic style continues to be tragically underused at ABT, beautifully captured the ethereal purity and spirituality of the Prelude section with her long limbs, gorgeous shoulders and peerless epaulment.
Stella was all lightness and grace in the Mazurka and in the PdD with Joe. We never heard a sound from her shoes when she landed jumps that swept in wide arcs across the stage. Les Sylphides is not about doing high jumps that land with big noise.
Watching Sarah’s fleet bourrees and musicality in the Waltz was like catching sight of a hummingbird stealing nectar from a flower.
Joe’s variation as the Poet was filled with velvety soft landings in balletic lines from God. What a gift this young man has.
The corps de ballet was exceptionally focused yesterday afternoon. Haglund observed no lapses and thought that everyone was gorgeous from heads to fingers to toes.
Tudor’s Jardin Aux Lilas has become a little odd looking although it is still affecting. Anyone who ever saw Michael Owens’s characterization of The Man She Must Marry did not feel Caroline’s dread to the same degree with Alex Hammoudi in the role. He was not enough of a boring dead end for Caroline. Thomas Forster was outstanding as Her Lover – young, wholesome, with still more balletic lines from God, and an innocence in his desperation. Xiomara Reyes as Caroline was touchingly young and you felt her longing and state of despair. Christine Shevchenko was on the right track toward creating a fine reading of An Episode in His Past but was not as boldly ready and willing to chase after Her Lover as Martine van Hamel or Veronika Part in the role.
The ladies who portrayed Friends and Relations contributed outstanding reactive drama to the performance. Courtney Lavine, Isadora Loyola, Lauren Post, and Jennifer Whalen were just the right amount of gossipy and knowing. Courtney has an incredibly expressive face that can change so quickly that it made you not want to take your eyes off of her.
Rodeo brought all the cows home with Roman Zhurbin, Craig Salstein, Misty Copeland, and Leann Underwood in the leading roles. Sorry to say that the Cowhands looked like ballet dancers trying to be Broadway dancers. All ABT would have to do to get the right form would be to put these guys on horses for three hours straight before letting them get off. Easy. Nobody in the cast was Western enough. We didn’t believe any of them ever got dust on their boots.
The Cowgirl had so much glam makeup on the eyes that she looked more ready to be featured in a horse section of the televised Rose Parade than in Rodeo. Traditionally, the second cast Cowgirl in Rodeo has been reserved for a talented corps dancer – Susan Jones, Erica Cornejo, Marian Butler, to name a few of the great ones. Why has this tradition been broken in favor of allocating another less than suitable role to Misty Copeland? Why was Marian Butler dumped and why wasn’t another suitable corps woman given the opportunity? Nicole Graniero, Luciana Paris, and especially Adrienne Schulte would have soared in this role. Instead, we got a stiff, under acted, adequately danced Cowgirl from Misty.
Roman Zhurbin didn’t have the swagger of a Head Wrangler; he was more like Sheriff Andy of Mayberry. Craig Salstein’s tapping seemed not as showy or lively as when we saw it at City Center years ago. Maybe it was the larger stage that made the tap solo less effective; bringing it way down stage could help.
The afternoon's performance had terrible attendance. The entire family circle was blacked out and there weren’t enough people in the orchestra level to qualify as a patron dress rehearsal. Where were all those people that Misty Copeland is supposed to pull in? Oh wait, attendance on her dates is only good when the butts sit free. So, why at the end of the third ballet when the audience had basically all stopped clapping, did the curtain separate for Copeland and Salstein to come out for a special bow when neither the cast of Les Sylphides nor the cast of Lilac Garden which featured a respected retiring principal were given the same opportunity?
Thank goodness we had the first rate cast of Les Sylphides to save the day. These dancers rate first in terms of skill and artistry – which count for next to nothing at ABT these days – and are awarded the H.H. Pump Bump First Position trophy for their brilliant classical dancing and for maintaining the highest standards in Les Sylphides.