The Unofficial Information Exchange (UIEX) picked up a street tip about a new Scarlett ballet for ABT's 2014 Fall Season. There are more tips swirling around but they're still too "iffy" even for the UIEX to let fly.
The Unofficial Information Exchange (UIEX) picked up a street tip about a new Scarlett ballet for ABT's 2014 Fall Season. There are more tips swirling around but they're still too "iffy" even for the UIEX to let fly.
Look, we have to keep this a secret ecretsay.
One of our favorite Haglund'eelers who lives in a far off place passed us a link to the first episode of the new season which he captured and stashed away. The series is currently location restricted to New Zealand. If you want to watch it, just shoot an email to Haglund and he'll send you the link, but it's not for posting on other blogs like Ballet Alert or Huffington Post or on Twitter or FB.
The first episode shows the Artistic Director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, Ethan Stiefel, in a range of hairstyles – from Alexander Godunov-inspired straight tresses to Farrah Fawcett sweptback foofoo – as he prepares to audition dancers for the upcoming season and finally makes his choices. It seems that this week (in real time here in NYC) he's sporting a new-recruit buzz. Who can keep up with it?
There are only hints of what the new plot lines will be during the season. Mostly, this episode was a refresher of what the series is about – like, ya know, who needs that? Right off the bat we were told that since the last episode of last season, Sergio has left town. For those up for the chase, he's at the Royal Ballet of Flanders these days where one of Haglund's all-time favorite ABT Tharp Bombers, Laura Hildago, also resides.
At the end of the audition, AD Stiefel selected a lovely female dancer – who is 5'10" tall – because she had the dancer qualities, intelligence, and artistic maturity that he was looking for. Obviously, this AD doesn't have a perverted preference for women dancers who have "that child-woman" quality that Kevin McKenzie admitted he wants. By the way, on Friday night while McKenzie's weakest principal ballerina was struggling through Swan Lake at the Met, McKenzie was sitting over in the Koch Theater watching the Boston Ballet perform. Ya think maybe it's time for a change?
Next week, the TV drama will swirl around the company's preparations for its tour to China. Hopefully, we'll have access to that episode, too.
It was just another Died and Gone to Heaven afternoon with Veronika Part as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. The performance was what one waits for all year long – the quintessential reading by an artist whose physique and soul were born to tell this story. The breadth of wingspan alone gave Veronika’s Odette a majesty that few others in the world today can equal. The beautifully sculpted shoulders and long arms, perfectly shaped hands and fingers, exquisitely svelte torso, and magnificent S-shaped limbs helped to turn the afternoon’s Swan Lake into Lake Superior in more ways than one.
Veronika is the true Trumpeter Swan among all of ABT’s swan queens, the one who lives Odette and Odile and makes us believe the tragedy and trickery of each. She arrived at the lake with every flight feather in her glorious technical plumage immaculately groomed. Her arabesques soared. Her balances sang. As Odette, her pirouettes swirled with an undercurrent of sadness and passion; as Odile, her 32 counts of fouettes were a rip current of tease and torment ending with a clear double pirouette and clean finish. As Odette, she pleaded her story and misery to Prince Siegfried with such clarity and passion that he could not help but be overcome by his own intense emotion. One happy change noted in Odette’s mime was that her mother’s tears rained off of her fingertips all the way down over the edge of her tutu just the way in which Nina Ananiashvili used to mime them. Most of the ABT swan queens pour their tears into the bra area or make it look like Odette is bowing her head to sneeze into her hands.
While it is true that Veronika’s Swan Lake performances opposite Marcelo Gomes are always life changing experiences for the the audience, she doesn’t need him or Roberto Bolle or any big name danseur to be her Prince Siegfried in order for her to create extraordinary magic on the stage that is always the highlight of Swan Lake Week. Their partnerships would drive the audience into ecstacy, but if Veronika doesn't have the pleasure of their company, she still pulls off a wham of a performance.
Contrast that to the casting of light & little Hee Seo opposite only the biggest, burliest principal men who can carry her through easy-assignment performances and act as her crutch. Hee doesn’t do especially well when dancing with the less than top tier partners with whom Veronika and most everyone else must dance. So, not only is Hee being given extraordinarily strong men who will carry her performance, but those men are being taken out of service as partners for other taller women who deserve a partner of complimentary height and strength. Being carried through a performance will fool the newspaper critics into giving nice reviews, but it won’t make Hee a better dancer any more than it made Julie Kent into a fully functioning ballerina while she was carried through her career by partners who could be her crutches. It won’t help Hee's fouettes. It won’t help her backward chugs in arabesque. It won’t help her batterie. It won’t help any aspect of her dancing that requires more than looking beautiful while being controlled by a male partner.
Perhaps Hee should seek help from Yuriko Kajiya for those out of control traveling fouettes before Yuriko leaves ABT to go to Houston Ballet. In the unlikely event that Yuriko were to begin traveling forward, she could just make a quarter turn, then another, and travel back upstage. She’s been rotating the direction of her fouettes for years which seemed to be lost on unobservant audience members who pig-squealed in awe when guest dancer Kochetkova did them in Don Q. Honest to god, there are people who flock to see guest artists and pig-squeal all over themselves when they have no clue what the company’s own dancers can offer.
It’s been eight years or so since we last saw Marcelo as Siegfried to Veronika’s Odette/Odile during the Met Season. ABT refuses to give the Met Season audience the best that money can buy, because a Veronika/Marcelo duo makes all the other couples look so much less worthwhile. It is what it is. Some dancers, like Hee and Julie, need to try harder instead of relying on management to hide the better duos to make them look like more accomplished artists.
Veronika’s Prince Siegfried on Wednesday was Cory Stearns. They first danced Swan Lake together in 2010 after “injuries” caused both Marcelo and Roberto Bolle to withdraw. Haglund’s eyewitness report of the stressful events of that ultimately successful, happy evening lives on at this link.
Stearns has improved much in the drama department thanks to lots of acting work in ballets such as Lady of the Camellias, Onegin, The Bright Stream and anything in which he can work intensely with a coach or stager other than Kevin McKenzie. The problem with his drama is that it doesn’t generally get far over the footlights, in part, because of his small face and features, and in part, because he has not yet learned how to raise his face to the upper levels of the house so that the light catches it. The problem is exacerbated when he dances with partners who are much shorter, because he looks down at his partner instead of seeking ways in which to direct his face into the light. A little makeup highlighter to separate the brows from the eyes might help, too.
Stearns’ Act I started out a little sleepy. He needed more power and stretch from those feet and legs to get into the air faster and travel farther. What frequently drives Haglund crazy is Stearns’ slow acceleration and slow deceleration in the non-dancing stage movement. All too often, it looks like he’s slowing down and pulling up to a stop after unsuccessfully chasing down a tennis shot. There has to be more definitive authority in his starts and stops. He had what it takes when confronting Roman Zhurbin’s swamp creature Von Rothbart and Jared Matthews’ purple Von Rothbart on Wednesday; so we know he can do it.
Stearns' partnering of Veronika was right on the money all afternoon, and he got in some terrific lifts including that big overhead lift that travels upstage in Act IV until Siegfried turns and flips Odette into a lower modified fish position and continues to carry her downstage. Stearns didn’t mess up at all, and in fact did much in the way of complimenting Veronika’s lines with his own. The supported turns were pleasing, but, of course, were helped a lot because Veronika was on her game when it came to pirouettes. Stearns' solo dancing was clean and often had good energy. His landings from double tours were excellent, even textbook perfect in some cases. By the end of the performance, he had won us with his effort and noble bearing.
Blaine Hoven as Benno danced a well-controlled PdT with the beautiful Stella Abrera and Melanie Hamrick, but Blaine's dancing did not have the fire or flexibility that we have seen in the past. On the other hand, his theater skills have grown immensely. Stella is one of the few women at ABT who commits to doing flying sixes and entrechat sixes in her variation while most others scratch their ankles with entrechat quatres or royales. Regardless of her spectacular, principal level performances, this beautiful, accomplished dancer continues to be disrespected by Kevin McKenzie who doesn’t want to advance her because she’s so valuable in her lower station. That type of personnel management would get you kicked out of any thriving corporation, but with ABT, it seems to be a condoned practice.
Melanie Hamrick completed the trio handsomely. Maria Riccetto used to be the third member, and she is much missed, but Melanie’s crystal clear positions and high energy were very pleasing to watch. The other night, Haglund was talking with some of the regulars at Rudy’s Bar & Grill on 9th Avenue about Melanie and her fascination with septuagenarians. Hal and Chester, after whom the porky mascot out front was modeled, volunteered to keep Melanie company. So, there’s no need for her to go flying off to Zurich if she’s feeling a little lonely. Just come on down to Rudy’s on 9th.
Jared Matthews disappeared into the character of the purple Von Rothbart even better than he did on Monday. McKenzie’s inability to recognize and reward this artist for the level of his dancing is a huge failure, the consequences of which will be felt by all of us when Matthews decamps to Houston Ballet with the equally talented and under-used Yuriko Kajiya at the end of the season. His Von Rothbart was nearly as detailed as Marcelo Gomes’ defining characterization and was as well danced. He made you love the character’s treachery and evilness. The dynamics of Jared’s acting and dancing have become among the best in ABT; he’s like the Dustin Hoffman of ballet who can do drama, comedy, romance and everything in between. There is no reason why a deal could not be worked out so that Jared and Yuriko could hold dual positions with Houston Ballet and ABT. The New York audience has much invested in them and sees their bright futures even though McKenzie doesn’t.
Haglund doesn’t want to forget to remark on Gillian Murphy’s lovely Act II Odette from Monday evening before an injury caused her to withdraw from the performance. Her creamy port de bras was exquisite, and we could feel Odette’s suffering. Also important to note was the fantastic Act I Pas de Trois by Sarah Lane, Yuriko Kajiya, and Joseph Gorak which was near perfection. The Act III PdT found our prince-to-be in a swirl of confusion, but that’s totally forgiven in light of the remarkable performances that he has delivered this season.
The Cygnets on Monday night were less uniform only because of the distraction of one pair of jugs bouncing up and down while on Wednesday afternoon another Cygnet's little trip that held potential for complete disaster was recovered nicely.
In addition to Melanie Hamrick, another corps member who continues to catch the eye for her cool, long lines of swan beauty is Courtney Lavine whose delicate face reminds one of Virginia Johnson from the 1980’s Dance Theatre of Harlem. But there is no doubt that some culling of the corps needs to be done. When there are dancers who look more like Monica Lewinsky or members of the League of Lady Wrestlers than ballerinas, you know it’s time to freshen the flock.
The First Position Pump Bump Award, clear diamonds from the House of Borgezie, is bestowed upon Veronika Part who is miraculous in her artistry and unparalleled today in her overall interpretation of Odette/Odile.
It's good to see that this video has finally been made public and is now available for viewing via a link at Time Out New York (scroll down to the bottom of the page.) Haglund got a glimpse of it several weeks ago but couldn't share it.
ABT's Gemma Bond, in connection with Craig Salstein's Intermezzo Dance Company, created this short PdD and John Resner designed and directed the video. The dancers are Stella Abrera and Tom Forster. The singer is obviously Renee Fleming.
Once a fail-safe mainstay at American Ballet Theatre, now even Giselle can disappoint.
On Wednesday evening, Julie Kent, who is forging her way toward completing a third decade of performing when two were her limit for acceptable classical work, danced a Giselle of watered-down content that was mostly disappointing in front of a house that was nearly half empty. During the past decade, we’ve seen other of Julie’s late-career performances in Petipa ballets that should never have made it to the stage. Her insistence on dancing a last Le Corsaire and La Bayadere some years ago when she had failed to maintain physical conditioning yielded embarrassing results. Wednesday night, as in the past several seasons of Giselle, Julie offered compromises and impressionistic sketchings of steps by a dancer who clearly was lacking in requisite balletic physical conditioning.
In Act I, Julie omitted the penches that conclude the pique arabesques in profile as has been her practice for the past several seasons. In their stead, she stepped to a pique arabesque with her arms in high fifth position and looked out over her shoulder with a pretty smile and raised eyebrows — like something one might see in an Ashton ballet. Surely much of the casual audience must have thought that it was very sweet and girl-like. The problem with the substitution (other than it had less technical value) is that the connection between Giselle’s happy penches in profile in Act I and her deep, sadly spiritual arabesque penche in profile in Act II was lost. Actually, Wednesday night, we didn’t even get the deep, spiritual penche arabesque from Julie in Act II. Rather, we got a slight tilting forward position with major wobbling in the supporting foot. The wobbling in the supporting foot continued through much of Act II. When Alessandra Ferri and Nina Ananiashvili performed Giselle while in their 40s, each still had sufficient strength and stability to pull off the penches and other technical challenges in the ballet. Not so with Julie.
One doesn’t go to Julie’s performances expecting to see great jumps, but her grand jetes in both acts were mere markings of what they should have been and were accompanied by terrific strain in the upper body. The saute ronde de jambe in Act II looked like Julie was flicking some crap off the end of her shoe. In Act I, she fumbled her second attitude turn badly. A simple left footed releve with the other leg in attitude en avant proved problematic for this principal dancer. There were enough bizarre accommodations for her in the tempi that the orchestra sounded like a wind-up Victrola being cranked by a sore arm.
Julie’s lovely arabesque line of past years no longer has the stretch, length, or height that it once had. Even when she was gallantly carried around by Robert Bolle, her arabesque did not sing the pure note that it did in years past. How much more of this do we have to put up with while ABT's talent defects to other companies for chances to dance the iconic roles or dancers stay while hopelessly locked out of opportunities? We, the audience, are being gypped and gypped out of seeing brilliant performances in iconic roles so that a prima who passed her prime long ago can chase after her last hurrahs.
In contrast, the 39-year-old Roberto Bolle has kept his instrument in tip-top dancing shape while he has continued to build his dramatic abilities. His daily investment in training to maintain his flexibility, strength, and balletic technique still yields very admirable results on the stage. It is much less common to see a 39-year-old man dancing at the top of his game in classical works than it is to see a woman. The stress from lifting hundred-pound ballerinas and grand allegro take their tolls on the male dancer’s back and knees early in the career. Over at NYCB, 38+ year old Joaquin De Luz is still shaming the young ones into trying harder. But Bolle and De Luz are exceptions, and we are the lucky beneficiaries of their commitment to the physical prep work that goes into maintaining their instruments.
Roberto’s Albrecht was neither cad nor innocent – perhaps something in between. He was a good sport to carry Julie for the performance, but there was no chemistry between the two of them. His dancing was remarkable in the attractiveness and tastefulness of every phrase, every turn, every jump, every extended leg and pointed foot. Truly a pleasure to watch in all respects. The Act II overhead lifts of Giselle were spectacular. His series of entrechat sixes seemed to go on forever – of course, until he slumped to the ground. While his face conveyed that he was exhausted, his legs could have done 24 more sixes easily.
On Monday night, Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes transported us into a dream from which none wanted to wake. All expectations met. Period.
The ethereal grace of Diana’s Giselle, light and airy and yet so potent with love and forgiveness, spun a simple solution to Albrecht’s complex crisis: redemption. In Act II, so beautiful was the arc of the skirt when Giselle bent forward into a deep penche that you wished for that iconic image to last through another musical phrase or two. The spaciousness of her port de bra as a picture frame around her face or when leaning forward in a supported arabesque was gloriously Romantic.
To conclude the first part of the Act II PdD, Giselle bourreed up behind Albrecht who was on one knee. As she slowly lifted her back leg to arabesque, she lowered her head pressing it against Albrecht’s cheek. It was a little indulgent, perhaps, and a departure from one of the iconic poses to which we are accustomed, but this was Diana & Marcelo who, as we well know, do not shy away from indulgence. There were times in Act II, however, when Haglund wished that Diana’s Giselle had not crossed over into conveying passionate ecstasy with her mouth and eyes while being caressed by Marcelo’s Albrecht. At this point in the ballet, Giselle knows only pure love and pure forgiveness. She wants nothing from Albrecht, and only wants to save him. Diana’s Giselle, on the other hand, seemed passionately to want what Manon and Juliet got. We don’t have to talk about technique but to say that it was impressive and formidable and was used strictly to convey the character.
ABT missed a perfect opportunity to honor its past while honoring its present by dedicating the opening night Giselle to the memory of Ivan Nagy, the company’s great danseur and perhaps its greatest partner - that is, until Marcelo Gomes came along. (The Wednesday evening performance was, instead, chosen as the commemorative for Nagy who expired earlier this year.)
Partnering is for Marcelo, as it was for Nagy, a high calling and a path to heroism on stage. In his career, he has had two partners with whom the chemistry and emotional wattage have overwhelmed anyone who sat in a theater seat to watch them: Veronika Part and Diana Vishneva. Diana was the lucky object of his ardent expression on Monday night.
Marcelo’s Albrecht was cad to the bone. But when his Giselle went insane and died after learning that Albrecht was a Count engaged to a gorgeous lady in an expensive red dress, Marcelo had a terrific little mad scene of his own to bring the curtain down on the first act. His solo dancing was as strong and finely tuned as it has ever been. It seems that with each performance, he reaches for a little more stretch, a little more speed, a little more power. What a joy and privilege it has been to watch Marcelo’s entire career.
On Thursday evening, Xiomara Reyes and Jared Matthews danced the roles of Giselle and Albrecht together for the first and last time. Jared, who also danced a superb Hilarion on Monday night, is fed up with ABT’s lack of confidence in his abilities, and will decamp to Houston Ballet with Yuriko Kajiya at the end of the season. It will be a huge loss to ABT where much talent has defected because of Kevin McKenzie’s practice of substituting mediocre, incompatible, obnoxious guest artists for ABT’s own dancers.
Thursday's outstanding performance gave us Xiomara’s Cuban version of the variations and Jared’s Baryshnikov-based interpretations which merged for a most satisfying evening of clear dancing and intense drama. Giselle's happy, generous penche arabesques in Act I foreshadowed the slow and controlled penche expressions of the spirit in her Act II. The happy racing allegro in Act I foreshadowed the desperate allegro racing against the clock to save Albrecht in Act II. In Xiomara’s interpretation, one could still see a few signs of the wildness of the peasant girl in Act II, and we knew that she was somehow different from the rest of the cold-hearted wilis.
While Marcelo’s Albrecht was pure cad and Roberto’s was not quite cad but not quite innocent, Jared made it clear from the outset that he truly loved his Giselle and that his deception was his only choice if he wanted to keep her. In Act I when Giselle saw clearly that the daisy which she was plucking foretold that Albrecht did not love her, Jared quickly plucked a petal to change the natural outcome, not with fraudulent intent but with determination to show that all signs pointed to his true love of Giselle.
Throughout the evening, his dancing was beyond wonderful - that of a true artist of principal stature who has sadly been wasted by the incompetent artistic management at ABT. Jared’s choice to reprise many of Baryshnikov’s elements from Giselle were good choices that fit him like a glove, but likely chaffed against the raw egos of ABT’s impotent artistic management that still toils and roils in Baryshnikov’s shadow – and always will.
Jared's sequence of blazing brises followed by wild temps de fleche traveling upstage perfectly conveyed the character’s desperate, out of control dancing that was forced upon him by Myrtha. His ultimate exhaustion was conveyed not by a sprawling to the floor after a double tour but by a swift and sudden fall to one knee that struck such stillness in expression one thought surely he had died.
Jared’s partnering of Xiomara was faultless. His overhead lifts in Act II were heroic and the slowness with which he lowered Giselle made her appear light as air. Even though this remarkable overhead lift didn’t work its way into the choreography until the 1950s or so with a Bolshoi production, it is clearly the universal standard of today. Danseurs who don’t want to invest what it takes to gain the strength to do it should pass up Albrecht. In other words, if one doesn’t have the correct change in one's pocket, one should not climb on the bus, and sure as hell should not expect to be given a window seat.
Haglund wishes that Jared would dial back the use of his halting walk that works exceptionally well when used sparingly. It is an effective theatrical tool but was overused in the performance.
Highlights of the week included Myrtha as performed by Gillian Murphy on Monday and Stella Abrera on Wednesday night. Here’s hoping that their performances, both spectacular, were final kiss-offs of this secondary role that has stood between them and the title role of Giselle far too long.
Gillian’s Myrtha was a stinging cold, uncompromising executioner whose smack of the myrtle branches left welts on all men everywhere. Stella’s Myrtha, icy and authoritative, still showed signs of hurting from being jilted in her mortal life. She was slightly misunderstood, but still dangerous. Gillian’s grand jetes vaulted powerfully into the air while Stella’s streamed up and fast foward with the back of her skirt looking like wispy contrails behind a jet. To prepare for the hunting and dispatching of their victims, each Myrtha unloaded a manege – no, make that unloaded a magazine of saute de basque with the fiery force of The Terminator and concluded it by exiting with a sustained arabesque balance and a cold look in her eyes that said, “I’ll be back.”
Thursday evening’s Myrtha was “exchange artist” Amy Watson from the Royal Danish Ballet. This “exchange,” like the “exchange” that brought Australian Ballet’s Kevin Jackson here for Manon, is unreciprocated. No one from ABT has been designated to go anywhere in “exchange” for the de facto imported guest artists. It was just ABT’s way of trying to disguise the fact that it was importing inferior dancers from foreign companies instead of giving its own dancers opportunities to perform. What a disappointment to see such mediocrity in a principal role on ABT’s stage. It was worse than the fiasco with Tamás Solymosi who McKenzie tried to force on us ten or so years ago. Ms. Watson, who sports lovely shaped feet, was graceless above the ankles. She nearly collapsed on the first set of arabesque promenades. Her arms looked like something out of rural regional ballet school. There are many ABT dancers in the corps de ballet who would have delivered a much better Myrtha.
The Peasant Pas de Deux was danced by Sarah Lane and Joseph Gorak on Monday and Wednesday nights to spectacular effect. They now look like a true partnership, and Gorak has easily surpassed Daniil Simkin in partnering skills. So, hopefully, this all points to more Sarah & Joe instead of Sarah & Daniil. Sarah’s triple pirouettes from the knee into supported arabesque promenade were easy, breezy beautiful by a dancer who should be an ABT Cover Girl, not one who bears the false flattery of “flagship soloist.” Her balances were like little surprise gifts as opposed to calculated bribes for applause. Every phrase, every segue, every step, every partner connection exceeded what either Isabella Boylston or Misty Copeland, who the company is unwisely pushing to the forefront long before they are ready, have been able to deliver. Misty and Blaine Hoven, who performed the Peasant PdD on Thursday night, were an odd match except for the bulk of their muscles. They did not dance badly, but they did not compare favorably to the highly polished product that Sarah and Joe delivered.
There are some things to talk about with regard to Moyna and Zulma. Yuriko Kajiya’s Zulma on Monday has become the Gold Standard as far as Haglund is concerned. The weightlessness, length of line, and musicality in this dancer are something to behold. Her renverses spoke with a sweep and airiness that Haglund cannot remember seeing before. She is, of course, one of ABT’s best interpreters of Giselle. Sadly, New York has never been given the opportunity to see how she and Jared triumph when dancing together in this ballet. The Zulmas on Wednesday and Thursday were Zhong-Jing Fang and Stephanie Williams, both of whom performed very well. Fang has been dancing this role for a while and has made great progress in smoothing out her musicality and modulating her energy and power which was very nice to see.
The Moynas for Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday were Misty Copeland, Christine Shevchenko, and Melanie Hamrick. While Misty is a stunner in nearly all of the contemporary work that ABT puts on the stage, the classical works of Petipa simply are not a good fit for her. The contemporary works happily exploit and can make beautiful the substantial bulk in her upper body, but the physique is a misfire in romantic tulle. And it was especially unfortunate when the dancer was paired with the lithe Yuriko as Zulma. Misty has indicated a disdain for being told that she needs to lengthen her lines; but it is the truth that she needs to do it. If she can’t or won't, ABT should not just give up and say, “Oh, you can dance anyway.” Also, the heavy force which she applies to Petipa is akin to a jackhammer going through rock.
Christine Shevchenko also needs to lengthen the lines in her upper body which looked a little mushy. Her Moyna Wednesday was a work in progress. We’ll keep checking back regularly, however, because her Fairy of Joy in Sleeping Beauty was very pleasing and suggested that she has much to give an audience.
Melanie Hamrick – okay, okay, she needs a scolding for calling in sick to work and then tripping off to Zurich to meet with "His Majesty," "that bitch Brenda” as Keith calls him – but her Moyna on Thursday night was beautiful. Just exquisite. This dancer has more quality and classical bearing than Isabella Boylston could ever hope to have. And she has a beautiful, expressive face, scrupulously classical leg lines and feet, lovely arms and hands, and untapped technical potential. Why isn’t this dancer getting more soloist roles? ABT needs to keep her occupied so that she doesn’t skip down a wayward trail and out of her career.
We mentioned above that Jared Matthews was Hilarion on Monday night. Patrick Ogle danced the role on Wednesday night and Thursday and was very good, too – much better than the last time we saw him do it. Shortly after he was chased by the wilis into the scene in Act II, he delivered a desperate tour jete/legs in attitude leap into the air in which it looked like his back foot nearly met his head - a la Malakhov.
Back in the 1980s when Baryshnikov ran ABT, Manolo Blahnik was the go-to shoe designer for the biggest names in fashion. He was respected and admired for his superior aesthetic, a quality that has never gone out of style. One could not go wrong in wearing Manolo Blahnik. The Pump Bump Award of the week, from a more recent Blahnik collection, goes to Jared Matthews for his extraordinary performance of Albrecht and to Xiomara Reyes, who this season is turning into something of a Heroine to some very talented men at ABT.
And now Megan Fairchild, too?!
Broadway World is reporting that NYCB's Megan Fairchild will make her Broadway debut as Ivy Smith in the revival of On the Town which is set to open at the Lyric Theatre on 42nd Street on October 16th. Previews begin September 20th.
Megan Fairchild, Robert Fairchild, and possibly Tiler Peck all on Broadway during the same season in On the Town, An American in Paris, and Little Dancer? Unbelievable. The Fairchild siblings could be up for Tony Awards in competing revivals.
In a New Zealand Herald interview, Ethan Stiefel said that he's facing a fifth knee surgery in the near future among other comments such as these:
[Question] You trained alongside Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov - what's the biggest myth about celebrity male dancers?
[Answer] That the only celebrity male dancers are from Russia.
[Question] What is the best advice you've ever been given?
[Answer] I quite often think back on something one of my main teachers, Andrei Kramarevsky, at the School of American Ballet used to say: "Take it easy, but take it."
Edward Villella has been hospitalized with an upper respiratory ailment while in Jackson, Mississippi serving as the Jury Chair for the USA International Ballet Competition, the local newspaper reported. Best wishes to him for a speedy recovery. Co-chairs John Meehan and Trinidad Vives will oversee adjudication until Villella returns.
Joseph Phillips, the 2002 Junior Gold Medalist, lit the flame to open the competition on Saturday. There are some nice pictures on the USA-IBC Facebook page, like this one:
Cinderella signed off for the ABT season last night with a magical performance led by Gillian Murphy, David Hallberg, Stella Abrera, and Luis Ribagorda. Cindy returns in the spring when ABT travels to the Kennedy Center and hopefully again at the Met.
For the past several years, Haglund has been wondering why Kevin McKenzie was blind to the extraordinary talents of Luis Ribagorda. Of course, the answer to that is that McKenzie could not see the talent in the company because both eyes were laser-focused on the easy-come, easy-go guest artists who he didn’t have to train or develop.
Back in 2010 when Vladimir Vasiliev coached Ribagorda and his wife, Sarah Lane, in the PdD from Anyuta for a YAGP gala – a PdD which Vasiliev made famous with his own wife, Ekaterina Maximova – it was firmly established that 1) Luis was supremely talented, both technically and dramatically, and 2) the on-stage partnership of Sarah and Luis was full of promise. Ratmansky tapped Luis for featured roles in both The Bright Stream and The Nutcracker. The last time ABT danced Rodeo, Luis was one of the few men who could manage a legitimate cowboy walk. His Birbanto in Le Corsaire was brilliant and fierce. His Wilfred in Giselle was the best acted that Haglund has ever seen. His scrupulous leg lines in white tights, when in ballets such as in Theme and Variations, has been a sight for sore classically-obsessed eyes. A few weeks ago after his performance in Coppelia, Haglund remarked how Luis had that De Luz high wattage stage presence.
Last night on a dance floor with several of ABT's greatest stars, Luis not only held his own but turned the Jester into one of the highlights of the performance. The guy has charisma and technique in spades. The foolishness of his Jester, whether airborne in a crazy trick or on his knees conversing with his puppet, was drawn with the dense details that we often see in Ratmansky ballets.
We need to see Luis's princely legs in more princely roles and we need to see him dancing with Sarah. The two of them in the leading roles in Ratmansky's new Sleeping Beauty would be a good start. It's time. It's past time. Time is running out.
Stella Abrera's Fairy Godmother was everything that Haglund expected in an Ashton ballerina and more. The only thing it wasn't and should have been was Cinderella, herself. Oh, let's not go down that ugly road on this beautiful Sunday morning, but damn it, having to continually watch this exquisite ballerina in secondary roles while the aged and infirm struggle to deliver principal performances is more than Haglund can take. ABT has two principal ballerinas who think that their primary jobs are to look pretty on stage while being carried around and be damned with all that tough dancing. Stella Abrera has both the technical chops and the exquisite beauty needed to command the stage in Cinderella, Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, Theme and Variations, and most of the ABT repertory. She should have been promoted to Principal eons ago. WTF is McKenzie's problem?
Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg were a sublime Cinderella and Prince last evening. Although David didn't have all the crispness that we were accustomed to seeing in his performances prior to when he decamped to Moscow, his matured artistry and new theatrical weight were a joy to watch. His diagonal of saute de basque that opened into arabesque was gorgeous for the height and space that it devoured. The long shape in the air of his double tours with the bottom point created by his curved feet was among the loveliest pictures of the evening. And it was a pleasure to see that he stuck with the conventional choreography and did not supe it up to get extra applause.
Gillian's Act II solo, while taken at a faster clip than Xiomara Reyes' solo on Wednesday night, was energetic without being rushed. Her pick work with her pointes had the delicacy of walking on clouds. The deep bending of her torso penetrated the music and made us feel the phrases in our own bodies. Her perfectly square arabesques with the front arm parallel to the floor created positions of extraordinary length and beauty. Surprising was the unsteadiness of a supported penche during the last PdD and the apparent two-footing of a subsequent passe. Haglund hopes that this was not a sign of a nagging injury returning.
The Season Fairies were all quite beautiful and seasonal. Yuriko Kajiya was a revelation as Autumn, whirling like colored leaves caught up in a strong wind.
Skylar Brandt's joyful Spring flew with the energy and excitement of the earliest birds returning after winter.
Christine Shevchenko's Summer could have been a little steadier in the stepover turns, but had lovely warm qualities.
Melanie Hamrick's Fairy Winter – wait a minute – what's all this about our Fairy Winter summering in Zurich with a smoldering Mick Jagger? Melanie, Sweetheart, he is too skinny, too old, and too ugly. All that aside, Melanie's Fairy Winter was exquisitely danced with grace and control. With beautiful long legs, tapered feet, and disciplined port de bras, she homes in on the classical line like Mick Jagger homes in on a woman's ____. Oh, let's just stop all of this and have confidence that Melanie will snap to her senses soon.
Craig Salstein and Roman Zhurbin as the Step-Sisters may require a stage bigger than the Met's. Their clowning was filled with character details that only months of psychotherapy could explain. Who is to say that Ashton wouldn't have wanted the Step-Sisters to be this outrageous? If he and Robert Helpmann could have executed comedy like we saw last night, they probably would have. Instead of their Buster Keaton and "Fatty" Arbuckle, we had Harvey Korman and Tim Conway, which is almost a fair trade in Haglund's book.
The Prince's Friends (Joseph Gorak, Blaine Hoven, Calvin Royal, and Eric Tamm) danced handsomely. Eric Tamm, a natural prince with unforced classicism and beautiful grand allegro, has the confidence of Ratmansky in major leading roles, but can't seem to get McKenzie's attention. He is gorgeous to watch.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award, with special custom bump toe, is bestowed upon Luis Ribagorda for his breakout performance as the Jester.
Back in 1930s New York, James J. Braddock, a light heavyweight, got his big break in a major contest when he was presented with the opportunity to fill in on the fight card for a boxer after a last minute cancellation. In that fight, Braddock knocked out the No. 2 world contender in the 3rd round. The rest is history and made for a darn good movie starring Russell Crowe.
Wednesday night, corpsman Joseph Gorak got the chance to fill in on the card after an injury to Cory Stearns necessitated a casting reshuffle. Making his debut as The Prince in Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella opposite Xiomara Reyes in the title role, Gorak delivered a knockout performance with a one-two punch of princely elegance and patrician technique. He has had a dedicated following for almost eight years – since his days in ABT II – and it seems to have taken an eternity for him to be cast in important roles such as in Ratmansky’s Nutcracker Prince, Lensky in Onegin, the Poet in La Sylphide, and now, finally, The Prince in Ashton’s Cinderella.
Gorak’s supple, shapely feet and legs would be almost too beautiful except for the fact that they support such an exquisite masculine frame and handsome face. His unusual flexibility is a mixed blessing. Only once during the evening did he employ it to excess – in a pirouette position where the foot in retiré seemed to be too far above the knee.
Speaking of pirouettes, Haglund is going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Frederick Ashton probably knew that he could follow up a double tour with a pirouette when choreographing the Prince’s variation, if he wanted. After all, Balanchine had just done that double tours-pirouette thing in Theme and Variations some months earlier in 1947. But didn’t Ashton intentionally follow the double tour with a two footed backward soutenu or pas de bourree? At least, that’s what Anthony Dowell did, and it seemed more elegant, if less splashy. Haglund didn’t mind watching Gorak’s quite impressive short series of double tours/double pirouette, but he doubts that when Frederick Ashton choreographed the Prince’s variation, he instructed, “– and this is where you insert a big trick of your own choosing.” If there is a desire to jack-up the technical level, why not try a double soutenu backwards before that next double tour? Give that a whirl, guys, or how about a triple tour en l’air. (Why aren't men doing triple tours on stage? Answer: The trick has an unattractive risk/reward ratio. Most audience members would never be able to count the rotations and know to applaud more loudly than for a double tour en l'air.)
That small complaint aside, a big congratulations is in order to Gorak for his superbly danced, finely acted, and theatrically detailed performance. His careful attentiveness to matching every one of his own lines with his partner’s was especially pleasing. Every arm, every profile, every hand, every snap of the head, and every leaning of the body was in complete harmony with Xiomara’s positions. Their partnering went better than anticipated with no meaningful mess-ups. They had to grind out that series of supported arabesques where the Prince guides Cinderella’s extended back arm over the top of her head, but they made it work. The journey to the final pose in the PdD didn't show Cinderella lifted over the Prince's back to the extent that it could have, but that too will come – perhaps even in this Saturday afternoon's performance.
Xiomara Reyes was pitch perfect in her characterization of Cinderella as the waif with a huge spirit and beckoning dreams. She felt no ill will toward her nasty step-sisters, and even found their awkward antics amusing, all the while wishing she could share their opportunities to go to the ball. She portrayed Cinderella’s innocence, her sadness, her wide-eyed disbelief of her good fortune, and her ultimate happiness with equal dramatic skill. Her soloist dancing burst with energy - her manege of pique turns, soutenus, chaines, and coupe jetes thrilled with their acceleration. One or two little glitches from over-applying force and a truncated balance were the only imperfections.
There were so many reasons to love Xiomara’s Cinderella not the least of which was her steadiness in managing the evening’s performance with the inexperienced young man making his most important debut to date. While Xiomara’s torso didn’t quite reach and bend as one hopes to see in Ashton’s work, she definitely hit many, if not most, of the staccato positions that produce those Kodak moments. Moving downstage with a series of pique to develope 4th arabesque plie, Xiomara’s Cinderella quickly glanced backward to her right at the prince standing on the steps before whipping her head to look over her left shoulder. The way in which she maneuvered this difficult choreography clearly communicated how her attention was going from upstage to downstage, something that many ballerinas muddle in the ballet. Her battement fouettes and port de bras sliced through the air like the ticking clock slicing away at her time.
Speaking of debuts, what a classically beautiful, sparkling debut by Devon Teuscher as the Fairy Godmother. She radiated such warmth and light during her variations in which her sturdy, unspoiled, unfussy technique served her well. Here was a dancer you could watch without thinking “Oh, I wish she wouldn’t do that” or “I wish she’d eliminate that tic” or “I wish she’d stop adding extra flourishes.” She was squeaky clean and her dancing was filled with light - a true beauty.
Sarah Lane's Fairy Spring was like tulips bursting open all over a hillside. She was stunning. April Giangeruso was lovely as the Fairy Winter; her battement fouettes sharp with a little of that no-nonsense snowflake attitude that we see in Ratmansky’s Nutcracker. Misty Copeland’s Fairy Autumn was a fierce force of nature; one could sense the leaves swirling around her. Isabella Boylston’s Fairy Summer was an example of unfortunate miscasting because the choreography relies so much on beautiful port de bras which Isabella does not possess. The fact that ABT continues to try to force this dancer on us as an example of its classicism is becoming more distasteful every day. Her lapses in concentration occasionally put her behind the other three Fairy Seasons during ensemble work, which is unfortunately her habit of several years.
Cinderella’s Step-Sisters, of course, ran the show from start to finish. Kenneth Easter and Thomas Forster were not going to let anyone suggest that they weren’t in charge. Folks, you have not seen real drama until you have seen Tom Forster’s Step-Sister run a long strand of pearls across her teeth while trying to seduce the Dancing Master, portrayed sportingly by Eric Tamm. Easter and Forster were very funny indeed and didn’t slap it up with unnecessary schtick. Haglund is not quite old enough to have seen the original production with Ashton and Robert Helpmann as the Step-Sisters, but they star in the classic video performance from 1969 with Anthony Dowell and Antoinette Sibley. What made the Step-Sisters so successful as characters in that video were the advanced ages of the two performers. They really looked like they were trying their best to dance and were working at the very limits of their grace and coordination.
Arron Scott’s Jester got quite the workout throughout the evening, and Scott managed some mighty fancy footwork including a series of fouette-like pirouettes for which the passe leg jutted to the back.
The Corps de Ballet included some new male acquisitions who had that deer-in-the-headlights look for most of the night. The ladies who danced as Stars were quite lovely and seemed to know what they were doing. They understood the arm and head positions and how they were supposed to move in contrast to the Prokofiev’s darkly powerful waltzes.
All of the Cinderella productions that ABT has mounted over the years have been enjoyable. The most recent one by James Kudelka was pleasing in its unique application of art deco themes that were true to the time in which Ashton choreographed his own Cinderella. Kudelka’s choreography was no less complex or less representative of style than Ashton’s. His corps work was just as fiendish. Haglund recalls that after masses of dancers working closely together at high speeds exited the stage, one could hear breathy frantic exclamations of “Jesus!” coming from the wings. And Kudelka made more natural use of Prokofiev’s big waltzes. While it has been a dream come true to finally see Ashton’s Cinderella at ABT, Haglund hopes that the Kudelka production will make a return at some point.
The evening’s Pump Bump Award, a Prada design of clean lines and unspoiled beauty, is bestowed upon Devon Teuscher, whose debut may have been slightly less important than that of Joe Gorak who we all knew beforehand was going to be brilliant, but who really rose to the classical occasion and gave us a little hope for ABT’s classical future.
Stella Abrera will finally perform the role that we all know she has been destined to dance. Unfortunately, it will be on the other side of the planet at the height of monsoon season.
Ballet Philippines has invited Stella to be their Giselle for its gala performance in September which marks the company's 45th anniversary - The Sapphire Season.
In connection with that trip, Stella has created a fundraiser to help build a school in Guiuan that was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan last November. Here is a link to the CrowdRise page for Steps Forward for the Philippines which includes a brief video message from Stella.
Haglund will be making a contribution as soon as his next Social Security check arrives. What better way to help those in need while honoring our favorite ballerina in Giselle.
Thanks to Meg and Franklin in far off places for alerting us to this information last week. We didn't want to blog about it until Stella made her own announcement.
Eight more dancers have defected from Alicia Alonzo's Ballet Nacional de Cuba while the company was on tour in San Juan, Puerto Rico. At least six of them have already arrived in Miami. No firm confirmation yet who the six are but TheCubanHistory.com reported that the dancers included Monica Gomez, Carlos Ignacio Galindez and Rayssel Cruz.
Haglund has been peering through his legendary speculation spectacles this morning.
Angel Corella has virtually worldwide sympathy from the ballet community for his situation in Spain. Everyone believed in him and his abilities to succeed as a director to the extent that he succeeded on the stage as a dancer. Many wanted to work for him. Many still want to work for him.
Now that Angel has announced that he has had to dismantle his ballet company due to Spain's failure to support it and will leave his country, everyone is curious where he will land. Probably some bright-thinking dancers have even dusted off suitcases.
You know, Pennsylvania Ballet needs a new Artistic Director now that Roy Kaiser has decided to retire. Wouldn't Angel be a perfect fit? His sister Carmen used to dance there before joining ABT.
Philadelphia would be so lucky, and America would be so lucky to have Angel back on its soil. Let's cross our fingers and hope that this or something similar happens very soon.
It's a busy day on the blog!
Thanks much to Carol for forwarding several links to us including one of Paris Opera Ballet's transmission of Balanchine's Le Palais de Cristal, the forerunner of Symphony in C, with gorgeous new costumes (rubies red, emeralds green, sapphire navy, and creamy) by Christian Lacroix. Millepied's Daphne et Chloe is on the bill, too. The transmission will be available for viewing until December 5th at FranceTV CultureBox:
Graham Spicer's Gramilano is a good, credible blog source for information about what is going on in European ballet circles. Haglund doesn't visit as often as he should but he's glad that Carol thought to send us the link to Graham's post about Angel Corella calling it quits in Spain and moving on. It would be great if he would move into 890 Broadway but only if the current AD moved out.
And just as Haglund was ready to hit the publish button, this startling announcement came through the wire. Veronika Part will dance the title role of Giselle opposite Vitali Krauchenka this weekend in Ballet L'Etoile's production in Columbia, Maryland which is just outside of Baltimore. The staging is by Svetlana Kravtsova and Vadim Pijicov. This could be a once in a lifetime opportunity; so, if you can get there, go!
ABT's production of Ashton's Cinderella opens tonight. Haglund will be seeing the Reyes/Gorak and Murphy/Hallberg casts; so check back later in the week for a blog post. Comments about earlier performances are always welcome here.
Haglund is looking forward to being delighted by the details that the casts capture. Cinderella's Act III manege of pique turns, soutenus, and rapid fire chaines are always a joy to watch when they're done at tempo. I wonder who among the four casts will only do three chaines and who will do five or even six?
Cinderella's little jete combination with her back to the audience in which she releves into passe and does an actual cambre back is a gorgeous moment in her Act III variation. Who among the casts will really do that cambre and who will simply turn the head and throw it back with a smile toward the audience?
It probably comes as no surprise that Haglund adored Anthony Dowell (and still does) and has never gotten over the way that he could employ the exact amount of force that was required to get the job done with beautiful grace while always seeming to have lots in reserve. It was that sense of powerful reserve that helped make him so princely. In his Act III variation, he did double tours followed by an eloquent backward soutenu that seemed so perfect. For some reason, not all men do that backward soutenu these days, but instead pause to recalibrate for the next double tour. That seems so whimpy.
Haglund's disappointment in not being able to see Stella Abrera as Cinderella still stings. She is one of the few ABT ballerinas who possess the classicism and technique needed to dance this role beautifully. Instead, she has been relegated to the Fairy Godmother role – a wand carrying Lilac Fairy – while ABT's aged, declining prima refuses to recognize that her time to dance at the ball has run out. How much more of this do we have to endure?
NYCB's 2013-2014 season is over. Manhattan has returned to its sleepy norm, and the llamas have returned to their grazing on West 18th Street at 6th Avenue.
Oh no, look! It's a little pony left over from ABT's pony & kitten giveaway. Nobody bought tickets to see three guest artists in La Bayadere so that he could be given away to a new home. Look how sad he is. The sad pony whinnied, "Haglund, do you think Peter Martins would let me audition for the Costermonger section of Union Jack? My behavior record is unblemished. I don't belong behind bars with these llamas." Haglund tucked Peter Martins' cell phone number under the sad pony's halter and suggested he lose some of his gut before auditioning. That seemed to lift the sad pony's spirits a little bit.
Haglund didn't attend as many NYCB performances during the spring season as he usually does. That first week with no Balanchine or Robbins was a real bummer and the new stuff offered wasn't wholly satisfying. If anything, that first week doubly underscored the point that the success of Balanchine and Robbins in the 20th Century isn't guaranteed to be repeated in the 21st century – at least not without a lot more hard work.
The good news is that the company's dancers delivered phenomenal performances throughout the spring and throughout the year. With important dancers still sidelined with injuries during the spring [Wendy Whelan, Jennie Somogyi, Ana Sophia Scheller, Chase Finlay to name a few], others seemed to rise up to demonstrate the breadth and depth of this great company.
Sterling Hyltin was a revelation along with Robert Fairchild in Opus 19/The Dreamer; Abi Stafford danced her best in years, seizing the first violin role in Concerto Barocco with a glorious expansiveness that we usually associate with Sara Mearns. Sara in Walpursisnact Ballet and Davidsbundertanze, Ashley Bouder in Raymonda Variations and Other Dances, Tiler Peck making her debut in the First Movement of Symphony in C, Rebecca Krohn in Emeralds and in a thrilling Concerto Barocco with Abi, and Ashley Laracey, Ashly Isaacs, Lauren King, Lauren Lovette, Faye Arthurs, Kristen Segin, and Alina Dronova all were superb.
Jon Stafford bid farewell with exceptional elegance and style in Emeralds with his sister, Abi, and in Diamonds with Sara Mearns. Joaquin DeLuz with Bouder in Other Dances, Union Jack, and Rubies danced like he was 25 again. Robert Fairchild along with Tiler Peck sizzled in Who Cares? Russell Janzen, Troy Schumacher, Peter Walker, and Harrison Coll came out of nowhere to grab our attention with outstanding dancing. Anthony Huxley made a strong classical statement in Raymonda Variations opposite Lauren Lovette.
Gosh, it seems like Haglund may have been to more performances than he originally thought.
Maybe 2013-2014 was not the strongest of programing, but 2014-2015 is going to bliss us out from start to finish. Let's get the summer (that hasn't officially begun yet) over with ASAP so we can get to the fall season.
Manon just turned forty last March. How this masterpiece came about is compressed into a few fascinating pages in Jann Perry’s biography of choreographer Kenneth MacMillan, Different Drummer, which Haglund has been trying to finish reading since its publication in 2010 – it is, after all, 758 pages with very few pictures. MacMillan was the Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet when he created Manon in 1974.
“MacMillan, thinking as an artistic director, decided that his new three-act ballet should not serve as a vehicle for a guest artist. [And] Fonteyn had held back the Royal Ballet’s young stars for long enough; it was time he gave them a chance.”
Monday evening, ABT opened its run of eight Manon performances at the Met Opera House. The cast included the company’s oldest ballerina, who continues to block much younger but fully mature artists from leading principal roles, and a de facto guest artist. So much for thinking as an artistic director.
Following the 1974 premiere, critic Mary Clarke summed up the ballet’s plot in the Guardian:
“Basically, Manon is a slut and Des Grieux is a fool and they move in the most unsavoury company.”
Monday night, Julie Kent's Manon was neither a slut nor someone looking for a sugardaddy. She conveyed prettiness and acted too much like Juliet, as in Capulet. But many people in the sparse audience were thrilled to see exactly that and did not know that anything was missing.
There was no sense of selfishness in this Manon. Nor was there any sense of fear or shame she might experience if she had to give up all of the jewels and luxurious life style. There was very little that was erotic in the portrayal.
“In both the bedroom pas de deux, MacMillan told [Antoinette] Sibley that he wanted her to make seductive use of the inside of her upper arm. 'He loved that area, so Manon often twines her arms around her head…it’s her special erotic zone,' says Sibley.”
Julie's Manon raised her elbows and arms, and pushed her smile at Des Grieux. But there was nothing provocative about it. There are still many people around who remember the way Alessandra Ferri seduced Julio Bocca’s obsessed Des Grieux with the insides of her elbows. She made us smell the perfume that she had dabbed at their pulse points. When Ferri’s Manon turned her back on Bocca’s Des Grieux and abandoned him after being seduced by Monsieur G.M.’s wealth, she did so with such callous indifference that it shocked the audience. No such shock was delivered on Monday night. And while the choreography required little in the way of classical or neo-classical soloist technique for Manon, it was evident that Julie’s arabesque had become less clear and her back less flexible.
Roberto Bolle invested his Des Grieux with enough emotional intensity for the both of them. Except for a slight unsteadiness in his opening solo, he danced magnificently throughout the night. For such a huge man, he moves with the swiftness of Mercury and judiciously employs a masculine flexibility to punctuate the drama in his dancing. But his intensity sometimes seemed overwrought in response to Julie's pale output. While he might prefer to dance with Julie because of her feather lightness – and he certainly could throw her around easily enough – they do not compliment one another in any meaningful way.
The reason that Haglund returned to Different Drummer was to try to find out why MacMillan gave more challenging and complicated choreography to Lescaut’s Mistress than to Manon. On Monday night, Stella Abrera imbued the role of Mistress with a seductive, earthy gusto. Here was a woman who would dump her man for a shiny nickel. She danced with a theatrical authority that eclipsed Julie Kent.
It required more than a little suspension of disbelief to accept Daniil Simkin as Lescaut, the guy who sells his sister Manon in order to line his own pockets. In the opening tableau, he looked absurdly ridiculous and unconvincing wearing a huge hat while kneeling at the center of a swirled cape. His “drunk dancing” during the party scene was slapstickish. Haglund probably wasn’t the only one who gasped when Daniil picked up Stella while doing his drunk stumbling steps. He has a hard enough time partnering when he’s sober-serious. When Daniil's little Lescaut forced the gold coins into big Roberto's Des Grieux's hand and then forcibly twisted his arm behind his back at the end of the act, it looked stupid, because, as everyone knows, Bolle could have just swatted Simkin like a fly.
The harlots’ wigs now make them look tres chic instead of whorish. And for some reason neither Julie Kent on Monday nor Diana Vishneva on Tuesday would let go of the eye makeup to the extent needed to convince us that they were captive prostitutes or in ill health. Alessandra Ferri let us see Manon’s suffering through a face with little makeup on it.
There seemed to be two different choreographies for the Skivvies’ little dance on Monday and Tuesday nights for no apparent reason.
On opening night the Gentlemen (Joseph Gorak, Blaine Hoven, and Eric Tamm) were a strong, unified trio. On Tuesday night, the Beggar Boys were a mess and seemed not to have a clue what they were supposed to be doing. This was an example of where the differing styles that ABT is trying to brag about really backfired.
The orchestra on Monday night sounded a lot more robust than on Tuesday night when it sounded tired.
Tuesday evening’s principals, Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes, were more collaboratively passionate than Monday night’s cast. Both artists still dance as though at the tops of their games. Marcelo had terrific control of his solo adagio movements, and the beauty of the leg positions and foot placements were a highlight. And he’s still got very good back flexibility in his arabesque. The PdD in the swamp was ridiculously thrilling when Marcelo threw Diana up in the air and spun her around. Diana's performance just had so much more energy to it than Julie's. Her every movement and position were fuller and had a sense of independent strength to them. And she really looked the part of someone for whom wealth and luxury were of the utmost importance. Thank goodness that a meaningful-sized crowd turned out to see this performance.
Herman Cornejo and Misty Copeland were Lescaut and His Mistress. Herman found it much easier than Daniil when it came time to burn pirouettes while wearing a very long-tailed coat. He also had a better crafted and much funnier drinking solo. While Misty danced well, her lack of projection turned the role into a soloist gig instead of the principal role it is supposed to be. She didn’t mess up anything; it’s just that none of it looked very important. It may have simply been a case of miscasting. At the end of the night, a very odd thing happened during bows in front of the curtain. Everyone came out in pairs, and then for the second round of bows, Herman came out by himself followed by Diana and Marcelo together. One wonders if Misty missed the call or if she wanted to have a solo bow for the ultimate photo opp - but it didn’t happen.
The HH Pump Bump Award is bestowed upon beautiful, talented Stella Abrera whose glitter is real gold. If Kenneth MacMillan were directing ABT, a 45-year-old declining ballerina would not be blocking Stella’s path to leading principal roles nor our opportunity to watch her perform them.
If she's gonna be in chains, they may as well be Giuseppe Zanotti for Balmain chains: