Thanks to Barbara for alerting us to this great PBS Newshour feature that ran tonight on Jacques d'Amboise and the National Dance Institute. There are some great, great film clips of his early dancing.
We were all as excited as could be to hear that the two new ABT principals were going to appear jointly on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry Show to talk about their new positions and answer the question, "How should a dancer look?" Well, take a look at what happened.
Number of video clips of dancing – Misty 5; Stella 0
Number of times photo was flashed – Misty 21; Stella 7
Splashy book plug – Misty - Yes
Philippines charity plug – Stella - No
At least there was some humor contributed by Misty who was wearing extra brown face makeup that made it look like she had darker skin. The problem was that she forgot to put the brown-face makeup on her light neck; thus, she looked like a lighter skinned person trying to pass as a much darker African American to appeal to Melissa’s audience.
Melissa was very interested in how the two dancers were informed of their promotions. Stella described the company meeting that occurred, and then Melissa asked, “Did you know before that moment?" Stella quickly answered "No." Then Misty suddenly jumped in with an elaborate, lengthy explanation that each dancer’s situation is different and that when she was promoted to soloist, she was called into a private meeting. But why was it necessary for her to describe this exception when discussing having the principal promotions announced in a general meeting? It seemed to confirm strongly that ABT had alerted Misty and her publicity machine weeks ahead of time that she was getting the promotion so that they could blast the media with “promotion is just about to happen” stink bombs and drive more book sales and more appearances and more attention to Misty Copeland who publicly campaigned for her promotion with lies about racism in ballet and ingratitude toward those who paved the way for her, instead of earning the promotion the way the respected and admired colleague sitting next to her did.
ABT’s GM-inspired media strategy of What’s good for Misty Copeland is good for ABT has so disgusted other artists that it’s no wonder some were excising Misty’s picture from the formal portrait of the group of promoted dancers or tweeting how publicity wins over talent.
She’s definitely in need of reputation repair in the professional community. Dragging Stella or any other colleague with her to an interview and then hogging the video and photo opportunities during the event is not the road to repair. It’s the road to complete confirmation of negative opinion.
Of the comments running in the sidebar next to the video, this most interesting declaration appeared:
“[L]ets not get confused, these two are not the first ballerinas of color rising to the level of Principal Dancer in a major ballet company. Actually, this story is more about (or at least as much) ABT finally catching up with those companies that had the awareness and foresight to recognize talent and ability...even when it comes wrapped in a brown wrapper. Some of these progressive, visionary companies did the same thing 25 to 60 years ago."
We will just add that the ABT artistic directors who preceded the current one made a good start on diversity when it wasn’t popular to do so. The current director failed to build on their efforts for twenty years until the idea of diversity became popular and a gimmick for marketing.
Oh, a note on those video clips of Misty - there were no clips of Misty performing either fouettes or hops on pointe. Perhaps she could be the poster-child for Nike’s campaign with its popular attire which bears the slogan:
New York City Ballet single tickets for the fall, winter, and spring seasons go on sale August 2nd.
Lots of performances of Symphony in C, The Four Temperaments, Ballo della Regina, Jewels, Symphony in Three Movements, La Sylphide, Concerto DSCH, Serenade, and Concerto Barocco will enrich the year. And, of course, there will be many high risk premieres - ballet's speculative IPOs that are as likely to tank after the first day as they are to draw market enthusiasm. But the run up to the opening bell is always fabulously fueled with broker buzz and glitz.
Haglund adores this year's NYCB brochure with all the sketches by Dior illustrator Jamie Lee Reardin. No limbs are ever too long or too lithe in the eternal quest for unattainable aesthetic perfection. As the drawings suggest, the purpose of the torso is to connect the long lines of the upper and lower limbs, like an unobtrusive pipe fitting.
A wide pipe fitting in a tutu may be what ABT advocates in its effort to make itself look more like deteriorating America - average vanity-size 14 with flapping bat wings - but it's just less appealing:
This sort of aesthetic should stay under the sink and out of the classical corps de ballet.
Tickets for ABT's fall season of a dozen performances go on sale Monday, July 20th. There is no brochure to speak of, but the cardboard flyer has a picture of handsome Herman Cornejo in Le Spectre de la Rose. Of course, we know that doesn't mean that he will actually dance the role this season, but that's what ABT wants you to think. As usual, buyer beware.
The most exciting dance event on the continent this season is likely to be Angel Corella's new Don Quixotefor Pennsylvania Ballet which will premiere in March. He's revving up the engines down in Philly, that's for sure. Eight company premieres plus BBB (big Balanchine ballets) like Serenade, Concerto Barocco, The Four Temperaments. But AC's crackling electricity running through a brand new Don Q is sure to send Philly into a phrenzy. Just wait. Haglund will definitely be at the premiere and several other performances over the year.
According to this news release, Texas Ballet Theater principal dancer Simon Wexler has joined ABT in some unknown capacity. If true, that would be the second dancer from TBT to join ABT this year - the first being corps dancer Betsy McBride.
Alessandra Ferri's production company, AF Dance, has both a website and a YouTube channel which we should all keep both eyes on for future developments. Note that the website mentions a New York season for her, Herman Cornejo, and pianist Bruce Levingston in Trio Concertdance. The program includes works by Russell Maliphant, Demis Volpe, and Fang-Yi Sheu from Taiwan. Also mentioned are dances by Alexei Ratmansky and Angelin Prejlocaj.
The sponsors include The Joyce Theater's Stephen and Cathy Weinroth Fund for New Work, The Jerome Robbins Foundation, Natalia and Veronica Bulgari. Maybe we'll see this in the spring at the Joyce Theater or maybe even some dates at Lincoln Center.
New York City Ballet will help launch this new series with a nationwide cinema encore presentation of The Nutcracker which was originally broadcast in 2011 on PBS. Cinema tickets officially go on sale tomorrow nationwide on the Fathom Events website for screenings on Saturday, Dec. 5th at 12:55 pm and again on Thursday, Dec. 10th at 7pm. Go to the above link, observe the lovely Rebecca Krohn leaning in attitude under the bright spotlight, click on More Info and follow the link to Theater Locations throughout the U.S.
We don't recall that Rebecca was actually in this performance, but we do remember Ashley Bouder, Tiler Peck, Megan Fairchild, Joaquin De Luz and Daniel Ulbricht – totally worth a trip to the cinema if you're not able to get to Manhattan to see them perform live during The Nutcracker season.
We've got to thank Fathom Events for their continued support of presentations of ballet in their cinemas. We sure have seen some fabulous events in the past couple of years.
Meanwhile, we await word on who the other three dance company participants will be in this series.
Scratch that last sentence.
Thanks to CMM and Kristen for digging out the info from the Fathom site. Here are the dates and companies that will comprise the Lincoln Center at the Movies: Great American Dance Inaugural Season:
9/24 – San Francisco Ballet: Romeo & Juliet 10/22 – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Chroma, Grace, Takademe, Revelations 11/12 – Ballet Hispanico: CARMEN.maquia and Club Havana 12/5 and 12/10 – New York City Ballet: George Balanchine's The Nutcracker™
Several years ago when ABT was trying to enforce a disciplined dynamic pricing model, they preferred to have empty seats rather than sell them at a reduced price. So they had empty seats – lots of them. And people talked about it – a lot and in negative terms. So, now they’ve come to realize that if they give away lots of unsellable tickets, sell some at half-price, and put a good number of screaming students or clueless out-of-towners in the seats, there are fools who will talk about the enthusiastic crowd and how there were so many people at the performance. Duh. Crowd/herd mentality is a very real phenomenon in the theater and can have a major impact on the performers on stage. And yes, it can be manipulated.
ABT closed out its season with a week of Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella with mostly fine performances. It is still very troubling to see that our Prince Charmings (Whiteside, Hammoudi, & Gorak; Haglund missed the Stearns/Seo cast) have not been able to manage the manege of double saute de basques to arabesque that Ashton’s most celebrated Prince, Sir Anthony Dowell, blew around the stage nearly a half century ago or the wonderfully musical soutenu/double tour combination with which he concluded his variation. Oftentimes, we have to curb our application of presentism to ballet - that tendency to measure the abilities of past performers by the technical standards of today’s generation of whiz-bang tricksters. But what is the opposite of presentism in ballet – where the standards and accomplishments of past dancers exceed today’s? We suggest Dowellism. Come on, ABT men, where is your pride?
This dumbing down of the standards by ABT was doubly hard to take this year having just come off of a week of the Royal Ballet’s presentation of The Dream in which neither of the Oberons carried Sir Anthony’s theatrical inflections which should have been more carefully passed down to the current generation. Loyalist-Dowellist – guilty as charged.
By the way, we forgot to mention how pleasant the Royal Ballet’s traditional costumes in The Dream were compared to ABT’s new, ugly, boring creations which the company unveiled last time around. We hope that ABT quickly put those on eBay because they were a complete miss.
Saturday’s matinee Cinderella cast of Stella Abrera, Joseph Gorak, and Devon Teuscher repeated their exquisite performances from Wednesday with even more aplomb, percipience of Ashton’s style, and blessedly pristine dancing. So much beauty on stage . . .
Arron Scott as the Jester at this performance and Craig Salstein at the Saturday evening performance gave good interpretations. However, we can’t get out of our minds the utter mastery of Luis Ribagorda in this role last year. Brilliant dancing aside, his animated conversations with his stick puppet were priceless.
Veronika Part’s Fairy Godmother on Saturday evening was radiant, and full of grace and musical goodness – old time religion that we keep coming back to. Sarah Lane’s Fairy Spring in the afternoon's evening's performance was exceptional among a crew of outstanding interpreters this week.
We’re so looking forward in the coming year or two to seeing our new principal, Stella Abrera, in some of those roles that should have been hers a decade ago: Nikiya, Aurora, Titania, and Medora to name a few, and of course, many repeats of her glorious Giselle.
One of the new lights burning brightest is Devon Teuscher whose Fairy Godmother and Fairy Summer in Cinderella were marked by serene beauty and formidable technique. As we’ve noted before, she is elegant and scrubbed clean of annoying mannerisms and bad habits - unlike Isabella Boylston whose Fairy Godmother was part hillbilly.
What a relief that this season is over. We need a long rest from the over-promotion of mediocrity, the shameless shameful misuse of race and ethnicity as marketing gimmicks, the short-changing of true artistry, the harmful reliance on imports, and the clumsy mismanagement that ABT has become more known for than its dancing.
The final H.H. Pump Bump is bestowed upon Sarah Lane, who despite glorious superior dancing throughout the year, came up on the wrong end of the color spectrum when it came time for promotion. Few misunderstand exactly what happened. We hope that ABT finds a way to restore its integrity but we won’t place any bets on it.
Wednesday’s matinee performance of Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella was luxurious casting of such refined elegance and understated beauty that it felt like we had our very own little Royal Ballet on stage. Stella Abrera as Cinderella, Joseph Gorak as The Prince, and Devon Teuscher as The Fairy Godmother were the most perfectly matched trio that we have yet seen in ABT’s production which was new last year.
Making her debut as Cinderella in the Ashton production, Stella Abrera was the epitome of refinement, grace, scrupulous form, and warmth. Luminous, confident, and generous to her fellow performers, Stella gave a gorgeous performance in the Ashton mode with plenty of sweep and bend in the torso and note-perfect pics with her pointes. Her Act II variation glistened – one could feel Cinderella’s rush of excitement and disbelief in her good fortune at the ball. So lovely were her little backbends while standing on one pointe with her back to the audience. So sparkling was her manege of soutenu, chaines, and pique turns that one wished she would go around for a third lap.
Joseph Gorak was also in top form and now hovers around the pinnacle of ABT’s men. The deer-like vault and expanse of his grand jetes took one’s breath away. The princely posture, slow gesturing of his hands, and appearance of genuine belief in the character who he was portraying are like none other at ABT.
That said, we have to take exception to ABT’s continued dumbing down of the Prince’s variation. Doing the series of double saute de basques that open with the leg in arabesque as a diagonal line - as would be done in a classroom exercise – instead of doing them in a semi-circle which traces the semi-circle of the standing lady stars simply is not acceptable. It is such a step down in difficulty and five steps down in beauty. To then fail to end the variation with the double tours with soutenu that Anthony Dowell made so beautiful simply adds insult to injury.
On Monday night, Alex Hammoudi did two plain double tours in place and a double pirouette – a total sellout to both choreography and music. Last night Gorak executed pristine double tours with a pirouette between them, still so much easier and so less aesthetically pleasing than the soutenu. Seriously people, does anyone think that Dowell couldn’t throw in a pirouette between tours? Substituting a pirouette for a soutenu gives the passage a completely different look and completely different feel musically. It simply doesn’t make sense to dumb down what is so perfect. For instructional purposes, here are 26 seconds of Anthony Dowell:
The PdDs were exquisite. Those difficult passages where Cinderella’s back arabesque arm was brought forward over the top of the head were seamless and simply beautiful. Stella’s journey en pointe down the steps was flawless, and Joe’s lifts of her were strong and authoritative. There was a joyful chemistry between them. A supported pirouette went wayward, and a releve was dropped on that difficult maneuver when the torso turned to arabesque from the developpe a la seconde, but it was quickly recovered. Some uncertainty in the partnering resulted in ending positions not being strong musically, for example, the dive to supported penche arabesque was not sharp. But there is no denying that Joe and Stella make a gorgeous couple with complimentary lines and similar classical aesthetics. We can’t wait to see these blips smoothed out on Saturday.
Devon Teuscher gave a lovely, lovely performance as The Fairy Godmother with several exquisite moments. She’s not yet the caliber of Stella who danced the role last year or Veronika Part, but this relatively new soloist impressed with her purity of style and her unwillingness to add unnecessary spices to Ashton’s perfect recipe.
Sarah Lane’s Fairy Spring exploded with the color of tulips and the perfume of lilacs and hyacinths. It was the most perfect and joyous Spring variation that Haglund has ever seen. One of the hardest part’s of the Fairy Spring’s variation has to be that when she’s done with her high energy solo, she suddenly stops to stand on the side in a still pose for ten minutes while the other season fairies dance. Imagine if after running the Preakness, the horses were suddenly forced to stand perfectly still. It could not have been easy for Sarah or any of the Fairies Spring to manage that.
The Step-Sisters, Sean Stewart and Duncan Lyle, tried hard to steal the show and nearly did. Lyle’s hands-free swinging of the pearls around his neck was an especially fine display of talent. The problem with the Step-Sisters is that they’re not old men who are really having trouble dancing. They’re young men who can dance, whistle, and chew gum while juggling frying pans. Can’t ABT find some of its former dancers who are now old geezers to come in and do these roles like Ashton and Helpmann did – just for one cast, because we wouldn’t want to deny Sean and Duncan, or heaven forbid, Ken Easter and Tom Forster from their Tony-worthy performance opportunities.
Gabe Stone Shayer’s Jester was an uncooked performance, and at times, he looked like he didn’t want to be dancing the role. This character is where we most miss Luis Ribagorda who knocked it out of the ballpark with his brilliant dancing and full characterization last year. What a loss it was to Cinderella and much of the rest of ABT's repertoire when Luis walked out the door on his young legs.
The H.H. Pump Bump, a sparkling stiletto, goes to our newest Cinderella and our newest principal, Stella Abrera, with whom we're so looking forward to continuing her journey.
Tom Forster and Luciana Paris have been long overdue promotions to soloist, as well. Skylar Brandt, Cassandra Trenary, Arron Scott - all fine choices, too. Misty Copeland, well, let's hope she keeps working so that we don't always moan that she didn't deserve it.
When Carlos Acosta retires next season, we hope that the Royal Ballet will: 1) livestream the event worldwide for free, 2) figure out a way to set up a jumbotron in Havana so that the Cubans can watch, and 3) set up a jumbotron in the theater in London so that Carlos can see his homeland audience cheering. What a career this man has had. He truly belongs to the entire ballet world.
Haglund had a little breakdown Sunday night after realizing that the Carousel PdD, in which Carlos and the lovely Sarah Lamb had just danced their hearts out, was probably a goodbye. Their performance was so incredible and moving that Haglund wanted it to be the end of his evening. Some things are just too good to be followed; anything that came next was going to be a downer. So, he skipped The Age of Anxiety and headed home.
The Carousel PdD was created by Kenneth MacMillan for a 1992 revival of the Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical at the National Theatre. He died six weeks prior to the premiere. Even something as small as a PdD created for insertion in a musical could be a complete, stirring story on its own when left to the imagination and craft of MacMillan. Here Sarah Lamb as Louise, the daughter of Billy Bigelow, and Carlos Acosta as a carnival worker with the same tough likability as Billy, take up for a brief encounter – she's seriously looking for love, he’s not. He charms her; they dance; he walks away and breaks her heart. It’s such a simple, even ordinary story – a portrait to which nearly everyone can relate. But it becomes bigger than life on stage when painted with MacMillan’s huge, sweeping strokes of choreography that include dramatic exchanges and lifts that catch the climax of the musical phrases. It is all a perfect vehicle for Acosta’s tough charisma and Lamb’s delicate determination.
Haglund saw this cast twice and the alternate cast of Matthew Golding and Lauren Cuthbertson once. The alternate cast's interpretation was also very good but much safer dramatically.
This program included works by the Royal Ballet’s current lineup of in-house dance makers. All of the pieces were strong on concept and suggested that the choreographers have insight and skill – none of which was realized in the pieces presented. None of them seemed worth a second viewing although Haglund managed to sit through most of them three times.
Liam Scarlett’s The Age of Anxiety, set to Leonard Bernstein’s score which was inspired by W.H. Auden’s poem, is embarrassingly derivative and shallow. Choreography to Bernstein's music that shows three guys, including a sailor, in a bar who meet up with a 1940s game dame in a bright dress was fancy free of originality and Fancy Free imitation. Why on earth did the Royal Ballet bring this to New York?
The Aeternum Pas de Deux by Christopher Wheeldon should probably not be criticized so harshly because it was presented out of context. It may be that when surrounded by the rest of his full length ballet, it is illuminating. Here it wasn’t, and looked suspiciously like several other Wheeldon works that we have seen.
Wayne McGregor’s Infra, a multimedia-dependent unimaginative piece, continued to reveal the severe limitations of the choreographer’s vocabulary. He’s a science & math kind of guy, and we know that this and all of the Royal Ballet’s work is notated. So, we have an idea. How about going through the notation and measuring the frequency with which McGregor relies on splitting a woman’s legs to 180 degrees or farther. It is so prevalent that it begins to look like a speech stutter or insertion of meaningless filler-words in a conversation – like, you know, uh-uh-um, split. Measure the frequency of the other four moves that comprise most of the choreography and it all adds up to no new choreographic ideas imbedded in flashy production concept.
The lighting in this work and the horizontal transmission of LED figures walking calmly above while the dancers below engage in brutally forced extensions, gymnastic elements, and rapid arm minutiae convey the idea of the piece clearly enough. But it is repetitive and exactly what we’ve come to expect from Wayne McGregor. Someone should do the math for him so that he can see that he needs to expand his dance vocabulary instead of relying on expanding the women’s legs.
Calvin Richardson’s The Dying Swan, Alastair Marriott’s Borrowed Light, and Bronislava Nijinska’s Le Train bleu ‘Le beau gosse’ – three solos for men – looked like offerings from the contemporary competition at YAGP. Don’t try to get away with this kind of stuff unless you are Acosta or Baryshnikov, because its success depends on tremendous charisma that none of this weekend’s performers possessed. Thankfully, each piece was very brief.
Frederick Ashton’s Voices of Spring was included in this Divertissements section of the weekend rep program. It was very nice to see – mostly because it exhibited creativity and musicality that were missing from most of the other offerings.
Haglund loves the Royal Ballet and could not be more grateful for their visit to Lincoln Center. It seems they arrived wearing their best clothes and cape (Ashton and MacMillan) but unfortunately accessorized rather cheaply. Next time, hopefully they’ll go to the vault and bring out some of the fine jewels for us to see. And they need to find the courage to bring back Mayerling.
The weekend H.H. Pump Bump Award, one of pure class that never goes out of style, is bestowed upon Carlos Acosta who has brought us such joy and blockbuster performances throughout his career.