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October 31, 2013


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Since nobody else has commented upon this post, may I do so?

It might be useful, because this is my first submission to your page, if I provide the following background.

I am aged on the wrong side of 70. I could neither choreograph nor dance a single ballet step, let alone a complete ballet performance, if my life depended upon it. I have attended, however, hundreds of ballet performances over the years and both at home in Australia and in Europe and North America. I have, therefore, that form of knowledge that the enthusiastic and, as I must hope I can fairly say, the intelligent amateur acquires over time and by processes of trial and error and of thoughtful comparisons and contrasts.

For many years I have had the opportunity of making an annual visit to New York, normally for a month or so. I cannot do that in June and July and so cannot ever see ABT in its Spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House. I try, therefore, to make sure that I catch the annual Fall season of the company. During the current season I have seen all but a handful of performances and one of them was the opening night.

In offering some comments about that programme, I take as my starting point the simple proposition that classical ballet should be, above all things, beautiful: not artificial, chocolate box pretty, but beautiful in the sense of delighting the eye, of warming the heart and, most importantly of all, of lifting the spirit. I do not go to the ballet in order to be patronized, to be merely shocked, or to be lectured. I go in order to experience something better than the mundane challenges and miseries of the world beyond the theatre. I look for beautiful movement executed by people whose professional vocation is to conjure up beauty in motion; and I look for beautiful music complemented by beautiful staging.

Judging by those standards, I thought that two of the three ballets on opening night were excellent.

Theme and Variations begins with the huge advantage of a stirring and beautiful Tchaikovsky score. The ballet has no narrative, and in that sense does not actually go anywhere; but an aspect of the genius of a Balanchine is that such a ballet still manages, in his hands, to do all of the things that I earlier mentioned. The concluding scene, in particular, set to that marvellously rousing theme, and choreographed by someone who knew at first hand more than just a thing or two about the splendours of the Imperial Russian Ballet, gave me, at any rate, a real frisson of excitement.

Mr Gomes's piece was, to my eye, very disappointing. Like Theme and Variations, it was a non-narrative ballet that did not actually go anywhere in particular, but unlike Theme and Variations, it offered no arresting counterbalance. Surely it is time to shout from the metaphorical rooftops that there is no longer anything remotely novel, still less remotely shocking or even stirring, in having a group of semi-naked young men skitter about the stage in movements which owe more to classical gymnastics than to classical ballet. The costumes were ugly; the lighting did not make the dancers look handsome, as has been suggested in some quarters, but merely difficult to follow.

And so to The Tempest which I have seen, as at the time of writing, three times, twice with the original cast and once with the alternate cast.

I simply cannot fathom the disdainful commentary that I have thus far read about this piece. I knew of the Sibelius score but was wholly unfamiliar with it and I know of, but so far as I can recall, have never actually heard the Tchaikovsky version. I found the music attractive and wholly apposite to the steps choreographed to it. The music for Ariel and that for Miranda and Ferdinand are two examples that I found especially engaging.

This was, at long last one might add, a straightforward narrative ballet and I thought that it told the narrative simply and effectively. It is, I think, a fundamental misconception to assess this piece as though it were intended to be a rendering in classical ballet of Shakespeare's masterpiece. It seems to me that a fairer approach is to assess the ballet as a self-contained work that is but loosely modeled on the play.

I thought that the dancing, especially that of the principals, was uniformly splendid, especially in the case of the first cast upon the members of which the choreograpy seemed to me to have been specifically moulded. There is no space for more than two particular plaudits.

The first is for Mr Siimkin. The critic of the New York Times had some very haughty, indeed snippy, things to say about Mr Siimkin's dancing and I am in root and branch disagreement with them. It is no secret that Mr Siimkin is, for a premier danseur, both short of stature and comparatively slight of build. I can well believe that he does not find partnering an easy task, especially when it involves lifting a ballerina who is both tall and hefty. Those considerations are neither good nor bad, they are simply facts of Mr Siimkin's professional life. The question then becomes, surely, whether Mr Siimkin has gifts that transcend those unhelpful facts. In my view he certainly does.

I first noticed Mr Siimkin a couple of years ago when he danced a quite extraordinary solo in the ABT's Company B. I saw him in Paris in September last dancing in a programme of pas de deux by seven or so dazzling couples drawn from a number of leading ballet companies. He danced, with a splendid partner whose name, I am ashamed to say, I have forgotten, the great pas de deux from Stars and Stripes Forever. It deservedly brought down the house. In the concluding defile, he surpassed even that effort with a series of breathtaking steps that I can describe only as reverse twists in mid-air. It was not so much stand-out as knock-out. He was every bit as good in The Tempest. Exciting rather than merely flashy, and wholly in character. He deserved every decibel of the ovation that he received from the audience.

The second plaudit is a combined one for Miss Lane and Mr Gorak. They were, in my eye at any rate, not only proficient but profoundly moving. Their comparative heights and builds are superbly matched. They are both young, attractive, personable in stage presentation. If I were anyone of whom the ABT management would take any notice, I would be urging Mr Gorak's promotion to a status matching that of Miss Lane and thereafter their careful coaching and nurturing as a regular partnership. My own instinct, and of course I cannot put my point any higher, is that were the necessary time and trouble to be taken with these two wonderfully promising young dancers, then ABT would have in short order a star partnership well able to tackle, for example, Giselle.

Overall, I had an enjoyable evening. It has been followed by many more of the same, but they will have to await further posts.

I should add that I came upon this website purely by chance and while doing some research into ABT. I have enjoyed greatly reading your own posts and the comments of your followers.

Greetings, Mr. S. Thanks much for stopping by Haglund's Heel and for pointing out some of the positive aspects of Ratmansky's new ballet, The Tempest.

I hope you have had an opportunity to see The Moor's Pavane and Bach Partita this week, too. You may already be aware that ABT will bring Bach Partita and Ratmansky's wonderful Seven Sonatas to Brisbane next August.

The NYC locals take great exception to Daniil Simkin's PdD in Stars and Stripes because he alters the sterling choreography to accommodate his own tricks and doesn't dance it as Balanchine intended. His tricks bring the house down as you observed, but the Balanchine choreography is better than Simkin's own. The liberties that he takes are offensive to many who have worshipped the ballet for decades.

Like you, many people in this city are hoping to see Sarah Lane and Joe Gorak receive more meaningful opportunities, including Giselle. There is a backlog of wonderful and deserving dancers who are waiting to dance Giselle, but they aren't getting the opportunities to do so because of the elderly company members who cannot seem to let go of the role even when it's clear that they should.

Thank you again for writing, Mr. S. and for reading Haglund's Heel.

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