Hipsters at the Ballet, and a New Work from Justin Peck

Justin Peck’s In Creases had its New York première on  May 29, which turned out to also be the latest installment of New York City Ballet’s “Art Series” events. Tickets were cheap, and the audience was filled with a far different crowd that included even the odd hipster. After the show, the company held a party on the esplanade. The atmosphere was lively.

Here’s my review of the evening for DanceTabs.

And here is  a short excerpt:

“Peck has a sharp eye and lots of ideas, and, more importantly, his ballets feel uniquely his. He has his own style of movement: light, crisp, energetic, with lots of energy shooting outward, arms extended, fingers alive, legs shooting, feet like daggers. In a brief curtain speech, Peck said that the work was about “symmetry, athleticism, and magnetism,” and that’s precisely what one sees.”

A Few Don Q Pics

Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo in "Don Quixote" at ABT. Photo by Gene Schiavone.
Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo in “Don Quixote” at ABT. Photo by MIRA.
Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in Don Q. Photo by Gene Schiavone.
Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in Don Q, also at ABT. Photo by Gene Schiavone.
Reyes and Cornejo in the final act. Photo by MIRA.
Reyes and Cornejo in the final act. Photo by MIRA.
Vasiliev executes an arabesque on demi-pointe, while holding Osipova overhead. Note the expression of the boy on the stairs.... (Photo by MIRA)
Vasiliev executes an arabesque on demi-pointe, while holding Osipova overhead. Note the expression of the boy on the stairs…. (Photo by Gene Schiavone.)

Come Home Charley Patton, a Review (The Nation)

Ralph Lemon in Come Home Charley Patton, Photo by Eric Stone, appeared in Bomb Magazine.
Ralph Lemon in Come Home Charley Patton, Photo by Eric Stone, appeared in Bomb Magazine.

I recently reviewed Ralph Lemon’s new book, “Come Home Charley Patton,” in The Nation. The memoir/travellog is a companion piece to his theatrical work of the same name, and is full of Lemon’s delicate cartoons, photographs, and endless lists of notes from the rehearsal process. It’s an occasionally engrossing, frustrating read. Here’s a link to the review.

And for those who can’t access the link, here is a pdf of the piece.

When More Becomes Less—Notes on Don Q

I still remember the excitement of watching Natalia Osipova in her first Don Quixote with ABT, back in 2010. She danced with José Manuel Carreño, who was no longer at the top of his game, but still one of the most appealing leading men in the business, and certainly no slouch. (His turns were especially thrilling, I remember, beautifully controlled and embellished with all sorts of curlicues with his free leg.) I remember the look on his face as he leaned against a banister watching Osipova streak through the air. “Damn,” he seemed to be thinking, “this girl can jump.”

Last night, Osipova performed with her regular partner, Ivan Vasiliev, now also a fixture at ABT. It’s strange. My reaction to his dancing changes from performance to performance. I admire his vitality and fearlessness. His inhuman leaps move me, as does his intense desire to please. He’s generous, powerful, and he works terribly hard. But the more one sees him dance the more one becomes aware of certain serious limitations. The shapes he makes in the air are undefined and inelegant; he doesn’t point his feet; his knees are bent when they should be straight; he doesn’t bother to turn out his legs most of the time. His turns are an exercise in perseverance, in which he substitutes the elegant verticality of placement—which he doesn’t have—with the effort of abdominal strength. When dancing in a group, he often marks or fudges the steps. Seeing him struggle to keep up during the third movement of Symphony in C last week was fascinating, and not in a good way. It became terribly clear to me that certain swathes of the ballet repertoire are almost foreign to him.

Don Quixote isn’t Balanchine, but it has its own integrity and its own brand of charm, broader for sure, but still. It’s not a dog-and-pony show. Watching Herman Cornejo and Xiomara Reyes (or Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland on tape) one sees how it is possible to make a world come alive onstage, with sophistication and style. Reyes, who is over forty and not particularly dazzling in her technique, can still do a satisfying Kitri, within certain limits. She does unembellished fouetté turns, but stays right on the music. Cornejo is something else: a dashing virtuoso who sacrifices nothing in the pursuit of bravura. Each jump is like a series of photographs; his turns, which he has clearly amped up for speed this season, are easy and clean, feet rigorously pointed, legs elegantly extended, balance held just a bit longer than one expects. He’s even looking taller these days, an illusion created by the weight and extension of his movement.

Last night’s (May 25) performance by Osipova and Vasiliev was a different beast, and, despite the virtuosic feats and the roars of applause, it felt rather sad to this ballet lover. Because the truth is I got the feeling that Osipova and Vasiliev are rather bored with Don Q. They’ve done it all before. What is left is the urge to do more, to add extra tricks in order to keep the audience satisfied. To hold an overhead lift forever, while also balancing on one leg in arabesque. More turns, at a faster clip. Fouettés augmented by double and triple turns. Cabrioles in which the legs not only thwack, but also split open between one thwack and the next. Five-hundred-and-forty-degree barrel jumps at the drop of a hat, in both the first act and the last. Jumps with see-sawing legs, causing the upper body to judder. The elimination of pretty steps—like the delicious diagonal of pas de chevals in Kitri’s harp solo—for the purpose of cramming in yet more lightning-fast turns. Outrageous eye rolls and comic-book faces meant to “spice up” the (already broad) comedy. Treating Minkus’s upbeat score, with its mix of Spanish dances, like the jota and the zingara, as simply a series of drumrolls announcing the next attraction.

I’m not denying the duo’s talent, mind you: Osipova’s preparatory jumps shoot higher than the ballon most men can attain in their biggest leaps, and she seems to have no weak points at all, technically speaking. (Her acting, too, is energetic.) Both she and Vasiliev have stirred me in the past, together and separately. Who can blame them for growing tired of being asked to outperform themselves, time after time? But last night’s performance of Don Q was proof that big jumps, fast turns, and oodles of charisma do not a fun time guarantee.

On a brighter note: Aléxandre Hammoudi was a hilarious and dashing torero, displaying just the right amount of irony in this throwaway role. With what flair he flipped his cape, sliding the edge over his shoulder for extra effect, turning this minor flourish into a real event. And how he arched his back, rising high on his toes—those feet!— to create a sensual, Spanish curve, flashing his dark eyes. Finally, it looks like this young dancer might be coming into his own.

Now this was panache.

Alexandre Hammoudi as Espada in ABT's Don Q. Photo by Renata Pavam, first appeared in the Huffington Post.
Alexandre Hammoudi as Espada in ABT’s Don Q. Photo by Renata Pavam, first appeared in the Huffington Post.

Carousel Redux (at NYCB)

Overall, I found the ballet blander than I remembered. The pas de deux is  lovely, with hints of danger and a slightly obsessive quality. Lauren Lovette, débuting in the “Julie Jordan” role at New York City Ballet, captured this sense of excessive abandon quite well. At first she seems frightened and tries to run away from this strange man who pursues her, but then she finds herself drawn in inexorably. Finally, she acquiesces entirely, running toward him and wrapping herself around him like a scarf, chest exposed, off balance, completely vulnerable. In her excessive self-exposure, “Julie” reminds me of Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass. A rather conventional swoony pas de deux follows, with the usual big lifts. The first part is more interesting, more uncomfortable. Why does the man grasp her forearms with such force, and why does she keep running back to him? Why does he leave her alone, defenseless, for a moment? Lovette, a dark beauty with sparkling eyes, was perhaps a touch too innocent, too sweet here. Her interpretation felt like an extension of her Maria, from West Side Story. But I’m sure she’ll find more nuances over time. I remember Peck having a strange sort of animal quality; at first she fought for her freedom, and then she seemed to give in to an urge that even she couldn’t quite understand.

But the main problem with the  ballet is the Billy Bigelow part. In the musical, he’s depicted as an angry man with violent urges and a strong sexual energy. He’s damaged goods, but fatally attractive.  But Wheeldon’s choreography for Billy gives him almost no chance to reveal himself. Billy comes across as more of a conventional romantic lead. For the most part, Wheeldon keeps him occupied with partnering, pulling, lifting, turning, catching the girl. Or standing apart, under a spotlight and watching her as concentric circles revolve around him. Finally, when he does dance alone, briefly, the choreography doesn’t give us a sense of who he is or what he represents.  He performs a few jumps, some turns with his arms thrown out wide, and rushes about the stage with what looks like elation. Of course, it’s also true that there is absolutely nothing dark or dangerous about Robert Fairchild, who danced the role of Bigelow this afternoon. (In the recent New York Philharmonic production shown on Live from Lincoln Center it was equally hard to believe that Fairchild could be anything but a warm, lovely young man.) His dancing here had a lot of fervor but no real heat, and I do remember Woetzel having a bit more of an edge.

Wheeldon’s ensembles, which consist mainly of social dances and waltzes, interspersed with fluid, elegant lifts, are expertly handled, as are the big numbers, including  a long diagonal of couples that rise up and fold down to the ground and roll away, like a wave. The carousel image, with the women raised on the men’s shoulders as if on horseback, is nice. As is the overall look of the  ballet, suggesting a nocturnal outdoor dance pavilion, with two pretty garlands of colored lights hanging above. The costumes, stretchy summer dresses with panels in complementary colors (by Holly Hynes),  flow beautifully as the women whirl. And I’ve always liked  “Julie’s” yellow dress; the off-the shoulder straps expose her neck and upper back, making her look even more vulnerable, ripe for the picking.

Cornejo’s Time

Saw Herman Cornejo last night in Don Quixote, at ABT. He and his Kitri, Xiomara Reyes, were celebrating ten years as principals with the company. I was struck by how much he has matured as an all-around stage presence in the last couple of years. Not only does he dance with precision and deep musicality (that’s not new), but he’s able to be fully himself onstage, engaged, warm,  generous. He’s dashing without being flashy, in the fine tradition of Julio Bocca, Ángel Corella, and José Manuel Carreño (though he still lacks their instinctual partnering finesse). He has also refined his physique; despite being quite small, his lines are long. You would never mistake him for a simple “jumper.”

Here’s a video of the Basilio variation from a performance in Argentina last year (unfortunately it doesn’t show him from close-up):

And an interview from Misiones, Argentina, which shows his engaging personality, which shines through onstage:

And here’s an interview with Cornejo I did for DanceTabs .

Revisiting “Carousel, a Dance”

I’m off to see Christopher Wheeldon’s “Carousel, A Dance,” set to music from the bleak Richard Rodgers Musical. I wonder how I’ll feel about it after not having seen it for a few years? I still remember Damian Woetzel and Tiler Peck in it. It was the first ballet in which I thought: “there’s more to this girl than pyrotechnics.” Today, the cast is led by Lauren Lovette and Robert Fairchild. Here’s the pdd, danced by Carla Körbes and Seth Orza:

Ashton in Love: “A Month in the Country” at ABT (for DanceTabs)

Hee Seo and David Hallberg in Ashton's "A Month in the Country." Photo by Marty Sol.
Hee Seo and David Hallberg in Ashton’s “A Month in the Country.” Photo by Marty Sohl.

This week, between Cranko’s “Onegin” and the rip-roaring “Don Quixote,” American Ballet Theatre performed a triple bill including Ashton’s late ballet “A Month in the Country.”  I saw two casts, with Julie Kent and Roberto Bolle in one, and Hee Seo and David Hallberg in the other. Here’s a link to my review for DanceTabs .

And a short excerpt:

“In forty-five minutes and with the assistance of Chopin (and, indirectly, of Mozart), Ashton has taken the heart of the Turgenev play and turned it into a series of tender miniatures. With great skill, wit, and love, he sews them together (with ribbons) into a portrait of a sentimental married woman experiencing pangs of longing for a young man, but also of her comfortable little world and the emotions that turn it topsy turvy. Russia, by way of the Cotswolds.”

A little tribute

…to Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo, on their tenth anniversary as principals with ABT. In the May Playbill.