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Ballets about Ballet: Les Sylphides and Theme and Variations at ABT

The opening tableau in Les Sylphides. Photo by Gene Schiavone
The opening tableau in Les Sylphides. Photo by Gene Schiavone

At the Saturday matinee, ABT presented a program consisting of Fokine’s Les Sylphides, Stanton Welch’s Clear, and Balanchine’s Theme and Variations. The most interesting aspect was seeing the contrast between Sylphides and Theme. Two sumptuous works about the nature of ballet itself. I reviewed the show here.

A short excerpt: “In many ways these two works illustrate what we think about when we think about ballet. The first is a vaporous homage to the aura of mid-nineteenth century works like La Sylphide and Giselle. The latter, a luminous affirmation of the classical style, specifically the high classicism of the Russian Silver Age and its exemplary ballet, Sleeping Beauty.”

Of Princes and Swans

Herman Cornejo's curtain call on June 21. Photo by Leena Hassan.
Herman Cornejo’s curtain call on June 21. Photo by Leena Hassan.

There were several débuts in ABT’s Swan Lake this week. I caught two: the soloist James Whiteside (dancing with Gillian Murphy) and Herman Cornejo (alongside Maria Kochetkova, of the San Francisco Ballet). Cornejo danced to the manner born–he was put on this earth to play Siegfried, it seems. The only thing that has kept him back this long is the everpresent problem of finding a partner of his size who dances with the same panache and scale. Originally he was scheduled to perform with Alina Cojocaru, who just retired from the Royal Ballet. But she pulled out at the last minute (because of an injury, they say), and was replaced by Maria Kochetkova. In many ways, Kochetkova is just right for him, though she doesn’t seem to have the same open-heartedness or warmth. But who does?

Here is my review of both casts, for DanceTabs. 

And a short excerpt:

“Cornejo is in the flower of his career, and it was clear from his first steps on the stage that he was more than ready for the challenge. In fact, it was as if he had been dancing Swan Lake all his life. In the first scene, he flirted boyishly with one of courtiers (Luciana Paris), kissed her hand with budding ardor as if wondering, “could she be the one?” Just as clearly, one could read the disappointment in his eyes. His first-act meditation solo, full of aching arabesques and slow swivels with one leg curving behind him (renversés), was delivered as one long thought: “where is my true love? How will I find her?”

Maria Kochetkova and Herman Cornejo at their curtain call. Photo by Leena Hassan.
Maria Kochetkova and Herman Cornejo at their curtain call. Photo by Leena Hassan.

Alexei Ratmansky’s “Shostakovich Trilogy”

Diana Vishneva and Cory Stearns in "Piano Concerto," the third section of the "Shostakovich Trilogy." Photo by Gene Schiavone.
Diana Vishneva and Cory Stearns in “Piano Concerto,” the third section of the “Shostakovich Trilogy.” Photo by Gene Schiavone.

This ambitious new tripartite ballet, set to two symphonies and a piano concerto, all by Shostakovich, had its première at ABT over the weekend. It’s a fine work, sprawling and intense, abstract and full of stories and vivid stage pictures. An huge gift to the company, which shows itself in superb form. Here’s my review for DanceTabs.

And a short excerpt:

“What is most remarkable about the Trilogy is its range, combined with the interweaving of elements from one ballet to the next. Here is a world, Shostakovich’s world as seen by Ratmansky. Each piece has a distinct character, and yet the three clearly come from the same mind, and echo each other in various ways.”

And another striking image:

 

Part of the final tableau in "Chamber Symphony," the second part of Ratmansky's trilogy. Photo by Gene Schiavone.
Part of the final tableau in “Chamber Symphony,” the second part of Ratmansky’s trilogy. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

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.”

ABT Will Undertake Exchanges with RDB and Royal in 2013

The New York Times has announced that American Ballet Theatre will engage in dancer exchanges with London’s Royal Ballet and the Royal Danish Ballet. An intriguing prospect. Two of ABT’s most promising young dancers, Isabella Boylston and Cory Stearns, will take part. Boylston, who recently had a very auspicious début in “Swan Lake,” will perform in RDB’s Nutcracker next December, and Cory Stearns will go to the Royal Ballet, where he was once a student. (Stearns, a handsome, tall dancer—and excellent partner—has danced roles by Ashton, like Oberon in “The Dream,” with some distinction.) In return, ABT will get Steven McRae, a prized principal in London, and the very promising young  Alban Lendorf from Copenhagen. McRae gave a scintillating performance at Fall For Dance in New York two years ago; from that, and several sightings at screenings from the Royal, I can say that he seems like a very exciting dancer indeed: quick, a bit cheeky, noble when he needs to be, and full of wit. (He was excellent in a screening of Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardée last year.) He will dance the role of Lankendem in Le Corsaire at ABT next spring at the Met. Not a terribly interesting role, I should think, though it must be said that the company will be presenting a new production of Corsaire this year; I wonder if he’ll be in the same cast as Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev? Lendorf, prized for his buoyant jump and affable demeanor, will dance Prince Désiré in Sleeping Beauty, also during the Met season. It is hard not to think that such exchanges are a way to discourage  defections, which seem to be on the rise within the ballet world. Keep the dancers happy, help them grow, but also offer the audience new faces and a reason to come back to see ballets they’ve seen a million times already. Something for everyone, except of course for the younger dancers who might want to get a stab at the big roles. Nothing new there.

Yet another Nutcracker photo

Hee Seo and Cory Stearns in the grand pas de deux in the second act of Nutcracker. Photo by Gene Schiavone.
Hee Seo and Cory Stearns in the grand pas de deux in the second act of Nutcracker. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

This one is from Ratmansky’s version at ABT. Last night, Hee Seo and Cory Stearns danced the roles of “Clara, the Princess” and “Nutcracker, the Prince,” i.e. the adult avatars of Clara and her Nutcracker doll. I must say, each time I see this version, I like it more. Last night (Dec. 13) it looked tighter than ever, which is important in a production with so much detail. I still feel the stage of the Howard Gilman Opera House is a bit small and can look over-crowded at times (as in the party scene), but as the company settles into the intricate choreography (and relaxes into the acting, of which there is quite a lot), the ballet just gets richer and its intentions become more clear. The children’s individual personalities begin to shine through, and one notices all sorts of goings-on: last night I was amused by a little scene of flirtation going on by the staircase while the children opened their presents, as Vitali Krauchenka chatted up Katherine Williams, who kept bashfully looking down at her lap. I’m always amused by the fact that after the men get up from dinner, they are a little drunk, their hair disheveled. Last night, the snowflakes were right on the music, producing that special thrill when music and steps seem to come from the same impulse. The same goes for the three Russians (Mikhail Ilyin, Arron Scott, and Craig Salstein), who have honed their comical Russian Dance to a perfect “bit,” cutting their antics short just in time to take off into a series of repeated jumps that seem to say, “ta-da!” just as the music does. And talking about about timing, Roman Zhurbin’s is a thing of beauty; he can tell you everything you need to know about Drosselmeyer by the extra time he takes to embrace Clara, but also by the pacing of his entrance. Nothing is rushed or overly theatrical. And it helps that he moves like a dancer; his acting has elegance of shape and stillness when it is needed.

I’ve fallen completely in love with the dance for the Polichinelles; the kids do a kind of rocking saunter, then drop to the ground and crawl back through each other’s legs; then they hop  from side to side with one leg in attitude. It’s so simple, but it works. The Waltz of the Flowers is still hopeless; the flowers do so little dancing, and the four bees prancing on the melody are simply not funny, nor does the whole “funny” concept fit the mood. Maybe one day Ratmansky will change it?

But all is forgotten once the final pas de deux begins. The two children face their adult manifestations but they don’t see each other.  Each couple holds hands. The children slowly walk into an opening at the back of the stage, and the adults dance an emotional pas de deux; the heart catches. It’s also and extremely hard pas de deux, requiring lots of strength, enormous endurance, and some bravery (as when the man swings the ballerina around with her leg out to the side and just hopes that she’ll stay up). Last night, Seo and Stearns had a few flubs, but the feeling was right. A joy laced with awe and even a touch of sadness. Seo was luminous; Stearns looked at her with a love-smitten smile, as if assuring her that even if things did not go seamlessly, he would be there. And he was. It wasn’t perfect, but it was moving.