After posting my interview with the great American ballerina Virginia Johnson (now artistic director of Dance Theatre of Harlem) on DanceTAbs, I heard from the young dancer Michaela DePrince. Ms. DePrince, who danced with DTH for a year, has since moved on to Dutch National Ballet’s junior company, based in Amsterdam. As many of you know, Ms. DePrince was born in Sierra Leone, under very difficult circumstances in the civil war there. She lost her parents at a very young age, and saw some horrific events while living at an orphanage, including the killing of her pregnant teacher. Adopted by a New Jersey family, she has thrived. She discovered her love of ballet early, and went on to study at the Rock School in Philadelphia, and then the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis school (affiliated with ABT) in New York. A few days ago, we chatted over email about her life, her training, and her career so far. The issue of racial inequality in ballet inevitably came up. It is her feeling (echoed by many others) that artistic directors are wary of taking non-white dancers for fear of upsetting the homogeneous “look” of the corps de ballet. It’s interesting, though, that in some countries, such as Cuba, this does not seem to be an issue. One of the great pleasures of seeing the Ballet Nacional de Cuba a couple of years ago at BAM, was seeing how mixed the ensemble really is, and what vitality this produces onstage. The company reflects the country; this, automatically, makes ballet seem of our time. You can read my interview with Michaela de Prince here.
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New York City Ballet went back to basics this week with its “Black and White” program. All Balanchine, all modernist ballets performed in pared-down leotards and tights: The Four Temperaments, Episodes, Duo Concertant, and Symphony in Three Movements. Here’s my review of the evening for DanceTabs.
And a short excerpt: “The program, a compilation of modernist ballets set to music by Webern, Hindemith, and Stravinsky that span three decades (1946-1972), is a kind of compendium of the choreographer’s most radical, game-changing esthetic. Its distinctive mix of courtliness, mystery, and eroticism still surprises. Not to mention its musical intelligence, which can make sense of a work as impenetrable – and as seemingly undanceable – as Anton Webern’s pointillist Opus 21 symphony.”
The “Black and White” program repeats on Sept. 28, Oct. 1, Oct. 4, and Oct. 13.
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.
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 .
I spoke with Carla Körbes of Pacific Northwest Ballet as she prepared for the company’s New York visit, Feb. 13-16 (at City Center). She’ll be dancing the role of Terpsichore in Balanchine’s “Apollo” and Juliet in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s version of Prokofiev’s ballet. Körbes was just as I had imagined her: laid-back, quick to laugh, warm, completely unguarded. These are some of the qualities that make her such a compelling dancer.
You can read the review here.
Q: What’s Terpsichore’s secret?
A: As Peter Boal says, the Muses have trained a lot of gods. I think she’s very wise and cool and looks down at Apollo like, “oh, he’s a baby,” but they do have a special connection. You know sometimes you meet someone and it’s just different. A special connection. I love Suzanne’s interpretation; she looks so cool, sort of like “ok little boy, here we go.”