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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.”

Matthew Bourne and Sleeping Beauty, a Match Made in …Transylvania?

Dominic North (Leo, the gardener) and Liam Mower (as Count Lilac). Photo by Simon Annand.
Dominic North (Leo, the gardener) and Liam Mower (as Count Lilac). Photo by Simon Annand.

With Sleeping Beauty, Bourne completes his Tchaikovsky Trilogy. Not satisfied to delve into its plot, he has reconstructed the story and added some rather surprising supernatural elements. Does it work? Not really. Sleeping Beauty is not an easy work to stage–even ballet companies, following Petipa’s libretto, often fail. But by going hors-piste, Bourne is forced to make increasingly outlandish choices to keep the story on-track. The first act more or less works, but the second goes off the rails. Meanwhil, Tchaikovsky’s music (played in an overloud recording) is more or less trampled. Here’s my review, for DanceTabs.

The Return of “Namouna”

Sterling Hyltin and Tyler Peck in "Namouna, a Grand Divertissement," by Alexei Ratmansky. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Sterling Hyltin and Tyler Peck in “Namouna, a Grand Divertissement,” by Alexei Ratmansky. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Alexei Ratmansky’s Namouna, a Grand Divertissement, is back at New York City Ballet. And what a ballet it is: witty, intelligent, sophisticated, joyous, bubbling over with steps. If you haven’t seen it, you should. (It will be performed again on the evening of Oct. 10, and Oct. 12 at 2.)

I review it here, for DanceTabs. And here is a short excerpt from that review: “Some ballets improve with age, or, to be more accurate, our eye evolves and we learn to see them better. I remember being befudled at the New York City Ballet première of Alexei Ratmansky’s Namouna, A Grand Divertissement in 2010. By the second viewing, I had started to warm to its oddball charm. And by the end of that season, I was smitten. Tonight, revisting this ballet for the first time in three years, it was clear that it is the best new work the company has commissioned since, well, Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH (2008).”

Interview with Michaela DePrince (for DanceTabs)

Michaela DePrince and Sam Wilson of Dance Theatre of Harlem. Photo by  Matthew Murphy.
Michaela DePrince and Sam Wilson of Dance Theatre of Harlem. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

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.

Gala x 2: American Ballet Theatre

Opening Night Gala 2013American Ballet Theatre held its spring gala at the Metropolitan Opera House on May 13, kicking off the season. It included the usual mix of excerpts, but also full performances of Balanchine’s Symphony in C and Ratmansky’s Symphony No. 9. You can read my review for DanceTabs here.

And here’s a short excerpt:

“[Students from the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and members of the Studio Company] performed…a charmingly formal demonstration of classroom technique (Cortège)… Each dancer had a moment to shine. The students’ port de bras, soft and beautifully shaped, was a particular pleasure. It was funny to see the contrast between this formal demonstration and what followed: a display of just how un-classical today’s dancers can be. I wonder if the faculty shielded the young dancers’ eyes as Ivan Vasiliev tore across the stage like a panther and planted himself behind Xiomara Reyes, placing his hands on her waist with workmanlike focus….Vasiliev is no paragon of elegance, that’s for sure, but his sheer exuberance, and the power of his jumps and lifts, makes him an undeniable presence onstage. No-one does an overhead lift like Vasiliev; he seems to want to propel his ballerina into the stratosphere. If he could dislocate his shoulder to get her even higher, he would.”

Two Wheeldons, Queen Latifah, and a Tricky Dress: The NYCB Spring Gala (for DanceTabs)

Dear friends,

Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar in Balanchine's "The Man I Love." Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar in Balanchine’s “The Man I Love.” Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Here’s my latest for DanceTabs, a review of New York City Ballet’s spring gala, which included a new ballet, a pas de deux by Christopher Wheeldon, and the revival of an older work, Soirée Musicale, as well as excerpts from Who Cares, Stars and Stripes, Glass Pieces, and West Side Story Suite.

And a short excerpt:

“Considering the many distinctive works Wheeldon has given this company over the years…a Wheeldon première inevitably brings raised expectations. His newest piece, A Place for Us, turns out to be an extended pas de deux for two of the company’s most musical dancers, Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild. Both move with scintillating clarity mixed with a jazzy sense of all-American informality….In response to these qualities, Wheeldon has created a dance that has the feel of an improvisation, as well as an homage to the artful spontaneity cultivated by Jerome Robbins in works like Other Dances and A Suite of Dances.”
Questions, comments, and complaints  welcome!