First, the best.
(all photos from ABT website; this pic’s of Herman Cornejo, Sascha Radetsky and Jose Carreno)
Last night marked the debut of one of my favorites, David Hallberg, in Jerome Robbins’s “Fancy Free”, a short but sweet ballet about three loveably cocky sailors on shore leave vying for the attentions of only two ladies, and who, due to their silly preening competitiveness with each other, don’t fare so well.
This was an interesting role for David because he’s usually either the ethereal, lyrical type or the noble prince. He hasn’t been assigned a part with a real comical acting job before, that I know of anyway. He actually brought his dreamy, head-in-the-clouds romanticism with him to this role and it worked really well. And, I’ve never noticed the Fred Astaire-ish “tap dancing” steps so vividly. Oftentimes, the sailors all kind of blend into each other. Here, each had his own personality, which is the way it should be. David’s sailor was the romantic, sandwiched between Craig Salstein‘s show-off, jumping-jack of a funny guy who tries to wow the girls by performing such feats as jumping off the bar into a splits, and Jose Carreno‘s cool, hip-swaying, macho dude who fancies himself (wrongly of course) Mr. Seduction. (The way Jose grabs his dazed girl and forces her into a “romantic” tango is beyond funny; it’s like Pepe Le Peu tango.) David’s sailor initially tries to impress his girl with tall tales of military feats he hasn’t performed, but soon realizes, what the heck, he’d really rather just dance with her. Showing off is just not his thing, and he’s almost forced into performing his little solo by the other two, which, after finishing, he ends up at Gillian Murphy‘s feet, lying on his stomach, head propped up in his hands, dreamily gazing into her eyes. Sweet!
Anyway, those three guys were a good end to a rather blah night.
More notably, the evening also marked the company debut of Twyla Tharp’s “Baker’s Dozen.” I sat in the Front Gallery, which is way up at the top of the City Center auditorium. They rarely open this area, especially for dance performances, but ABT was so sold out, they were forced to create some more space. Though I could see David and his marines okay, I don’t think it was generally a good place for viewing dance. Jorma Elo’s “Close to Chuck,” showed for the second time, and from all the way up there, the backdrop of Close’s gorgeous self-portraits was almost entirely obscured.
Anyway, back to Tharp: this was my first time seeing “Baker’s Dozen,” and I thought it was a fun jazzy little number. It involved an ensemble of 12, all dressed in egg-shell-colored jazz clothes (pictured above, with Isaac Stappas and Kristi Boone dancing). Nothing was on pointe, only jazz shoes were worn, and the piece — broken down into five parts all danced to Willie Smith music — varied between the playful and the lyrical. At times dancers would run up behind each other, tease with a shoulder-tap, leap-frog over each other. Craig Salstein (the poor man danced in three of the four ballets performed: I don’t know how he was still standing at the end of the evening), the best actor of the bunch, was constantly cajoled by a woman who repeatedly jumped on his back unexpectedly. He’d carry her off, she riding over his shoulders childishly flexed-footed, almost playfully piggy-back but upside-down, he with a sadly funny, hopelessly wearied frown. But then he’d return dashing across the stage with crazed high jumps, almost drunk on his freedom, however temporary.
The problem was, Craig was the only real actor of the bunch, and Tharp’s work methinks requires very good acting skills. Isaac Stappas and Sarawanee Tanatanit impressed as well, but they still didn’t have Craig’s level of comedy, and the rest of the company just kind of seemed to be going through the motions, not really giving the piece their all. Maybe that’s to be expected since it’s their first time with it, though. I have high hopes they’ll get more into it the more they perform it.
And then there was Marcelo‘s Sinatra in Tharp’s lovely, ballroomy “Sinatra Suites.” I fell in love with this piece last year this time when I saw Marcelo dance it. For some reason, it didn’t have the same magic for me this time around. I’m not really sure why. Perhaps, this is where I really needed to be down lower in the theater. I couldn’t see his face very well at all, and, like I said, Tharp requires a real acting job. But maybe he just wasn’t that on, either, which is unusual for Marcelo. Or maybe my expectations were so high because of last year. Or maybe it was … Argh .. maybe it was
this damn DVD!!! I’d fallen so head over heels in love with the ballet last year that I: bought the DVD, in which Baryshnikov and Elaine Kudo dance the piece; insisted my ballroom teacher incorporate some of the lift sequences into a Foxtrot showcase I was working on; and, in preparation for said showcase, I then watched the blasted Baryshnikov DVD what must’ve been well over a hundred times, because I realized last night, I really have that thing memorized. Not good. I have to say, I do think when you know something too well, your spectating enjoyment is just diminished. All I could see were the things Baryshnikov and Kudo did that were not quite as smooth here, the tricks that weren’t quite as fancy, the difficult drags and pulls that went on for too short of a time, unlike B&K’s longer, extended ones, the little cheeky lifts where she is bent over butt up under him, between his legs, and he bends down and lifts her up toward his crotch, upside-down — it’s a very funny and contorted lift, but B&K did a few ups and downs, here there was only one. And, like, at the end of the third song, “That’s Life,” after he’s been a cocky, gum-chewing shithead treating her like crap throughout, and she angrily runs at him, throwing herself like a cannonball and he catches her in his arms but at the very last minute, surprising the both of them and the audience, and showing that she can really make him her slave if she wants: well, Baryshnikov was looking the other way when he caught her as she flew at him, so he surprised even himself. Marcelo looked back at her while she took her running leap, both making the trick not as extravagant (since he knew when she was going to jump because he was watching her) and dissipating his degree of cockiness since he was actually paying some attention to her. Which in a way is good really. Marcelo’s a nice guy; it’s hard for him to load on too much swagger His Sinatra is simply different than Misha’s. And what am I even saying? I mean, I’m faulting Marcelo for not dragging his woman across the floor like a sack of potatoes for long enough, not lifting her by the butt like a naughty child enough times, and paying her some attention … what’s wrong with me? Hmmm… I don’t know. Just don’t watch a DVD of someone else doing something a million times and then go see your favorite do it live. Others loved it: the audience downstairs went wild and I even heard some “Yeah!!!s” so it wasn’t just polite applause. Okay, no more DVDs. At least not when I have access to a live Marcelo. If you don’t have access, however, to a live Marcelo, or a live Jose, or an Angel, or a Herman, do buy the DVD of Misha — it’s gorgeous!