(photo of Marcelo Gomes and Veronika Part, by Gene Schiavone, taken from ballet.co.uk)
So ABT is in the midst of its week-long Balanchine-Tchaikovsky program, which began last night, after Monday’s opening night gala. I’ve gone to both performances thus far, last night’s and this afternoon’s.
Last night I was seated next to Irlan Silva — ABT studio company dancer, and movie star! (actually, I’d noticed his dancing before the movie; I was only drawn to the movie because it was about Brazil, and only when I was sitting there during the Tribeca Film Festival did I realize I’d seen one of the documentary’s subjects before!) Anyway, he seemed really polite and quiet, but then he applauded and hooted loudly during dancer bows, so is obviously very supportive. I like seeing dancers at performances; Julio Bocca wasn’t right about everyone when he said young people are too into their cell phones these days to watch and learn. And, today I saw Ashley Bouder (of New York City ballet), sitting in the front orchestra.
Also last night, on the way in I saw Laura Jacobs. I wanted to thank her for sending me an advance copy of her new novel, but she appeared to be engaged in conversation and I didn’t want to interrupt. I didn’t see her husband, but I assume Mr. Wolcott was there at some point since this was Veronika Part’s first full performance of the season, and as principal ballerina!
Anyway, first on was Allegro Brillante, danced by Ethan Stiefel and Gillian Murphy. Today it was danced by Xiomara Reyes and Daniil Simkin. I noticed both in this and in the two Mozartianas that I saw that there seems to be a difference between the way Russians and Americans (Latin Americans included) dance Balanchine.
The Russians are more expressive, more Romantic, the Americans more powerful, virile — for the men, more athletic, maybe modernist. Both Ethan and Daniil performed breathtaking jumps with the many beats of the feet, but then when they came down into a series of forward walking lunges, Ethan sliced through the air like a mad conductor, his flying blonde hair emphasizing the sharpness. Daniil was more graceful, and he’d bend his head toward a shoulder as he moved forward with the other arm, which gave a floating, Romantic air to his movement. It was still sharp and precise and he hit every beat perfectly, it just had a completely different feel.
The leads in last night’s Mozartiana were danced by Veronika Part, with Maxim Beloserkovsky, today by Maria Riccetto and Blaine Hoven. Max’s was a completely different character from Blaine’s. Max was careful to alternately flex and point his feet, so at times, when he jumped or hopped with a flexed foot, it made his dancing playful and teasing. It added a certain charm. He was a bit of a dandy. But I don’t mean it in a bad way; even if there was no narrative, he made a character out of that dance part. I didn’t see any of that with Blaine at all. Blaine was more focused on nailing the choreography, on doing all the movement perfectly, on giving it as much muscle and power and virility and athletic prowess as possible.
And ditto for Marcelo during the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, and when he and David Hallberg do Theme and Variations. It’s like the American men are trying to beat and conquer that incredibly difficult Balanchine choreography; the Russians are trying to amp up the emotional undercurrents as much as possible.
I don’t really have a preference for either; I rather like them both. It gives you a reason to go back to the ballet to see both approaches.
Okay, second on was Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. Last night were Marcelo and Paloma Herrera, today Misty Copeland and Jared Matthews. Oh my, I have to say right off, Misty NAILED it! The best I’ve ever seen, or at least since Ashley Bouder, in that role! Such speed and acuity and wit and just … speed! Everything she did had so much power to it. She’d come of a series of assisted turns and do a gorgeously full ronde that she took at half speed to emphasize. So gorgeously, deliciously full. So much control and lines extended to the fullest and spark and everything. I can’t say enough. The audience went nuts. I haven’t seen that kind of applause at a Wednesday matinee in a while, if ever. The guy next to me was clapping so loudly, he almost took my eardrum out; I’m not kidding. I had to plug one ear in his direction while I took notes. Robert Greskovic from the Wall Street Journal was sitting in front of us and, after the curtain fell and he turned around to go to the lobby for intermission, he recognized the guy and said something like, “so that’s who my enthusiastic neighbor is!”
Anyway, I love Misty, to put it mildly. Jared was good too, but I have to focus on her; I’m just so excited to finally have an allegro ballerina I adore. I can’t say enough about her.
The night before it was the man, Marcelo, who stood out. I wonder what they’d be like dancing this together. Marcelo, as always, was all power and virility and height on the jumps — and got mucho applause — and all chivalry and charm and romance on the partnering. During those fish dives toward the end, Paloma didn’t go throwing herself with wild abandon into his arms– I haven’t really seen a ballerina besides Ashley Bouder do that — Misty didn’t either, but when Paloma jumped and he caught her, he took her into that fish dive with such gusto I thought he was going toss her straight up toward the sky! How fun would it be to do fish dives with Marcelo
Third on was Mozartiana, Veronika last night, Maria Riccetto today. This isn’t my favorite ballet — far from it. It’s just too cutesy and syrupy sweet for me. I think Maria may have been a better stylistic fit just in terms of her body. She smaller — she’s actually quite tiny — I didn’t realize it until I saw her among the children in the opening “Preghiera” section — and that in itself kind of gave it a certain sweetness. I prefer Veronika in the more dramatic roles like Nikiya in Bayadere and Tudor’s forlorn women, and I can’t wait to see her in Swan Lake this year (which I missed last year) and La Sylphide (I wonder why they don’t have her cast in Giselle). She needs a tragic character she can really delve into so she can take us on her journey. Still, I always love the way her feet just pluck the floor. She has the strongest feet and legs of any ballerina I know of. I could watch that forever.
And then the program ended with Theme and Variations, last night the leads danced by David Hallberg and Michele Wiles, today by Sarah Lane and Cory Stearns. Hehe, last night just before the curtain rose, conductor Ormsby Wilkins lifted his wand and someone let out a ginormous sneeze. It echoed throughout the whole opera house. It was like he’d orchestrated the sneeze. Everyone laughed, then clapped. It took Wilkins a few moments to regain a straight face and begin again.
Anyway, this role is a real killer on the male lead. Even if you don’t know a thing about dance you can tell. With all those continuous corkscrew jumps, the jetes, the sets of pirouettes, then toward the end all that lifting of the ballerinas, all that crazy fast footwork requiring such precision. It always seems nothing short of a minor miracle when the danseur is able to lift the ballerina up into a sitting position on his shoulder at the very end. I would be so nervous if I was the liftee. After the guy’s been doing all that enervating movement and now he’s going to go hoisting you up and balancing you on his shoulder. It seems it’s almost never done completely perfectly, even if someone just slyly simplifies some of the footwork, takes out a few steps or turns a corkscrew jump into a pirouette or something.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter. It matters more how it looks overall, and David is always the perfect prince for this regal role. But last night, he wasn’t without his fumbles. On one of his bizillion lifts of Michele, he got her too close to his face and smashed her back into his nose. I think I’m the only one who saw though … since no one’s looking at the guy during the lifts of course. David’s so sweet; he always does this thing where he looks at his princess like he’s just in awe of her. He makes this O shape with his mouth, quite like a Standard ballroom dancer, interestingly. It’s like he’s always saying “Oh, oh, oh,” to her. I guess it’s a way to breathe too, a stylized way of breathing. It’s him and it’s cute though.
Today Herman Cornejo was supposed to dance the male lead but Cory Stearns had to replace him last minute. Very last minute; they didn’t even have time to put a little stick-in in the Playbill. Sarah’s so small, there was a real height difference — and I wondered why they didn’t have smaller Daniil fill in but then realized Daniil just danced. But the size difference didn’t really seem to make the partnering difficult. They danced very well together; he was a very good support for her and he showed her off well. He lost energy toward the end though and had a little fumble on the second-to-last corkscrew, but he wisely left out the final twisting-turning jump so he could do the shoulder-sit lift, which he did perfectly.