AMERICAN BALLET THEATER'S PROKOFIEV PROGRAM

(Desir, photo by Cylla von Tiedemann, from ABT website)

On the Dnieper grew on me after seeing it the second time on Tuesday night, with the new cast, although I still generally preferred the first cast. If you missed my earlier post on Ratmansky’s new ballet, it’s here. Second cast was: Jose Carreno as Sergei the returning soldier; Hee Seo as Natalia, his betrothed; Diana Vishneva as Olga, the flirt who steals his heart; and Alexandre Hammoudi as Olga’s volatile fiance.

I absolutely loved Diana as Olga. She and Hee Seo, who was excellent as well, really drove home the ballet’s pathos and heartbreak. A BalletTalk poster said that with Diana, Olga became the central character and I think they’re right. Diana’s Olga was the most dynamic character in the whole thing; she really underwent a change in those mere 40 minutes. And it was believable. She starts out this carefree and careless flirtatious girl, frolicking around, teasing Sergei, teasing her boyfriend. And when her flirtatiousness with Sergei sets the whole disastrous string of events in motion — Sergei falls for her and she for him, her fiance has an emotional breakdown and beats Sergei, her parents are distraught, and she realizes what she and Sergei have done to poor Natalia — she really grows up, overnight, becomes a totally different person, takes responsibility for her actions. When she and Sergei bow to Natalia at the end in a prayer for forgiveness, before running off to their new life together, you feel equal heartbreak for both women.

Hee Seo and Veronika Part were equally compelling, although Seo seemed a little younger and more naive up front and I didn’t notice the holding out of the arms and the resting of the head on the shoulder like I did with Veronika. Jose, who’s generally ABT’s best actor I think (he never overdoes it; everything is authentic), was good as Sergei, but different from Marcelo. Jose seemed to be searching for something at the beginning, trying to rediscover his hometown with those short, staccato steps in each direction. His movements at the beginning were more modern than ballet, sharp and staccato at points, like he was unnerved that he didn’t recognize things or that things were different. (That kind of movement is more visible on a smaller body though.) Marcelo didn’t seem as sad or desperate up front. But then when torn between the two women, with Jose I  didn’t notice the back and forth of the jumps, this way and that, as I did with Marcelo. The jumps first to one woman, then the other, are my favorite Sergei movement trait, along with the throwing himself to the ground in anguish, almost like a half push-up.

Alexandre Hammoudi was a very different fiance from David Hallberg. Alexandre was quieter, especially up front, not seeming to realize the potential dangers of Olga’s flirtatiousness. He underwent a character change, like Diana’s Olga, then, becoming aggrieved and angry when he realized what had happened. David was more volatile up front, as if that was fundamentally part of the fiance’s character. Those extremely fast-paced steps during his anger scene were not as pronounced with Alexandre as with David. It looked more like he was kicking up leaves (which they had strewn on the ground); with David he was using those feet like daggers. David made such an impression with that character, and specifically that going nuts scene — I’m never going to forget it; I’m never going to forget that insane, almost terrifying, tap dance.

Okay, can I stop talking about this ballet now and focus on the other Prokofiev pieces?!

I generally wasn’t in love with Desir (photo at top of post) by James Kudelka, at least not as it was danced here. The movement is lovely and much of it original and the dancers are excellent but something was just lacking and I can’t figure out exactly what. It’s a ballet about several different couples, and I think my problem is that all the couples are basically the same, at least the way it’s being danced by ABT. With someone like Tharp or Robbins, different couples have different issues — there’s a romantic couple, a sexed-up couple, a fighting couple, etc. Here, the first two couples on first, dressed in fiery red — the women in long, flowing dresses that really whirl when they turn, the men in brown pants and long-sleeved colored tops —  both seem passionate and in love, all but Gillian Murphy from the first night’s cast, wearing bright smiles. But I don’t know if the happy smiles are supposed to be there. Some of the movement is rather chaotic. The woman seems to want to go one way and the man keeps turning her the other, mid-air. Gillian was the only one who made this dramatic, as if there was something not quite right going on between the characters. Apollinaire Scherr noticed that as well; read her very insightful comments on the whole program here (scroll down).

Then we move to a set of four couples, all dancing at once. My favorite part of the whole ballet is the men of these couples. At one point, men and women split and the men all dance together, followed by the women doing a group dance. When the men group dance in this way, each is doing his own thing — one jumping arms up toward the sky as if in ecstasy, another jeteing back and forth as if confused, another spinning himself into a whirlwind, etc. Then the women dance and they all do exactly the same thing — hold up their skirts and tip toe around, jump waving the skirts all about, all in unison, in sync. They’re all the same character — what does this say about men and women? Then, the couples pair up again, each man to a woman, and there’s one really funny part where the women stand still and the men do a bunch of high, twisty turning jumps,their limbs flying — as if to protest, “what’s up with that?,” “how can you say that to me?” It’s very funny, very evocative of real life relationships. The audience seemed to laugh louder on the first night though.

Still, in all, the couple who stood out to me the most is the more adagio one with all the beautiful lifts. The second night it was danced by Jared Matthews and Maria Riccetto, who were very good, but there was just something extra special about Cory Stearns and Isabella Boylston that really took my breath away the first night. Another performance I’m not going to forget.

And then Prodigal Son. This isn’t really my favorite ballet and I don’t honestly see how critics can trash Boris Eifman so and love this. What’s with all that fist-pounding on the thighs, the wide-mouthed screams at what, being asked to get water from the well with his sisters? How melodramatic is that? I know it’s a classic now, but I feel if it premiered today people would laugh and roll their eyes. Unless Balanchine meant for parts of it to be funny, like that up front melodrama, and the “sex” scenes. Anyway, read Apollinaire’s comments about Prodigal too, though; she made me appreciate it more, and talked about how certain dancers can play up the immaturity in those early thigh-pounding scenes so that it doesn’t look so full of melodrama.

Herman Cornejo as the son and Michele Wiles as the Siren danced the leads on opening night; Angel Corella and Kristi Boone the second night. Unfortunately I have to miss the third cast — the magnificent Daniil Simkin and the tantalizingly beautiful Irina Dvorovenko. If anyone sees them, please report! I’m dying to know how they do together!

Herman was excellent dance-wise. As expected, he nailed all those high-flying, angst-ridden jumps at the beginning. He danced a little more carefully than Angel, who had a minor slip at the beginning, then looked like he might fall on his way down that slide in the middle section. But I felt Angel delivered on the drama better; he took me through the emotions with him. The way he watched his Siren, he was like a little boy mesmerized. It made you mesmerized by her too. And then the way he danced with her — it was like an awkward, boy losing his virginity, sex scene. I’ve never seen it quite look like that before, though it’s probably supposed to! Then when he was robbed and left to die (Herman was really shockingly stunning  in this part too — he was a horrid sight, his body up there, leaning almost lifeless against the cross-like slide), and came crawling back home body all dirt-encrusted, then into his father’s arms, like a baby. It does end up being very emotionally compelling, silly as it is at the top. I’d like to see Herman in this later, after he’s had a few goes at it. I think if he could up the drama more, he’d be perfect.

Kristi so far has been my favorite Siren! This role I find a bit inherently awkward too — all that wrapping the long train of her costume around her legs, crouching to get it between her thighs. It almost always looks more weird than sexy, but somehow Kristi whipped the fabric around so fast, it was spellbinding, practically had a dominatrix feel. And then when she does those — what I call upside-down crab walks — where she’s on her hands and toe pointes, belly up and she walks past him develope-ing her legs up with each step, spider-like — most dancers kick straight up, but Kristi’s developes went all the way back, practically to her chest. It looked so much more tantalizing than I’ve seen that before. Kristi’s pointed toes are so pronounced, her feet practically look like ensnaring sickles — she probably has a better Siren body than anyone (except for maybe Veronika Part — I wonder if she’ll ever be cast?)

Okay, I’m done. Sorry I keep writing so much! If anyone sees the Daniil / Irina Prodigal cast, please let me know!

7 Comments

  1. I loved Kristi as the Siren, too. For me, that made the ballet worthwhile, and, yes, I liked Angel as the Son.

    I have mixed feelings about Dnieper. It could be that I didn't see the best cast. I don't want to take up too much space with my ramblings–I don't really know how to write about dance–but I found the piece a strange hybrid. There were so many people on stage, and yet the piece was quite short. I was contrasting Dnieper in my head with something like Limon's “Moor,” which shows incredibly dramatic tension with only 4 people. I felt like all the extra parts and dancers in Dnieper diluted the emotion for me. I don't feel this way with something like Giselle, where there is enough time to “absorb” a large cast. Also, the set crowded the stage for me and made it smaller somehow. I felt claustrophobic.

    I was also really irritated with Alistair McCauly's criticisms of the staging. I generally don't worry about the staging. But to be honest, I had difficulty “seeing” the dancers because of the colors. The lead's green uniform blended into the floor too easily, so his moves didn't stand out. I love cherry petals, but again, something about the colors made it hard for the movement to pop out. I can't believe I'm complaining about something like this, but it bothered me.

    I liked the choreography, but left Dnieper feeling like I wanted to see something else by the choreographer, and not necessarily the same piece again.

    Oddly, though, I LOVED Desir. I loved Gillian Murphy, but it was Hee Seo, who danced in the 4th movement, who really impressed me. She danced with Marcelo Gomes and both were absolutely fearless, and just so emotional–the way he held on to her foot. Beautiful pairing,

    Finally, it does occur to me just how much the dancers can affect a performance. What if I had seen your casts of Dnieper and Desir? I might feel differently about both pieces.

  2. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Hi Marie — thank you for commenting! I love long comments! It's interesting how you found the number of people onstage distracting. I had some of the same thoughts and then I read Apollinaire (“Foot in Mouth” blogger who I linked to in the post) and she mentioned that, surmising that all the family members / friends, etc. were there to show how in Soviet society, one's individuality was so curtailed. Your actions are never fully your own and you often have to succumb to the larger group in terms of meeting your individual needs. It was so odd how people kept poking their heads over fences, the boy and the girl's parents were so involved in everything — the stage was really crowded. You should read Apollinaire's blog too, by the way — she's very astute and is critic for the Financial Times, among other places — and I think you'd like her.

    I didn't notice the green suit blending in, but then I had Marcelo as the lead (on the first night at least) and that may be because he's such a large man, he never blends in :) I love Marcelo — overall my favorite dancer! I can only imagine how he and Hee Seo must have danced together in that 4th movement in Desir! I bet they totally made that ballet! I had Cory Stearns and Isabella Boylston in that role the first night and they're a younger, more up and coming pair of dancers – but they did beautifully with that part. Marcelo is a big guy and he can really lift the women high — it is always so beautiful to watch his partnering.

    And I loved Hee Seo when I saw her — I didn't see her in Desir but she was Natalia in the second Dnieper cast I saw. Veronika Part is one of my favorite dancers in the company and she was in my first cast and I never thought another dancer would add up to her (in my mind!) but Hee Seo really blew me away; I ended up liking her just as much. They have different bodies and so looked differently in the role, but both danced that role with such passion and such intensity — they were equally brilliant. I think she is still a corps member — I'll have to check — but she is definitely one to watch for the future!

    I think casts do make a big difference. I think all of the dancers at ABT are technically excellent but they have different dramatic and expressive abilities, and sometimes, with certain choreography, different bodies just give the work a different look. I know with Marcelo, practically anything he's in is going to be enjoyable to me. He is very dramatic, quite the actor, and his size just seems to give everything an added dimension. And, as I said, he excels on the partnering.

    You should definitely see more by Ratmansky. New York City Ballet usually performs his Concerto DSCH, which is very good, and very different from Dnieper. They're getting ready to end their season, but I'm sure they'll be performing it when they start up again in the winter. And, Ratmansky's the new resident choreographer at ABT, so I'm sure he'll have at least one new piece in their fall season at City Center.

    Thank you for the very thoughtful comment, Marie!

  3. Just read Apollinaire's thoughts on Dnieper; I fully agreed with the following (and actually had tried to say the same thing).

    “Finally, On the Dnieper (I know, you've been waiting): I thought Ratmansky did the best he could–which at times was a great deal–with a story that was too emotionally complex for a short ballet (it's 40 minutes) and with music–winsome, striking music– that seemed to work against the story it was supposed to tell.”

    The story needed as much time as, say, Giselle, to be told and for the characters to be developed, but he did the best he could. It felt hurried and cluttered to me, but I understand why the other characters were there. It just felt cramped. And, of course, who could miss the meaning behind the two lovers going off to a life where they wouldn't have parents and friends watching over them all the time? Ratamansky isn't the first Russian to come here to dance, but home must feel far away, and that must be freeing to some degree. Can't wait to see what he does next season.

    As for Desir–I really wish you had both seen Hee Seo and Marcelo Gomes. They really exceeded the ambitious choreography. I am so curious to see her Juliet in July.

    And don't forget Philadanco at the Joyce!

  4. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Yes, I agree with both of you — I do think the story is complicated and in order to show the full character development it needs to be much longer. I thought Diana Vishneva did the best job trying to create a dynamic character, having her undergo a real change from flighty silly girl to adult woman who learns to take responsibility for her actions and empathize with another's heartbreak. But I still think the ballet needed more time to tell its full story and create more rounded characters. It did feel very rushed and cramped.

    I will definitely look forward to seeing Hee Seo in Romeo and Juliet too!

    I haven't seen Philadanco — will look into it! Thanks Marie!

  5. I've had the great chance to see Daniil Simkin and irina Dvorovenko in the Prodigal Son-they were both absolutely OUT of this world wonderful, I'm glad Mr. Simkin has replaced for the night Mr. Cornejo. For me, after PS the rest of the show – desir, Dnieper went totally downhill, but that's just me, and my European formation perhaps…

  6. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Thank you Julia — I knew they'd be fantastic together! I love both of them and am so sorry I had to miss them. I love Simkin :)

  7. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Thank you Julia — I knew they'd be fantastic together! I love both of them and am so sorry I had to miss them. I love Simkin :)

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