(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!