BATTLE OF THE BLONDES: ETHAN STIEFEL'S SWAN-CHASING SIEGFRIED AND DAVID HALLBERG'S SEXY SINISTER SORCERER!

Ethan Stiefel, Rosalie O’Connor photo, from TONY.

Too much fun at American Ballet Theater’s Swan Lake last night. I was so happy Ethan performed. He was injured early in the season and has been replaced in about everything he’s been scheduled for, so I was half expecting there to be an announcement someone else would be filling in, but happily not!

Designbyhumans graphic, taken from here.

First, I just have to relate the most obnoxious thing I think I’ve ever seen an audience member do, which happened last night. After the fast, fun bravura-heavy Black Swan pas de deux, this man from, it sounded like a box at the top, shouted, and I mean SHOUTED, obviously for everyone to hear, that we should all be quiet and hold our applause until the dancers are done. Most people were astounded, some gave a bemused little laugh, some started clapping but I wasn’t sure whether they were applauding his suggestion or mocking him. Wow, that poor hyper-sensitive person should definitely not go to Russia or Cuba or places where people show their enthusiasm for dance more overtly. In any event, I’m pretty sure there are no formal rules of conduct on audience applause here. NOR FRIGGING SHOULD THERE BE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! I remember ABT used to have a little page at the beginning of the Playbill asking audience members to please be aware of their neighbors: if they have kids to make sure the kids aren’t kicking the seats in front of them or screaming or what not; no eating in the auditorium; silence all cell phones; etc. — things like that. I haven’t seen that page this season but I don’t remember any rules about when an audience is supposed to applaud.

The other day, the same thing happened, but on a less obnoxious level. I think it was during Sylphide and people clapped before Daniil Simkin had finished his variation and this guy next to me loudly and angrily whispered to all people within earshot of him to wait until Simkin finished.

I think people really need to calm down and let others be and not be so blasted controlling. I know some serious New York City Ballet fans are angry about all the “new audience” conduct and I am as well when that conduct includes checking cell phone messages and texts right during the performance (as a worrying number of young people do these days), freely talking to their neighbors throughout, bringing their own little picnic dinner to the Koch Theater and munching all through the performance, or worst of all taking flash pictures during the performance. They should be reprimanded by the ushers for doing such things, in my opinion. But when someone has an emergency coughing problem (like I sometimes do thanks to season-long allergies that come and go) and they need to take out a lozenge or take a sip of water, and they’re trying to be as quiet as possible while doing so, you just can’t get mad at that. And there was a discussion last year on The Winger where some commenters were outraged at what people were wearing to the ballet — pants, jeans, t-shirts, etc.

I think we all need to be considerate of one another, but I think we must be tolerant of one another as well and let everyone be human. Ballet companies are trying to grow their audiences — I don’t think they want to set rules on what people can wear and when they can applaud and warn them not to have an emergency allergy or else. If they do, then let them put the ground rules up front. They might want to seriously consider saying something about message checking though because a good number of people seem to think that’s okay — I don’t think they realize how brightly that little screen lights up and what a distraction it is to those around them. But in the meantime, until the dance companies figure out how to let audiences know what’s okay and what’s not, let’s just all respect each other.

I mean, absolutely no one has any place making up rules himself and then screaming them out at the whole audience during the performance. That was beyond ridiculous.

Okay diatribe finished!

Ethan with girlfriend Gillian Murphy, as Siegfried, she as Odette. I think the photo’s by Fabrizio Ferri. In any event, it’s taken from here.

So Ethan seemed pretty much, though maybe not completely, back in his usual excellent form. Maybe it was just me but I was a bit worried every time he jumped, especially when he landed on one leg, because I know he’s had the continuing problem with his knees. He seemed perfectly fine though. And his turns were excellent — he used them to show confusion and anguish up front when his Siegfried wasn’t so enamored with the ladies he was being presented with or his mother’s insistence he choose a bride now. He acted the part well. One thing I really love about him is how, after he became enamored of Paloma’s Odette, he’d run after her as fast as he possibly could, a speed demon, like if he didn’t catch her his life would crumble. I think Ethan’s the fastest Swan-chaser of a Siegfried I’ve seen :)

Photo of Paloma Herrera from ABT website.

I really liked Paloma Herrera as Odette/Odile. She was one of the most dramatic Odettes I’ve seen and she used mime to excellent effect — her gestures really related what had happened to her and were very accessible, even to someone not schooled in ballet mime. I think she told Odette’s story to Siegfried better than any other ballerina I’ve seen. She was also very athletic — during the Black Swan pas she was just a blur when she did those turns around the perimeter of the stage. And during the fouette sequence, she threw in triple pirouettes between practically every fouette. She didn’t do the arms like Gillian Murphy, but her multiple pirouettes were stunning.

David Hallberg as von Rothbart stole every scene he was in. At the very beginning, when Paloma first came out onstage, waltzing about girlishly, naively, he was so wickedly devious as he lured her into his arms, then picked her up romantically, and then, as he dramatically tightened his fists around her his evil intentions became clear. I wish he would have done the Black Swan pas the same way. He’s such a miraculous dancer that you can’t take your eyes off him throughout that whole scene, and many in the audience were giggling as the court ladies bowed down to him, almost melting into the floor at the sight of him. He was all wicked sexy seductor. But what makes von Rothbart so villainous is that he’s a trickster. He draws the ladies like Odette into his web by being all romantic and charming, though virilely so, and then when they’re least suspecting, he bites. He’s a classic predator. I think David was a little too evil from the get-go, but only in that scene. And someone, I think Demicontremps, said every time he wants to show an emotion, he widens his eyes. I agree. I’ve seen him do that a lot and I think subtlety can work a lot better. I’ll see Marcelo in this role tomorrow night though (my first time seeing him as von Rothbart!) and I’ll probably have better-formed opinions after that. I haven’t seen a lot of really mesmerizing dancers do this role before, so I really haven’t paid it much attention. Watching David was the first time I thought how powerful — and how entertaining — that role can really be.

Photo of D. Hallberg from NY Social Diary.

To wrap up, I also liked Blaine Hoven, Hee Seo and Melanie Hamrick in the Benno and ladies pas de trois. Blaine is really developing into an artist — he not only executed all of those hard jumps with great precision and articulation, but he also played with the musicality a bit, slowing things down here and holding a line there — it made for more captivating, intriguing dancing. I think he might have picked it up from Ethan because I saw Ethan doing the same. Hee Seo is so beautifully light on her feet. The woman behind me went “Ahhhhh,” when she did those hops on pointe and everytime she began a variation. I also liked Arron Scott and Mikhail Ilyin in the “Neapolitan” ballroom section, as the two high-jumping court jester-types.

12 Comments

  1. I agree with you on Paloma's turns, so fast and precise! She and Ethan really impressed me when they did SL over here in March. I like it that ABT's SL gives both Siegfried and Rothbart a bigger role. In the RB's version poor Sieg only has the chance to shine during the Black Swan PD2, not a good thing when a can't-take-your-eyes-off dancer like Bolle is onstage!!

    BTW, the applause control freak story… phew!

    E.

  2. It's not just the Ballet. There's an ongoing thing in Theatre right now. Patti LuPone has now stopped performances twice for audience problems (once during Gypsy and once during her own show) and reccently during Hair, once of the cast members caught an audience trying to record the show (in hair it's like veritually impossible) and took the person's camera and chucked it across the stage.

  3. I don't understand why common good manners are such a problem for so many people. And I don't understand why some audience members need to express their annoyance with the bad manners of others by being rude in return and creating even more of a disturbance. You're absolutely right that a little respect would go a long way!

  4. Anne Coburn Whitmore

    “One thing I really love about him is how, after he became enamored of Paloma’s Odette, he’d run after her as fast as he possibly could, a speed demon, like if he didn’t catch her his life would crumble.”

    — wow, and what girl wouldn't want Ethan running after her like that, right?! 😉
    Cute, endearing and impassioned descriptive passage – nice!! Thank you for this!

  5. I am glad that Ethan is back! He is lovely in princely roles without being bland. What a treat must have been to see him against Hallberg's von Rothbart.

    I am not the biggest Paloma fan but I agree that her Odette/Odille is one of her best roles. She is able to tell the story while also bringing some technical sparks to the performance.

    And yeah, the guy that shouted should have go to watch a performance at the Mariinsky. People over there really have a thing for applause.

  6. I was sitting way up top and when that guy yelled it was SO loud, echoing through the rafters, haha. Who does that?! I couldn't believe it – and I felt bad for the rest of the corps swans who had to come out and dance right after/as he yelled. Very odd that people make their own rules.

    The performance itself though was wonderful, as you describe!

  7. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Thanks you guys!

    Anne, I'm so glad someone gets my sense of humor 😀

    I know, Taylor & Meg — that guy created such a disturbance. I thought of the dancers too, Taylor — they must have heard him! I mean,anyone yelling that loudly, whatever he was saying, would disturb my concentration. Last night was even more raucous during the Black Swan, because of Bolle. People were really going nuts. I can't imagine what that guy would have thought then.

    Ariel — I think I might have been with you when that person whipped out that sub! That or else I saw the exact same thing at another point, because that was what I was thinking about. I've also seen baggies of carrots and celery. Oh and a soda can opened in City Center (during an Alvin Ailey performance). I mean, some people have honestly never been to a performance outside of the movies before and they really don't know.

    Katrina, that's crazy about the Hair performance! That's really kind of funny.

    And Linda, it's funny, I haven't really been a fan of Paloma much either, but this season she's really growing on me. She is very good with that mime!

    Ballet Bag — interesting about the RB version. I'll have to see it. Yeah, here Siegfried has a lot to do in the first part as well. I mean at least in the ABT version, not in the Balanchine. The Balanchine is almost entirely concentrated on Odette and the other swan maidens. I've got to come over there sometime and see the Royal!

    Thanks again for all the great comments you guys :)

  8. Applauding during a variation (or at any point in a performance that excites you) at the ballet is a tradition and is perfectly acceptable, and in fact I think virtuosity is built into these pieces just so the audience will react. A dancer who pulls off a triple-whatever will be disappointed if he doesn't hear some bravos.

    One ballet that I think should NOT have any applause until the end (of each half) is Balanchine's LIEBESLIEDER. It breaks the mood. But in the big star-vehicle full-length ballets, the audience reaction mid-dance buoys the performer and can really enhance the atmosphere.

    The offensive behaviors (talking, eating. cellphones, rummaging thru your purse, snoring, wearing jangling jewelry or too much perfume, unwrapping mints, etc etc) need to be addressed more astutely by the theatres now that a new audience inured to sports events and movie-going are being lured into the world of dance or opera. But: applauding during the dancing is fine: it's part of the show.

  9. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    That's exactly what I thought, Philip! Thank you!

  10. Applauding during a variation (or at any point in a performance that excites you) at the ballet is a tradition and is perfectly acceptable, and in fact I think virtuosity is built into these pieces just so the audience will react. A dancer who pulls off a triple-whatever will be disappointed if he doesn't hear some bravos.

    One ballet that I think should NOT have any applause until the end (of each half) is Balanchine's LIEBESLIEDER. It breaks the mood. But in the big star-vehicle full-length ballets, the audience reaction mid-dance buoys the performer and can really enhance the atmosphere.

    The offensive behaviors (talking, eating. cellphones, rummaging thru your purse, snoring, wearing jangling jewelry or too much perfume, unwrapping mints, etc etc) need to be addressed more astutely by the theatres now that a new audience inured to sports events and movie-going are being lured into the world of dance or opera. But: applauding during the dancing is fine: it's part of the show.

  11. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    That's exactly what I thought, Philip! Thank you!

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