(Photo of Cory Stearns and Irina Dvorovenko in John Neumeier’s Lady of the Camellias, taken from ABT website – click on photo for link).
I so love this ballet. It’s my favorite ABT is putting on this season (since there’s no Manon or Romeo and Juliet). I went to see Lady of the Camellias Saturday night – out of curiosity, went to see the new cast – Cory Stearns and Irina Dvorovenko – and just came away from the Met feeling like I had the fullest, richest, most rewarding night at the ballet this season. I just feel like something about the minimal, but completely realistic sets, the authentic and beautiful period costumes (both costumes and sets are by Jurgen Rose), the depth of emotion conveyed by the story, the heartbreaking story itself, the book it’s based on, the gorgeous partnering, all just really drew me in and made me feel like I was inside of the narrative.
First, I love how there are no curtains – you just walk in to the auditorium and there’s the open stage; you walk in on the set. And then the first dancer comes out on stage before the chandeliers have risen to dim the auditorium’s lights … so it’s not like a performance at all; it’s like you’re eavesdropping on the characters and their story.
And I love how at points the dancers use the front side of the stage. You feel like they’re right above you. And you can watch both side stories – taking place there – and the center story, taking place center stage – at once.
I should say, this is the story of a younger man, in love with an older woman – a famous Parisian courtesan (the text is based on the 1849 novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils) who is dying of consumption. It’s a tragedy, as, through the meddlings of others who don’t want them to be together for various reasons – they are torn apart.
Cory Stearns was perfect as the younger man, Armand Duval. He danced very well – executed all of those seemingly impossible but beautiful lifts , and he really brought his character to life. He is a natural actor. Either that or he has acting training, because he’s one of the best in the company at that, in my opinion. I love Diana Vishneva in the main role – Marguerite Gautier (and my friend and I passed Diana, holding flowers and still made up, as we were walking from the Italian restaurant where we had dinner to the Met), but I thought Dvorovenko did very well too, danced beautifully, had strong chemistry with Stearns, and overall fit her role as well.
I also loved the supporting cast. Gennadi Saveliev doesn’t often impress me, but wow, he did Saturday night in the role of the party attendant who’s having big fun with that horse whip, holding it next to his pelvis and making suggestive movements, and all that. He was a lot of fun, and he danced the bravura parts spectacularly. Luciana Paris shone as his partner, the sultry, hip swaying, Mlle. Duvernoy, and Melanie Hamrick was also radiant as Olympia, Armand’s would-be mistress, had he not been so in love with Marguerite. Vitali Krauchenka and Grand DeLong were totally believable as, respectively, Armand’s father, and the regal, all-powerful angry Duke who wants Marguerite for himself. And finally, Stella Abrera danced beautifully as Marguerite’s reflection of herself (or Manon Lescaut in the ballet-within-the-ballet, however you want to see it). Blaine Hoven was a good partner for her, as Des Grieux. His ballet technique is near perfect – even someone without a huge amount of ballet training can tell that – and I think he is acting and emoting much better than before, though I still think he has a ways to go before he might be considered principal material.
The pianists (music is Chopin) – Koji Attwood, Nimrod Pfeffer, and Emily Wong – were brilliant. They deserved their substantial applause at the end, during curtain calls.
Everything just came together to make a really memorable ballet. And these weren’t even the “star” dancers – these were the “up and comings”! The choreographer, John Neumeier, originally created the ballet for the Stuttgart Ballet. He currently runs the Hamburg Ballet (both companies being in Germany, of course, though I think Neumeier is American). So many of my European friends think ballet is so much more alive in Europe than in America, and they enjoy going there so much more than here. I can see why. More Neumeier and MacMillan, Kevin McKenzie!