ABT Gala: Craig Salstein Has a Future as a Choreographer, and Herman Steals the Show (Or At Least The Second Half Of It)

(Herman Cornejo above; all headshots from ABT)

So, last night was opening night of ABT’s fall Contemporary season (which will last for the next two weeks) at City Center. I love galas, for the most part: I love seeing all my favorite dancers in the best excerpts from my favorite ballets. Although the only piece that really fit that tonight was Jose Manuel Carreno dancing the bravura pas de deux in Don Quixote with Xiomara Reyes. I am such a child; I again got a bad case of the giggles the second he stepped onstage — both during the duet and then when he had his leaping, fouetteing, barrel-turning solo — this always happens with Jose — and really had to control myself; I was sitting only a few seats down from Kevin McKenzie (who is thin — most go the opposite way after they stop dancing — and as I mentioned before, behind Alessandra). Anyway, see a video here of Jose dancing DQ with Paloma Herrera.

(above: Jose Carreno)

First, because it’s most on my mind since it was the only piece (performed in its entirety) on the second half of the program: Company B, choreographed by Paul Taylor, which I LOVED. I’d never seen it before: it’s a jazzy modern piece (no toe shoes) set to several 40s era songs by The Andrews Sisters (like Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B). Both song and dance are cute and fun on their surfaces, but in the background from time to time a line of men march slowly, their bodies at the back of the stage, in shadowed silhouette. Some of them hold what appear to be guns. Some hold their arms up as in surrender. They are going off to war (timely then — during the era of the songs, timely now). But you almost don’t notice them. At points, a sweet romantic duet will be centerstage, and one of these men will join the dancers, flying happily about the stage, along with them, then suddenly slam to the ground, as if shot. Because of the marked contrast between fun and play and love, and being shot dead in the line of battle, the background war theme is all the more poignant.

Herman Cornejo stood out to me here. He was cutely carefree, leaping about (as usual, halfway to the ceiling, though the height seemed like pure coincidence, like he hadn’t meant to go that high at all, it was just natural for him), then is left sadly, starkly alone in the end, without the girl, without his carefree ways, and perhaps eventually without life (at times he is also one of the silhouettes in the background). Herman used to be all about huge jumps and leaps and turns to me, but he’s grown hugely as an artist, and now the jumps and leaps and turns are all done in the furtherance of character, though no less awe-inducing. He grows on me each time I see him perform. The Taylor piece was perfect for him. And, as I said, it’s timely and I’m thrilled ABT’s chosen to put it on this season. It’s showing several more times and I can’t wait to see it again and again.

The first half of the program consisted mainly of excerpts (except for Craig Salstein’s excellent Time, which I’ll get to in a sec); in addition to DQ, there was Balanchine’s Theme and Variations performed by my favorite, Marcelo Gomes, and Paloma Herrera. When, at the beginning of a solo, Marcelo walked out onstage and kind of looked out at us, it looked like he was looking right at me. How does he do that? How does a performer do that? It’s uncanny! When Kevin then came out and gave his little thank-you to all the gala sponsors, he did the same thing. Angel Corella does it too. Hmmm.

Anyway, Marcelo was excellent, of course. The far-too-shy crowd was ridiculously late in applauding his series of 15 or so continuous twisty multiple-turning-jumps. American audiences, argh! Marcelo is the quintessential romantic leading man, as I’ve said about 10,000 times throughout the course of this blog :)Â — the way he lifted Paloma about every which way, all over his head; partnering is his forte. But, because of his size, you can tell when the choreography is really fast 🙂

(Marcelo Gomes)

(David Hallberg)

Second on was a scene from Romeo and Juliet (when Romeo leaves Verona), danced by David Hallberg and Gillian Murphy. But this R&J was not the one I’m used to, the one by MacMillan; it was choreographed by Antony Tudor (whom the company is honoring this season; it would have been his 100th birthday this year). Tudor’s R&J is much more dramatic than pashmina, without all the flourishes and breathtaking lifts, but instead with lots of yearning arabesques where the dancers lean toward each other, balancing on the tip of their toes, nearly falling forward, longing but seemingly unable to reach the other. It was passionate in its own sad way and makes me look forward to more Tudor.

(Craig Salstein)

And then there was Time, a new piece by well-liked soloist Craig Salstein, a short solo, danced by Michele Wiles. I think this piece marks his choreographic debut. It was originally made in December 2007 for Dancers Responding to AIDS. I loved it. It was soft and lyrical but had modern elements as well, such as short, staccato movements of the arms and legs, and a frontward leaning arch, with arms extending up and back, like a bird taking flight, reminiscent of Alvin Ailey or Martha Graham. Michele danced with a sorrowful passion; it was hauntingly beautiful. As its name and the group it was created for implied, it felt like a woman struggling hard to extend her time here on earth. She would reach upward toward the heavens, but in vain, and she kept brushing her right leg backward, as if trying to brush off a negative thought, a harsh reality. Later, she would dance with fluidity and grace, in acceptance. And the movements would repeat themselves, like they would psychologically in someone who is grieving: denial, anger, acceptance, denial, anger, acceptance. To me, this one little work showed that Craig has wonderful originality, understands how to build structure, understands different kinds of movement and what they do, and has a strong sense of how to convey what he is trying to convey to the audience and really move us. BRAVO CRAIG!!! And brava Michele!

There was a little more, but these were my favorites. Also, Gillian Murphy and Jared Matthews impressed me last night. I don’t know exactly why because she’s always technically brilliant, but Gillian just shined last night; everything she did brought my attention right to her, even when she was surrounded by many others; she just had an extra glow. And Jared I’ve always seen as kind of the skinny blonde guy who blends in with everyone else, but he is looking more and more polished, dancing with greater and greater sharpness and precision and standing out for those reasons — and he was looking even rather majestic last night.


  1. One highlight for me was Aaron Scott’s dancing of Tico Tico in COMPANY B.

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