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American Ballet Theatre

All Ashton Program

by Colleen Boresta

June 12, 2010 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York

Two great choreographers were born in 1904.  One of them has had his ballets danced by companies both large and small all over the world.  The other choreographer’s works are performed sporadically at best, especially in the United States.  The first choreographer is, of course, George Balanchine.  The other is Frederick Ashton.  Fortunately, American Ballet Theatre is presenting a wonderful Ashton mixed bill at the Metropolitan Opera House this season.  Anyone who loves poetically dreamlike ballets should not miss ABT’s All Ashton Program.

The evening begins with Birthday Offering, a work Ashton choreographed in 1956 to celebrate the Royal Ballet’s 25th anniversary.  Though the glorious music was composed by

Glazunov, not Minkus or Tchaikovsky, it reminds me both of Petipa’s Paquita and Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty.  All the ballerinas dance their solos beautifully, but the real standout is Stella Abrera.  Her every movement has such a lyrical flow and her balances are secure.  I would love to see Abrera as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty.  Eric Tamm, as always, is a joy to watch.  He is an attentive partner to Abrera, with a beautiful line and very clean turns.

The Thais Pas de Deux is a wonderfully trancelike piece featuring Diana Vishneva and Jared Matthews.  As a solo dancer, Matthews often disappoints me, but in Thais he is a supportive partner who makes Vishneva look like she is floating in the mist.

The Awakening is a pas de deux from a discarded Ashton Sleeping Beauty.  Even though it was beautifully danced by Veronika Part and David Hallberg, I found it forgettable and a waste of Part and Hallberg’s enormous talents.  Maybe it’s the music that throws me off.   The Awakening is danced to music George Balanchine used for his Nutcracker.  I kept waiting for the Christmas tree to start growing, and was disappointed when it didn’t happen.

The highlight of the evening was The Dream.  It is a streamlined version of Shakespeare’s

A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Ashton, however, has set The Dream in the Victorian Age.  Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of Fairyland, are arguing about which one of them will get the Changeling Boy.  When Titania takes away the boy, Oberon decides to get even by making her fall in love with Bottom, a woodsman whom Oberon turns into a donkey.  Oberon does this with the aid of his sprite, Puck.  During the night, two human couples enter the Fairyland forest.  Oberon decides to help one of them, Helena, by making Lysander fall in love with her.  Unfortunately, Puck confuses the human couples and sprinkles the magic flower dust on Demetrius, not Lysander.

By the end of the ballet, however, Oberon fixes everything so that Lysander loves Helena and Demetrius loves Hermia.  The two couples happily leave the forest to the tune of Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March”.  Oberon also turns Bottom back to his old self.  Bottom’s night as a donkey is remembered as just a dream.  Finally, in a glorious pas de deux, Oberon and Titania make up their argument and declare their love for each other.

Ashton’s The Dream is a perfect little jewel of a ballet.  All the dancers are magical, but the two outstanding performances are given by Daniil Simkin as Puck and Cory Stearns as Oberon.  As the sprite, Simkin seems to live in the air.  The way he can make his body float higher and higher in space is just extraordinary.  As well, Simkin’s acting has a wonderfully enchanted quality about it.

Simkin’s chemistry with Cory Stearns’ Oberon is palpable.  The main partnership in The Dream is not between Oberon and Titania, but Oberon and Puck.  As Oberon, Stearns is the best I’ve ever seen him.  His incredible line and his gorgeous placement all serve to make the character of Oberon both noble and magical.

Xiomara Reyes is a sweet and silly Titania, with footwork that is both precise and sparkling.  Alexi Agoudine is a very funny Bottom, whether he is dancing on pointe as a donkey or reliving his incredible “dream” of falling in love with a fairy queen.

American Ballet Theatre’s All Ashton Program is magically joyous.  I hope ABT continues to dance Ashton’s great masterpieces.  I especially wish they would revive La Fille Mal Gardee in the near future.

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