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America Ballet Theatre

'Apollo', three pas de deux, 'Thirteen Diversions'; 'La Bayadere'

by Colleen Boresta

July 12 & 13, 2012 -- National Theater, Taipei

As is their want on tour, ABT’s version of “Apollo” in Taipei came minus both the birth scene, for which hurrah. I’m at one with Mr. B’s later view that the ballet looks much better without it. Some versions omit this but retain the concluding ascent to Mount Parnassus. Here, both were left out, the latter replaced by a reprise upstage of the sunburst, an ending I find less satisfactory.

Apollo should have been danced by David Hallberg on the opening night, but injury got in the way, his place being filled by Marcelo Gomes. He may have looked strong and powerful, but for the most part the ballet lacked spark. Gomes seemed withdrawn, showing little overt interest in the three muses. The women didn’t fare much better, only Hee Soo, sharp, bright and precise as Polyhymnia managing to inject life into proceedings. Whisper it quietly, but it also looked terribly dated, thanks in part to the overly fussy costumes for the muses. The rather Grecian affairs, all pleats and ruffles, only succeed in making the women look frumpy.

The three pas de deux that made up the middle part of the evening all scored highly. Danil Simkin (a big favourite in Taipei) produced all his usual fireworks in the pas de deux from “Flames of Paris”, where he was partnered by Sarah Lane. Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo similarly sparked in the pas from “Diana and Acteon”, the former’s dance appropriately full of hunting gestures. If I have to pick one, though, it has to be Julie Kent and Cory Stearns in the lyrical and ravishing Second Movement pas de deux from James Kudelka’s “Cruel World”. Right from the off as Kent, on who it was made, is lifted gently vertically as if floating into the air, the couple simply oozed emotion and feeling. The dance often has a soft, elastic feel as balances and lifts are stretched. All the time there was that very special, and very rare, magical connection between them and the audience.

Christopher Wheeldon’s “Thirteen Diversions” to Benjamin Britten’s “Diversions for Piano (left hand) and Orchestra” is a busy ballet, sometimes too busy. He has four lead couples in black set against eight supporting couples in pale grey. It is a very musical ballet in which Wheeldon shows his usual sure touch and skill, as he frequently sets off a lead couple against some or all the ensemble, who echo and amplify what is happening elsewhere. The pictures created are often beautiful, but the dance itself only occasionally leaves much in the way of an impression. Thanks largely to the structure of the score, things almost always move on before anything has time to develop.

Despite this, there are some beautiful passages and an occasional sense of relationship among the couples. The best comes in a pas de deux towards the end, danced here by Isabella Boylston and Cory Stearns, that includes lots of wrapping around each other and big extensions. Less convincing was the moment when Boylston bent over and picked her legs up in turn by the ankles, a rather plodding step resulting. Quite why this should appear was totally unclear at odds with the rest of the dance. A final gripe is reserved for the backdrop that started half black, half coloured, but with the division diagonal. It had the effect of hiding some of the dancers. It also got distracting as it continually changed colour.

‘La Bayadère’
National Theater; July 13, 2012

The scenario is plain silly; the narrative far too melodramatic; the music, while pleasant, is less than memorable; and the storytelling is so hammy it is ridiculous. Welcome to “La Bayadère”. The good news is that it also has some great sets and some dazzling dance. And for Taipei ballet-lovers, how nice to see a visiting company bring something other than “Swan Lake”; a point some of the local press failed to get their heads round at all.

Like all stories, though, it helps make the ballet work if you are convinced of the dancers’ passion for each other. Unfortunately that was not always there, the performance being at its best when the story paused for the pure dance of the Shades and divertissements.

Hee Soo smiled her way through Gamzatti. I’m not sure if she was just being naïve or lacking in character, although I think I detected a sense of frission when Nikiya was dancing in front of her in Act III. Veronika Part was a different kettle of fish. She was sensual and almost believable, even in this most unbelievable of stories. She made the tricky combination of exotic Indian temple dancer and classical ballerina work well. She responded perfectly to Marcelo Gomes’, who was a princely Solor, a role that doesn’t have too much in the way of subtlety. His bravura solos were forceful and full of flair.

The Shades, led by Sarah Lane, Marcia Riccetto and Yuriko Katia were simply terrific. Katia was especially appealing, with a clear line and great expression. In fact, the whole of Act II was a delight. Later, Simkin got his usual ovation for his few moments as the Bronze Idol, but it calls for more nuance than simply exploding jumps and he seemed to struggle to move from speed to slowness without lingering.

So, a few reservations, but all in all a welcome return to Taipei for the company after an absence of 12 years. Apart from the missing David Hallberg, who was injured, the biggest disappointment for local ballet promoter Wang Tzer-shing was surely the turn out. The orchestra stalls were no more than 50% full on both the above evenings. But perhaps it was not too surprising. It is very expensive to bring ABT here, and working without much in the way of financial support that means high seat prices; very high by Taiwanese standards. And, of course, it’s not “Swan Lake”.

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