CriticalDance Forum

American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013
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Author:  Buddy [ Sat Jun 01, 2013 9:28 am ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013

While waiting to read Jerry, David and others' comments I found this article by Alastair Macaulay from last October describing the first section, Symphony No. 9. In it he says,

"To watch it the first time is to keep finding surprises. Its dance language, its unfolding structure and its moods are dynamic, as if the terrain about it were continually shifting, like a kaleidoscope." ... html?_r=1&

This is the sort of thing that makes Alexei Ratmansky so fascinating for me. From the article's description and from what I've read so far from others, I would look forward to seeing this and the entire work.

Added later:

Also from last October, Alexei Ratmansky had this to say about Symphony No. 9.

"The process starts with the music, then shifts more to the dancers. This dance will reference Shostakovich’s life, the Russian realities of that time — not literally, just colors. But I also hope the trilogy will be a portrait of the company. By now I see what they are and where they can go." ... html?_r=1&

Author:  balletomaniac [ Sat Jun 01, 2013 6:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013

A quick note, for those who care, before I sit down to write a more complete review.

Just returned from the matinee performance of the new Ratmansky trilogy. The most significant development I'll address at the end of this mini-review.

Overall, the piece hangs together better, although I still think that the central segment, "Chamber Symphony," which is less complex and more easily deciphered than the other two, works best. The last section, "Piano Concerto #1," which disappointed me yesterday because it appeared less thematically clear than the others, still appears that way to me. But if you look at this segment as an abstract piece with only a whispered connection to the overall theme, it works much better. I'll explain in more detail later.

The cast changes also made the overall piece different - and in some ways better. For now, I'll limit my comments to performances that I thought gave the segments of the piece a different look. Although I thought Polina Seminiova was very good yesterday, Veronika Part was on another level. They both executed Mr. Ratmansky's steps superbly, but Ms. Part squeezed more Russian soul out of the role. As I've frequently written, no one does pathos better than Ms. Part, and there is no better interpreter of Ratmansky than Ms. Part. Jared Matthews provided a different, and more interesting, take on the role that was so brilliantly performed technically by Herman Cornejo last night. In the second section, the cast change among the central character's 'love interests' did make a difference: it was more balanced, and looked less like an age progression. Sarah Lane was just as engaging as Isabella Boylston the previous day (though I thought she was, appropriately, a bit darker, and less broadly flirty). The main differences were Yuriko Kajiya and Hee Seo in the roles danced yesterday by Paloma Herrera and Julie Kent. In particular, Ms. Kajiya added stunning life to the role of the second girl.

But the 'story' of this performance was in the third segment.

The leading roles in "Piano Concerto #1" were supposed to have been danced by Gillian Murphy and Calvin Royal III, and Xiomara Reyes and Daniil Simkin (in roles danced last night by Diana Vishneva and Cory Stearns, and Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev). Before the performance began, and after the audience was seated, it was announced that Ms. Murphy had been injured and that her role would be performed by Christine Shevchenko (who apparently was Ms. Murphy's understudy). I don't know the nature of the injury, but whatever it was had to have been close to curtain, since there apparently was no time for program inserts to have been printed, or even for a sign to have been posted at the theater entrance -- both of which are routinely done when there are late cast changes.

It's the stuff that legends are made of. Ms. Shevchenko was simply superb. [As was Mr. Royal, also a member of the corps (and who is a very fine partner, with extraordinarily long arms that seem made for partnering -- they look like they go down to his knees).] Ms. Shevchenko beamed when the piece ended, because she knew she had executed well, and was applauded by every cast member. If this were another company, Ms. Shevchenko would have been promoted on stage. [Mr. Simkin also delivered a particularly fine performance.]

I'll add more to this later. But my high horse, for a moment. One hates for an injury to provide an opportunity to a dancer who might not otherwise get one. But Ms. Shevchenko's performance only emphasizes what I and others have been saying for years. There's talent out there. ABT dancers are as good or better than dancers in any other company - they just don't have an opportunity to show it in lead roles. With rare exception, corps dancers wait for soloists to move forward, but soloists remain stuck in roles that should go to promising corps dancers because the soloists' opportunities are assigned to guest artists, or held by principals who should yield certain roles to younger dancers (this does not apply to Ms. Murphy). Maybe Ms. Shevchenko's performance, and the strong audience response, will encourage the powers that be that there is a benefit to building the company from within, and that the way to do that is by giving soloists and corps dancers opportunities, and time to grow -- in leading roles, and on stage at the Met.

Author:  David [ Sun Jun 02, 2013 9:12 am ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013

Shostakovich Trilogy
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House, New York; May 31, 2013

David Mead

American Ballet Theatre Artist-in-Residence Alexi Ratmansky clearly has quite an affinity with the music of Dmitri Shostakovich. He has already made seven ballets to the composer’s work, but a trilogy, three in one evening, is a particularly challenging undertaking. So, it is good to report that he pulls it off with some style. All three ballets are very much fixed in the traditional classical/neo-classical idiom. He is creative, but in his own way, and within his own boundaries. But let’s not even start to pretend that anything on this programme is cutting edge or moving ballet forward. That is not a criticism, but it is a fact.

In fact, all three works have much to commend them. What is particularly impressive is how well they slot together as a whole evening. Some astute musical selections have led to each being different in character and certainly having a very different feeling and mood.

A programme of three works to music by a single composer and choreographer might be unusual, Balanchine and Stravinsky aside, but having two of them to symphonic music is even more so. From time to time during the last century and especially back in the 1930s there has been quite a debate about just how suitable symphonies were for dance. For some music-critics in particular, adding dance to what they considered the height of musical excellence, and thereby diminishing the composer’s work, was little short of a crime. Others felt that dance struggled to live with the structure and power of the score. Whatever else one might think about this programme, it should have put that argument to bed once and for all.

Premiered in 2012 to acclaim, the one existing work on the programme, “Symphony #9” is by far the weakest. Right from the start, the choreography is largely bright and upbeat. The opening section for five men was led here by Craig Salstein in a quite tongue in cheek sort of way. It was like watching a bunch of friends messing around and generally having a good time. It finishes with Salstein hurling himself into the arms of his friends, which despite being rather telegraphed, drew quite a gasp from the audience. Those opening ideas are taken up by four women led by Simone Messerer. The footwork is crisp and there’s humour here too, notably when she too signalled a similar leap was coming, only to pull out at the last minute.

After that, scenes come and go. It’s like watching lots of snapshots of events woven together in a collage. The ballet is filled with private moments. Moments of attempted light humour make unexpected appearances. There are little hush gestures where a dancer puts her hand in front of someone’s mouth, little signals to wait and playful pushes away. Some are mildly amusing, some are not. But then humour is very personal.

Ratmansky makes some clever stage patterns. A particularly effective and repeated image sees a line of dancers in single file, either across the back or down the side while a lead couple dances in the centre. But he does like to overcomplicate matters. The dance frequently gets too busy, with too many people doing too many different things. It can be an effective device but it can look messy. It does here. ‘Too much’ is an occasionally an issue in the other works too.

A second-movement pas de deux for Polina Semionova and Marcelo Gomes is quieter and more restrained in tone. Herman Cornejo’s arrival raises questions since he does not have a partner. Whatever, this interloper’s dancing was excellent with some whirlwind speed turns. One series of entrechats almost brought the house down. It wasn’t so much the number, but the height and the ballon, and the nice humorous touch that saw him bounce off stage.

Finally, a special mention for Keso Dekker’s gorgeous costumes, slightly changed I believe from the original. The dresses for the ladies are quite simply stunning, a combination of black with flashes of green, red and deep blue giving the most marvellous mottled effect.

Shostakovich was a composer who loved to fill his music with hidden meanings, codes and double messages. There is lots of this in his “Chamber Symphony”, written in the still rather desolate Dresden of 1960. Publicly, Shostakovich said the quartet was inspired by the sight of the devastated city, but private letters suggest it was written as his own epitaph; a work dedicated to the memory of his own life. It is this latter feeling that comes through powerfully in Ratmansky’s choreography.

“Chamber Symphony,” the ballet, is equally full of inner meaning. It is hard to escape the feeling that David Hallberg is Shostakovich, especially given that it all takes place in front of a backdrop by George Tsypin based on Pavel Filonov’s paintings and that feature a number of facial images. Like him, Hallberg is a man who never really fits into the world of the people around him. He wanders through the ballet, more often than not lost in a private world of his own thoughts. Only when one of Isabella Boylston, Paloma Herrera, and Julie Kent appear is the mood even partly lifted. Surely it is no coincidence that Shostakovich had three wives.

The ballet ends with the corps and the leading ladies forming a spectacular tableau, Hallberg quietly slipping away into an upstage wing. It has been suggested that Shostakovich was contemplating suicide at the time. A vision of death, perhaps?

“Chamber Symphony” received easily the most tepid response from the audience, yet if anything this was by far the most original. Perhaps the tone was so unexpected. It is certainly different from the other two. It depends how you like you ballets, I guess. It is deeply meaningful, very enigmatic and makes you think. If you like that, you will love this. Whether it works particularly well because it sits between the other very contrasting ballets is a good question. It would be interesting to see it standing alone, to see if it has the same impact.

On the other hand, pyrotechnics is what more and more people seem to go for, and there were plenty of those in “Piano Concerto #1.” It often has a celebratory feel to it, with no shortage of flashy lifts and jumps. The action all takes place in front of yet another startling Tsypin design, this time featuring broken imagery from the Soviet flag, a smashed up hammer, remnants of a sickle, stars, and other objects including a nut.

It got an incredible standing ovation, not least because of the fireworks from Ivan Vasiliev. However, far too often one got the sense that the steps were there because he could do them rather than because they made sense choreographically or musically. Yes his jumps were amazingly high, his spins amazingly fast. Often he turned so often and so fast that one lost count. But it does all get dangerously close to gymnastics. Of course, the now standard 32 fouettés started as a trick, but, and this may be an old-fashioned view, dance is not sport where higher, faster, stronger wins. It is art. More importantly it is a combination of the arts. And that needs to be remembered. I could have done without the loud thud on his loud landings on a couple of occasions too. Vasiliev was partnered by Natalia Osipova, who was here usual spiky self, an approach that fitted the music perfectly.

Far from the star couple taking the honours, I was much more impressed by Diana Vishneva and Cory Stearns. Vishneva simply melted into the music in a startlingly fluid and beautiful pas de deux. The music and dance were as one, as it should be. Stearns’ partnering was a secure as can be and his jumps were a match for Vasiliev.

The middle section features a double duet, during which the pairs sometimes move in unison and sometimes echo one another, reflecting the structures in the score. When the former, the different placing of the limbs was quite noticeable. It’s a small but important point. Having the best dancers from around the world may be great for companies and audiences (although whether it is as great for ballet in the country the company is based in is more of a moot point), but it does restrict opportunities for others, especially home-grown dancers, and it does highlight that fact it rarely makes for a unified picture.

An edited version of this review, with photos, will appear in the magazine in due course.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Jun 03, 2013 1:53 am ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013

Alastair Macaulay reviews the Friday, May 31, 2013 performance of Alexei Ratmansky's trio of works to music by Dmitri Shostakovich: "Symphony No. 9," "Chamber Symphony" and "Piano Concerto No. 1" for the New York Times. ... wanted=all

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Jun 03, 2013 3:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013

The London Daily Mail carries a feature on soloist Misty Copeland.

Daily Mail

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Jun 03, 2013 4:58 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013

Deborah Jowitt reviews Ashton's "A Month in the Country," Mark Morris' "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes" and Balanchine's "Symphony in C" for Arts Journal.

Arts Journal

Author:  balletomaniac [ Mon Jun 03, 2013 5:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013

There have been some changes in ABT casting, according to the calendar on the ABT website, although I am not aware of any 'official' announcement.

Alina Cojocaru has withdrawn from Swan Lake, presumably because of injury that has plagued her season with the Royal Ballet. Her replacement will be another guest artist: Bolshoi-trained Maria Kochetkova, a principal with San Francisco Ballet. Ms. Cojocaru is still listed for Sleeping Beauty.

Alexandre Hammoudi, a soloist, has been injured and apparently is unable to perform. He will be replaced as Hee Seo's partner by principals Roberto Bolle in Romeo and Juliet, and by Marcelo Gomes in Swan Lake.

My editorial comment should be obvious from prior posts.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Jun 03, 2013 6:25 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013

Deborah Jowitt reviews the Shostakovich trilogy for Arts Journal.

Arts Journal

Author:  Buddy [ Tue Jun 04, 2013 4:37 am ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013

Thanks, David, for your review and thanks, Francis, for the Deborah Jowitt review, which I'll look forward, as usual, to reading. The pictures are some of the nicest that I've seen of the performances.

I have a ticket for the night that Alina Cojocaru was scheduled, but the one thing that saved me from a total collapse was the inclusion of Maria Kochetkova in her place. The ABT consolation would have been a probably unprecedented launching (because she's not performed Odette/Odile here) of Simone Messmer into this spot, but I do understand your sentiments, Jerry.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Jun 04, 2013 12:48 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013

Robert Johnson reviews the Shostakovich Trilogy for the Newark Star-Ledger.


Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Jun 04, 2013 1:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013

Gia Kourlas interviews soloist Alexandre Hammoudi for Time Out New York.

Time Out NY

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Jun 04, 2013 4:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013

Robert Gottlieb reviews Ratmansky's Shostakovich Trilogy for the New York Observer. [Scroll past the SAB review.]

NY Observer

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Jun 06, 2013 1:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013

Alastair Macaulay reviews the Tuesday, June 4, 2013 performance of "Le Corsaire" for the New York Times.

NY Times

Author:  balletomaniac [ Thu Jun 06, 2013 6:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013

American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

May 31, June 1M
The Shostakovich Trilogy (Ratmansky World Premiere)

-- by Jerry Hochman

Anyone familiar with Alexei Ratmansky’s choreography knows that he has a special intellectual and emotional relationship with Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, perhaps similar to the relationship that George Balanchine had with Tchaikovsky. Mr. Ratmansky has choreographed several different ballets to Shostakovich’s music, including The Bright Stream, which American Ballet Theatre presented a few years ago, and the glorious Suite DSCH for New York City Ballet. Now he has created the Shostakovich Trilogy, which may be Mr. Ratmansky’s ultimate homage to Shostakovich. A suite of three ballets that had its world premiere performance on Friday, and the first performance by its second cast on Saturday afternoon, the Shostakovich Trilogy is a fitting memorial to that relationship, but it is considerably more important a work than that. It is significant for what it says, for how Mr. Ratmansky says it, and for the fact that it exists at all.

Consisting of Symphony #9 (composed in 1945), Chamber Symphony (composed between 1954 and 1960), and Piano Concerto #1 (1933), the Trilogy is, collectively, a work of intelligence, depth, choreographic creativity, and emotional inspiration, one component of which, in this viewer’s opinion, is a masterpiece (the second segment of the trilogy: Chamber Symphony). It is also an evening that, although clearly Russian in emphasis, has universal relevance and appeal. However, Mr. Ratmansky has chosen not to share his intentions with the audience (there are no program notes), and he can be maddeningly opaque as to what he’s trying to say. [It’s not essential for a choreographer to ‘say’ anything other than to create dances that, for whatever reason, resonate, but Mr. Ratmansky is much too intelligent a choreographer to have put together a trilogy of dances to Shostakovich music without intending that there be a connection among them (beyond the common denominator of the composer) in some thematic way.]

That having been said, to this viewer Mr. Ratmansky’s intent is clear – though not always clearly expressed. In a broad sense the Shostakovich Trilogy is a visualization in a non-narrative framework of the impact of Communism, and more particularly of Stalin, on the Russian people, as reflected in Shostakovich’s music. It’s not just ‘see the music’, it’s ‘see the themes in the music’. Though the compositions used are not presented in compositional sequence, they permit, and facilitate, sequential choreographic commentary. Symphony #9 provides a broad summary of the insidious, and relentless, nature of repression; Chamber Symphony a more focused, individualized exposition on life in a repressive society, and Piano Concerto #1 hints at light at the end of the tyrannical tunnel and the ultimate triumph, individual and collectively, of the human spirit. Each segment’s connection to the overall theme is embedded to varying degrees in an abstract form, with the first segment clearly transmitting a thematic message, the second segment being the least abstract – and consequently the most easily accessible, the last being the least clearly connected to the theme – but nevertheless containing stunning thematic references. There are bumps along the way, but the Shostokovich Trilogy is a work of art that not only invites the audience to intellectualize its contents, it requires the audience to probe beyond the movement and the images to see what’s really there – just as, to fully appreciate Shostakovich’s music, it’s necessary to listen beyond the notes.

Although I will discuss the Trilogy’s two casts in the course of this review, I must at the outset acknowledge Christine Shevchenko, an ABT soloist. Apparently an understudy for the role of the ballerina in the ‘first couple’ in Piano Concerto #1, Ms. Shevchenko was suddenly called upon to replace Gillian Murphy when Ms. Murphy suffered a last minute injury – too late even to prepare program inserts or to post an announcement at the theater entrance, both of which are routinely done when there is a late lead cast change not reflected in the scheduled casting. Ms. Shevchenko’s performance was memorable – both for the fact that she executed as well as she did [she beamed at the piece’s conclusion, well-aware of her accomplishment; was heartily acknowledged by the Met audience (her reception, as measured by my built-in applause meter, was the most enthusiastic); and was deservedly applauded from the stage by the entire cast], but also because it serves to reemphasize the absence of opportunities for talented ABT soloist and corps dancers (of which ABT has an abundance) to dance in lead roles and to gain essential performing experience.

On the other hand, ABT deserves credit for presenting this piece at all. Non-narrative ballets do not usually sell tickets, particularly at the Met, so the decision to commission a full-length abstract suite that doesn’t have the surface sparkle of jewels (it was commissioned both by ABT and by the San Francisco Ballet) in lieu of a new story ballet that might generate more ticket sales could not have been an easy one. [It’s certainly possible that ABT’s motives were less altruistic, and that its decision was prompted by its desire to accommodate its celebrated choreographer and/or by the artistic whims of its investors, but even if the production and its performances are underwritten in toto and in perpetuity, which I doubt, in the end it doesn’t make the artistic decision less commendable.] At this point I’m not aware of the Trilogy’s critical reception, and it’s possible that good reviews might generate additional sales when the piece is performed again (if history is a guide, the Shostakovich Trilogy will be performed again during next year’s Met season). Regardless, it’s probably going to be a tough sell. That would be unfortunate, because the piece should be seen.

In its totality, and aside from the high quality of the overall choreography and the performances, the Shostakovich Trilogy is memorable for the indelible visual punctuation marks that Ratmansky integrates into the choreographic flow throughout the piece – from the over-the-shoulder looks to see if anyone’s watching; to citizens falling to the floor in stages as if they’re gradually being beaten into submission by some unseen force; to the image of a tormented citizen losing his friends, his, loves, his hope, and his sanity, as one by one everything is taken away from him; to the image of a young man staring out at the future and seeing light at the end of the tyrannical tunnel, followed by dancers triumphantly carried into the sunrise. Included in the panoply of striking images is the choreographed portrait of a woman being lifted into a typical propaganda ‘Victory’ pose in anticipation of the government’s wartime triumph, countered by a woman being lifted in the same manner at the conclusion of the piece, but the image this time is not ‘victory’ propaganda, but is representative of the triumph of the human (Russian) spirit over tyranny. Whatever one thinks of the nuts and bolts of the choreography in each individual piece that together comprise the Trilogy, these overall images alone, and how Ratmansky arrives at them choreographically, are so novel and dominating and haunting that nothing else really matters.

Shostakovich (1902-1975) is a curious composer in many respects. His musical style initially emulated early Stravinsky and Prokofiev, and subsequently Mahler, but to this uneducated ear his music is more eclectic, at times incorporating parody and sound juxtapositions that appear strange, contradictory, depressing, uplifting, comedic, and even eerily macabre – all in the same piece. By way of capsulation, a as a young man Shostakovich initially achieved some measure of success under Communism (he is one of few composers to have composed entirely under Soviet sovereignty). Eventually he became one of Stalin’s artistic whipping boys, being condemned for incorporation of ‘Western’ styles and artistic deviation in a Pravda editorial in 1936 (which was thought to have been instigated by Stalin) in reaction to his popular opera, “Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District,” which had considerable popular success but which Stalin ridiculed. Subsequently, Shostakovich’s work was banned, and he came to feel that he or his family (or both) would be arrested or worse. He lost commissions and income, and friends and relatives were imprisoned, sent to camps, or killed. In the frenzy to avoid being labeled ‘formalistic,’ the code for being pro-Western, the atmosphere became Orwellian, with a pervasive mood of distrust and suspicion, not only among the population as a whole, but also among artists who would accuse other artists of ‘formalism’ to avoid being deemed formalistic themselves or otherwise being accused of ‘un-Soviet’ activities. Shostakovich was subsequently ‘rehabilitated’, became a Party member and an artistic spokesperson, though whether he was a believer or a ‘forced convert’ is unclear (the consensus appears to be that he did what he had to do rather than what he wanted to do).

Symphony #9

Symphony #9 premiered during ABT’s week-long City Center season in October, 2012, and was performed again at the ABT Opening Night Gala on May 13, before taking its place as the initial piece in the Trilogy. There appear to be some changes from the initial incarnation – it seems tighter than it did initially (though that may be the result of greater familiarity), and the costumes appear to have changed somewhat, but the overall impression has been consistent throughout. To this viewer, Symphony #9 is an introduction to indoctrination, mass subjugation, and totalitarian conformity, camouflaged amid feigned, forced, or ignorant cheerfulness. A darker, urban, The Bright Stream.

Although I found the choreography to be endlessly interesting to watch, with novel movement patterns and a broad choreographic vocabulary (a characteristic of all three pieces), there is so much movement hitting the viewer from different directions that, although the stage isn’t crowded, it appears overly busy. And its message, to the extent the audience believes it has one (and I do) appears inconsistent without first taking logical leaps. [This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it just makes the piece less comprehensible to audience-members less willing to engage in mental gymnastics.]

Symphony #9 has a lead cast of five – a ‘first’ couple on stage (Simone Messmer and Craig Salstein on Friday, and Stella Abrera and Sascha Radetsky on Saturday); a second couple (Polina Semionova and Marcelo Gomes on Friday, and Veronika Part and Robert Bolle on Saturday afternoon), and an eight female/eight male corps. It opens with a somewhat silly but entertaining initial movement featuring a lone male dancer (Mr. Salstein or Mr. Radetsky), who is quickly joined by others male dancers, followed by corps women. They all seem to be having a wonderful time, and the movement becomes yet more playful when Ms. Messmer/Ms. Abrera joins the fun, at one point mimicking the action of a drummer playing to accompany some unseen marching band. Or marching army.

Although this introductory scene is somewhat farcical and comic (at one point, at the culmination of a period of revelry, Mr. Salstein/Mr. Radetsky leaps, sideways, into the arms of waiting comrades – to the the audience’s delight), to this viewer, the clear significance is calm/euphoria before the storm (one of those leaps of logic that I mentioned): A celebration, perhaps, of Communism’s initial popular appeal, or, if the intent is less general, of the likelihood of a glorious military triumph. But ominous signs are ahead, signaled by the overall dark lighting and dark grey costumes, and by the backdrop that includes a greyish amorphous ‘force’ that moves in stages and looms larger as the dance progresses. [As I watched, I thought of Martha Graham’s Chronicles, without the stridency.]

Into this mix wanders the second couple, and the mood changes. Although they appear to join the festive atmosphere, they seem aware that things aren’t what they seem. And they’re afraid – first of some unseen force (presumably the government), and then of their fellow citizens. Their attitude becomes guarded; they look over their shoulders to see if anyone is watching who could report their deviant thoughts. And they soon find their freedom limited, their ability to act or think independently defeated, as they are beaten into the ground. Literally – their bodies descend sideways toward the stage floor incrementally, as if they were nails being pounded by a hammer, until they finally reach bottom and turn flat. [The image is repeated by other ‘citizens’ later, to represent that this repressive force was not limited to one isolated couple.] A final ‘lead’ character, Herman Cornejo on Friday and Jared Matthews on Saturday, joins the dancers at some point, but it’s not clear to me what this dancer’s ‘purpose’ is, other than providing opportunities for some spectacular dancing.

The initial movement segues into an adagio pas de deux involving the second couple, in which their unease is amplified and further explored choreographically. When this couple is again metaphorically beaten into submission, the backdrop changes to reveal a repeating assortment of images of Red Army soldiers, and to my recollection flags and weapons as well, against a bright background, and the couple is rejoined by other citizens. They feign happiness, but know that the situation is dire, and that they have no control over it.

For this viewer, the power of Symphony #9 is in its relentless and increasing sense of loss, within the counterpoint of overall jubilation and ‘making do’ with circumstances as they are. The latter extreme is exaggerated – perhaps too much – by the humorous actions of the first couple and the overall sense of jubilation, On the other hand, the contradictory images [humor/ depression; the Salstein/Radetsky character jovially leaping sideways and being caught before his bod hits the floor/the second couple falling sideways and hitting the floor] are necessary to show the insidious face of repression.

On Friday, as the first couple, Mr. Salstein and Ms. Messmer did an excellent job transmitting the comic/jubilant/’patriotic’ sense. On Saturday, Ms. Abrera and Mr. Radetsky did the same (with Ms. Abrera being somewhat more crisp technically), but Mr. Radetsky is not the comedian that Mr. Salstein is, and for that reason his portrayal seemed to lack that quality. As the individual ‘wild card’, Mr. Cornejo was technically superb, with entrechats (alternating six and huit, by my observations) among the finest I’ve seen. Although his personality was flat – I saw no emotional registration at all – I thought that this was Mr. Ratmansky’s intent. But on Saturday, Mr. Matthews, though less technically perfect, added character nuance - at once smiling weakly, and at the same time acting somewhat aggressively - suggesting perhaps that he was not simply one of the unknowing revelers, but that he was exploiting the situation. [But then, perhaps I think too much, and his purpose in the piece is just to be an entertaining additional presence.]

On Friday, Polina Semionova limited what appeared to me to be excessive 'happy' smiling at the Gala, and did a fine job, but as good as it was, her performance suffered in comparison to that of Veronika Part. Clearly, the ‘second’ couple is supposed to convey a tragic loss of freedom, and Ms. Semionova was relatively vacuous. Ms. Part, on the other hand, was shattering. She knew what was happening all along, knew that she was losing her freedom, and knew that resistance was futile. Her ‘smiling’ moments weakly camouflaged her despair. When she hit the stage floor, it was not as a statue falling, but as an individual losing all hope. As I’ve previously written, no ABT dancer delivers ‘pathos’ like Ms. Part, and no ABT dancer is a finer interpreter of Ratmansky’s choreography. Mr. Gomes and Mr. Bolle were both fine partners, with Mr. Gomes’s portrayal appearing more seriously repressed, and adding a sense of loss that Mr. Bolle’s characterization lacked.

Chamber Symphony

While Symphony #9 is flawed, but brilliant, Chamber Symphony is clear as a bell, choreographically inspired, and to this viewer a masterpiece in or out of the context of the Shostakovich Trilogy. Chamber Symphony is a stunning choreographic visualization of the impact of tyrannical terror on an individual. We don’t know why the individual at the center of Chamber Symphony is being tormented, or even who he is supposed to represent [Shostokovich?, Ratmansky?, any artist?, any citizen? For this review, I’ll call him ‘A' – for agony.] The overall sense is of a man tormented by outside forces – government; his neighbors; whatever; and tempted by what he cannot have, cannot keep, is afraid to lose, or has already lost. Although it is specifically ‘about’ the repression under Stalin, it could be representative of any equivalent period of government-mandated and societally-condoned torment.

But if an individual’s suffering and torment is all we see in Chamber Symphony,the piece would be significantly less memorable than it is. What makes Chamber Symphony important, and in my opinion a masterpiece, is in its haunting and beautiful visualization of repression and terror in an environmental and societal, as well as individual context: torment and terror described as individual agony, but also as a nightmare environment, a sense abetted by a backdrop consisting entirely of steely, gaunt, grey identical faces [Stalin? Shostakovich? It doesn’t matter], assembled visually like a fortress of faces staring down in icy silence on the city.

In Chamber Symphony the individual is plagued not only by personal anguish and by the sense that big brother is watching (as are neighbors ready to report signs of deviance), but by the temptation to simply conform. This temptation takes the form of sexual inducement by women citizens in general (by hip gyrating sexual innuendo), but it is distilled further by the depiction of three relationships, all within the context of A’s terror. The interactions between A and his three love interests are the choreographic heart of Chamber Symphony, and are representations of his agony that help kill him, but do it softly.

Initially, the three women appear on stage and interact with A collectively, all while the city’s citizens go about their regular tasks (including keeping their eyes on what others are doing). To this viewer, the women were presenting themselves; offering themselves; tempting him. A dances with all of them collectively (sometimes appearing to pull all three concurrently, as if they were links in a chain), briefly with them individually, and then again with them all. Subsequently he dances again with the three women in individual duets, but with the other two offstage. The duets are clearly distinctive, as if the women are promising different potential choices – the first is girl is sweetly affectionate and seductive; the second promises a mutually fulfilling emotional relationship, but it is a relationship that appears to be manipulated by outside forces; and the third appears respectful but more empathetic and platonic. To me, based on the way in which the ‘relationships’ are presented as sequential temptations in the context of unimaginable fear and hopelessness, the segment looks like Balanchine’s Apollo as choreographed by Kafka.

Whether the three women and the relationships they suggest are different choreographic descriptions of three different relationships or one relationship’s progression over time, is unclear. I don’t think it’s the latter, although that’s the impression provided by the first cast. Rather, I see the three as a choreographically convenient summary of different types of relationships and temptations and illusions of happiness and normalcy, which may roughly correspond to relationships in Shostakovich’s life. Shostakovich was married three times: to Nina Varzar in 1932 (they divorced in 1935, but remarried shortly thereafter when it was discovered that she was pregnant); to Margarita Kainova in 1956, but they divorced three years later; and to Irina Supinskaya in 1962, who was less than half his age, but that is the relationship that reportedly was a happy one. During the period of his first marriage, he also is said to have had relationships with two of his students Galina Usvolskaya and Elmira Nazirova. If I had to guess, I’d say that the women portrayed are Usvolskaya, Nazirova, and Supinskaya, but it doesn’t really matter. The common thread is that A is tormented, the relationships do not help (in fact, they seem to make him more distraught). If A could scream, he would but he can’t scream because someone may hear him and report him. At the end, A falls to the floor, overwhelmed.

The quality of Chamber Symphony is imbedded in the choreography, but the strong performances delivered it. On Friday, David Hallberg as A was brilliant, somehow squeezing multiple facets of torment out of one tormented soul. Saturday’s A, James Whiteside, did very well, but was monochromatic, and his performance suffered by comparison to Mr. Hallberg’s. As the first woman on Friday, Isabella Boylston was playful and flirty and seemed exactly right. But Sarah Lane on Saturday played down the flirtatiousness somewhat, and ramped up the dark sensual temptation, appearing to be a much more faceted character. I preferred Ms. Lane’s characterization, but the distinction isn’t critical, and both were wonderful. On Friday, the second woman was Paloma Herrera. She did the steps perfectly well (the first and second girls have the most interesting choreography, with that of the second girl appearing to be more complex because it is not just between the girl and A – the second girl is carried and tossed by other citizens also), but was emotionally blank. Yuriko Kajiya on Saturday was magnificent – it was a perfectly executed and emotionally nuanced performance. As the third woman, Julie Kent on Friday and Hee Seo on Saturday both were compassionate and caring companions.

Piano Concerto #1

Piano Concerto #1 is the most difficult of the three pieces for me to absorb on an intellectual level because it is more abstract, and because its thematic content appears to be limited to certain isolated images rather than carried continuously throughout the piece. Visually and choreographically it’s wonderful to watch, but, except for the isolated images, it’s just another excellently-choreographed dance without substance, in which the integral parts don’t completely mesh. [This may be a reflection of the ballet’s relatively hasty preparation. ABT announced roughly a month ago that the original musical inspiration for this section was being replaced by Piano Concert #1.]

The piece looks stunning. The overall ambiance is brighter: the lighting is sunny, not only conveying a sense of liveliness, but also a sense of warmth; the backdrop is composed of multiple recurring red three-dimensional ‘cut-outs’ floating in space (stars, for example); the costumes for the lead women are red leotards and white tights; the lead men are dressed in grey, and the corps wears unitards that are red on one side and grey on the other. [The extraordinary sets, costumes, and lighting for each of the three Trilogy pieces were by George Tsypin, Keso Dekker, and Jennifer Tipton respectively.] The piece looks somewhat celebratory, and there is an overall sensation of relief (as in Stalin’s dead, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel), but there is no coherent mood, choreographically or otherwise, and at times the ambiance is somber.

Nevertheless, there are images that ‘connect’ with the theme dramatically, and appropriately. At one point, the second male character falls to the floor, upstage left, then rises, sitting upright, and stares into the distance. Shortly thereafter, the six corps couples walk upstage left to right, with each man carrying a woman upright straddling one of his shoulders, with each woman’s arms uplifted, as if walking toward the sun and into the future. It’s a stunning combined set of images.

Structurally, Piano Concerto #1 focusses on two couples, who enter the stage shortly after the action begins. The couples dance together, as couples, and individually, and the two women share the stage themselves. Each dance is inventive and distinctive – the movement for the first couple, performed by Diana Vishneva and Cory Stearns on Friday, and by Christine Shevchenko and Calvin Royal III on Saturday, is somewhat smoother; more lyrical. The choreography for the second couple, Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev on Friday, and Xiomara Reyes and Daniil Simkin on Saturday, is more staccato and angular.

At Friday’s performance, Ms. Vishneva and Mr. Stearns had the better of the choreography, and to this viewer of the execution (although Ms. Osipova executed brilliantly, with her usual attack). Mr. Vasiliev appeared, to this viewer, to be somewhat out of place. It also appears that Mr. Ratmansky allowed some measure of individual choice for the dancers – Mr. Vasiliev performed one of his ‘tricks’ suddenly, which seemed to startle the audience, many of whom had come to see such tricks, into reflexive applause. Mr. Stearns was superb – he partnered Ms. Vishneva with skill and attentiveness. Indeed, I concede that I didn’t realize it was Mr. Stearns until I checked the program to see who the guest artist was – he looked that different, and was that good. The Saturday cast for the first couple was very good as well. I’ve already mentioned Ms. Shevchenko, but her partner, Calvin Royal III, is a promising corps dancer as well. He is tall, lanky, and with arms that seem to reach his knees – perfect for partnering. And, though a little rough around the edges, he did a very good job partnering Ms. Shevchenko.

I liked Ms. Reyes and Mr. Simkin more than their opening night counterparts. Ms. Reyes couldn’t do the turns and jumps as explosively as Ms. Osipova, but she seemed more comfortable with the choreography. But Mr. Simkin was remarkable. He was appropriately serious throughout, with none of the pasted on demeanor that I’ve seen previously. He toned down his bravura technique, electing for whatever reason not to insert one of the tricks for which he is justly renowned as Mr. Vasiliev had done – it wasn’t necessary. He partnered Ms. Reyes well, and even had a sense of understanding the gravity of the piece’s theme, and dancing appropriately. To this viewer, this was Mr. Simkin's finest performance.

For example, there is a point in Piano Concerto #1 where the Vasiliev/Simkin character, surrounded by the four male corps dancers, acts like a bull ready to charge forward. It’s a little funny, and perfect for Mr. Vasiliev, who thoroughly enjoyed playing a bull. Mr. Simkin’s take was a little different. Mr. Simkin was an energized citizen eager to experience freedom. And in that critical scene where the Vasiliev/Simkin character falls, raises his upper torso and stares into the future, Mr. Vasiliev, based on what I saw, raised his upper body up in one gradual movement. On the other hand, Mr. Simkin raised his upper body in increments until he sat up straight – a perfect counter-image to the image in Symphony #9 of citizens incrementally falling to the ground. Dynamite.

Finally, two additional sets of performances should be acknowledged. The corps work in all three pieces was extensive, with the work in Piano Concerto #1 requiring more movement uniformity and having less margin for error than the others. Each of the corps dancers performed magnificently, and the corps in Piano Concerto #1, to this viewer, was flawless. And the conducting (at both performances, David LaMarche led Symphony #9, and Ormsby Wilkins the other two pieces) was very well done – the orchestra, which I have often criticized, performed brilliantly.

Though flawed, the Shostakovich Trilogy is nevertheless a remarkable evening of dance. When it surfaces again, it should be seen – several times.

edited to correct typos in performance dates. twice

Author:  balletomaniac [ Thu Jun 06, 2013 10:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013

American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

June 4, 5E
Le Corsaire

-- by Jerry Hochman

American Ballet Theatre unveiled its ‘new’ production of Le Corsaire on Tuesday at the Metropolitan Opera House. I saw that performance, as well as one the following evening. That’s enough.

I’ve previously written that a classic is a classic for a reason. The converse is also true. There’s a reason why Le Corsaire has not entered the pantheon of great classical ballets – it’s silly (more than others), the choreography doesn’t fit the story or the characters (these are pirates who sail the Central European Sea), and it looks and sounds like a patchwork quilt (which is what it is). Even new sets and costumes haven’t improved it – if anything, it looks now, from the costumes to the apocalyptic finale, like a poor man’s La Bayadere, with none of La Bayadere's coherence, sensuality, or class.

What it does have going for it is that it provides plenty of performing opportunities for dancers beyond the two leads. That’s a benefit of no small significance. But even good performances (and there were lots of them at the two performances I saw) can’t rescue this.

The story is stupefying. A pirate named Conrad sails with his crew, his slave Ali, and his lead cohort Birbanto to Turkey. They quickly find their way to a bazaar in the city of Adrianople run by a sleazy slave trader named Lankendem, who, when they arrive, just happens to be surrounded by beautiful slave girls for sale. Conrad and one of the slave girls, Medora (Lankendem’s prize acquisition), are immediately smitten with each other. A Pasha named Seyd arrives shortly thereafter, with the intention of adding to his harem. Lankendem presents Gulnare, who he shows off to the Pasha by dancing a pas de deux with her. Gulnare, not a happy camper, wants nothing to do with the fat old Pasha, who seems to be infected with some strange illness that makes him scratch himself incessantly. But the Pasha decides that he’ll satisfy a different itch by buying Gulnare. Eventually, Lankendem persuades Seyd to buy Medora as well. This doesn’t sit well with Conrad, who orders his merry men (oops, wrong story) to steal Medora back. They do, and in the process kidnap Lankendem.

Then, in Act II (that was all Act I), Conrad shows Medora his Grotto, and also introduces her to his hunk slave Ali, who demonstrates his love for and obedience to Conrad by dancing with him and Medora in a famous pas de trois that is frequently, and mercifully, excised from the ballet and performed independently as a pas de deux just between Medora and Ali (which leads an unsuspecting public to think that Medora and Ali are a couple). But I digress. As does the story in the ballet. Anyway, Medora convinces Conrad to show his love for her by releasing his other slave girls. Conrad agrees, but Birbanto and Conrad’s pirate crew are just a little annoyed – they had other plans for the girls. So Birbanto ‘persuades’ his prisoner Lankendem to give Conrad a flower laced with a substance that, once he sniffs it, will cause Conrad to lose consciousness, and Birbanto would then cut his throat. Conrad’s throat. The flower looks very similar to the flower that Puck uses to drug the lovers in The Dream. There I go digressing again. Anyway, clever Lankendem arranges for some local boys, who just happen to be in the neighborhood, to carry the flower to Medora, knowing full well that she’d present it to Conrad without sniffing it first herself, which would be the natural thing for her to do. Right. Medora and Conrad, after a little dancing foreplay, are about to hit the bed, when the three boys arrive, carrying the flower to give to Medora that Birbanto had given to Lankendem to give to Conrad. Without bothering to sniff the flower herself first, Medora presents the flower to Conrad. How did Lankendem know? It's a miracle. Conrad does sniff the flower, and passes out. At that point, Birbanto emerges from the wings and prepares to slice Conrad’s throat. But Ali comes to the rescue, awakens Conrad, and in the ensuing struggle, Medora punctures Birbanto’s forearm with a knife. [She didn’t recognize Birbanto, because he was wearing a disguise, which everyone knows is necessary to do when you expect to slice the throat of a sleeping man.] While this is going on, clever Lankendem steals Medora back. Birbanto, making the best of a bad situation, pretends that he helped save Conrad from Lankendem. They vow to rescue Medora. Again.

Meanwhile, back at the Pasha’s Palace, where Gulnare is dancing playfully (apparently being a slave girl in Seyd’s harem isn’t so bad), Lankendem presents Medora to the Pasha, who immediately jumps into bed. No, not with Medora. Alone. To dream of Gulnare and Medora and all the women that he doesn’t have to fantasize about because he already owns them. But then, without the dream, there wouldn’t be the requisite dream scene. But I digress. Again. Anyway, the Pasha is suddenly awakened by Conrad, Birbanto, and their pirate horde, who overcome the Pasha and his girls. But Birbanto is still smarting from Conrad’s freeing of those slave girls, and he seizes the opportunity to help himself to Gulnare. A chase ensures. A little one. Halfway across the stage, where they bump into Medora and Conrad. Medora recognizes Birbanto by his stab wound, and reveals him as a traitor. Conrad shoots him. Then he and Ali and Gulnare and presumably the remaining pirate crew run back to the pirate ship, and sail off to what would have been pirate heaven, except the ship is hit by this thunderstorm that causes the ship to sink. Sort of like the gods' revenge in La Bayadere, except instead of temple stones falling down, the sea, represented as large globs that look like stones, rises up. Everybody dies. But Conrad and Medora, who find their way to some rock in the middle of the ocean that looks a lot like flotsam from the ship, survive and live happily ever after. Alone on the rock.

Although there are some legitimate highlights, the choreography in general looks like a collection of outtakes from other ballets. At times, the pirates and their women perform ensemble dances that resemble dances by the nobles in Swan Lake or The Sleeping Beauty, and at other times that look like Hungarian or Russian dances. The dance by the Odalisques in Act I, the equivalent of the Pas de Trois in Swan Lake, is ok, but not particularly exciting and it comes and goes much too soon to have any impact. The solos, primarily by Conrad in Act I, are ‘first we go to the left and then we go to the right and then we go to the left and then we go to the right….’ Very uninspired. There’s more swashbuckling sense in "Pirates of the Caribbean." The ride.

The pas de deux with Gulnare and Lankendem in Act I, the duet with Medora and Conrad in Act II (sweet rather than passionate), and the Jardin Anime in Act III, look reasonably good (although the Jardin Anime could use a shot of adrenaline – it’s pretty, but it looks tired, which is particularly surprising at the beginning of the ballet’s week-long run). The signature pas de deux/trois with Medora, Conrad, and Ali at the beginning of Act II is, thankfully, still glorious.

Tuesday’s performance featured Natalia Osipova as Medora, Isabella Boylston as Gulnare, Ivan Vasiliev as Conrad, Herman Cornejo as Lankendem, Craig Salstein as Birbanto, and Daniil Simkin as Ali. Ms. Osipova was in top form technically (she did the fouettes in the pas de trois in Act II, for example, on a dime, alternating between a single and consecutive doubles throughout), but she seemed either disconnected or overly demonstrative otherwise. Mr. Vasiliev had little magnetism, and seemed more intent on upstaging Ali (which he failed to do). To this viewer, it is essential that Ali have power, as well as technique. Mr. Simkin’s Ali had technique to spare, and all the proper mannerisms, but lacked any sense of power. Mr. Simkin was Conrad’s Boy Friday. Mr. Cornejo was fine as Lankendem, with the right combination of bravado and irreverence. Ms. Boylston’s Gulnare lacked the technical refinement that one would expect (solo turns that were repeatedly completed at an angle off center, for example), but she acted the part well. [Ms. Boylston, as I’ve previously indicated, is a powerful dancer, with a dynamic attack. She projects confidence whenever she’s on stage. But for whatever reason she has a more difficult time with roles that demand classical technical precision. It may be a reflection of her carriage – her upper body looks a bit rounded at the shoulders compared to other ballerinas in the company.] For this viewer, the best of the cast was Mr. Salstein, who was on the money technically and brought his own brand of both comic and dramatic flair to the role. In the Odalisques dance, Sarah Lane was appropriately delicate and technically crystalline; Misty Copeland seemed to work harder than she should have, but got through it successfully, and Yuriko Kajiya, despite some technical difficulty, was very good in her variation.

While not without flaws, Wednesday’s performance was better. It was as if the stars were aligned, and casting for the lead roles was as it should have been. Xiomara Reyes portrayed Medora; Mr. Cornejo was Conrad; Mr. Simkin was Lankendem, Mr. Vasiliev was Ali, and Sarah Lane played Gulnare. Arron Scott portrayed Birbanto. Ms. Reyes gave a more balanced performance than Ms. Osipova did yesterday. Although she wasn’t able to do Ms. Osipova’s tricks, Ms. Reyes's technical execution was more than adequate, her attitude appeared less programmed, and she and Ms. Lane worked well together. Ms. Lane was a filigree Gulnare, with a deliberate, controlled, and refined delivery, and nuanced characterization. Mr. Cornejo’s Conrad had the flair that Mr. Vasiliev’s performance lacked the previous night, and Mr. Vasiliev had the power as Ali that Mr. Simkin’s performance lacked (although Mr. Vasiliev, technically, was somewhat off, and looked a bit sloppy). Mr. Scott was good as Birbanto, with appropriate swagger, and although he was less polished and nuanced than Mr. Salstein, it was a promising performance. But for this viewer the highlight of the performance was Mr. Simkin’s Lankendem. As good as Mr. Cornejo was on Tuesday, Mr. Simkin gave the character additional flourish and provided a measure of liveliness, cleverness and chutzpah that I’ve not previously seen. Further, his partnering of Ms. Lane, which I have frequently faulted in the past, was attentive and non-intrusive. All in all, his was a very fine performance. In the Odalisque pas de trois, Melanie Hamrick and Kristi Boone were both excellent in the roles danced yesterday by Ms. Lane and Ms. Copeland, and although she didn't show the verve that Ms. Kajiya did yesterday, Leann Underwood nailed her role. Ms. Hamrick and Ms. Underwood are among those corps dancers who should be given greater performing opportunities.

Le Corsaire has a complex history. It’s first production was in 1856, but it was substantially revised by Marius Petipa in an 1899 production in St. Petersburg, and this current production, staged by Anna-Marie Holmes, is derived from the Petipa production as well as from additional choreography by Konstantin Sergeyev (Ms. Holmes’s staging is described as ‘after’ Petipa and Sergeyev). The score uses bits and pieces from Adolphe Adam, Cesare Pugni, Leo Delibes, Riccardo Drigo, and Prince Oldenbourg. With this background, it's not surprising that Le Corsaire has all the characteristics of a ballet by committee, with music and dance that lend the entire ballet an aura of inchoherence. And the costumes, which at a minimum should be sensuous, look dull. Even the corps on the stage perimeters looked bored. [I noticed that some changes to the corps placement in Act I were made between Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s performances. These changes didn’t help - it needs major surgery.] Why ABT brought Le Corsaire back for a second consecutive year, and with a new production that adds little that's new (and which actually premiered in Argentina in 2011), is inexplicable. It's time to give it a rest.

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