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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013
PostPosted: Fri Jun 21, 2013 11:02 am 
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American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

June 19, 2013 - M & E
Swan Lake

-- by Jerry Hochman

For many audience members, a performance of Swan Lake, perhaps more than any other classical ballet, comes with expectations. The story has to be the way the story was intended to be, or it’s not Swan Lake. The music has to be presented the way the composer intended it to be, or it’s not Swan Lake. And the choreography has to be the way it was intended to be, or it’s not Swan Lake.

I bring this up because American Ballet Theatre’s current production of Swan Lake, and certainly the two performances of it that I saw yesterday, are not ‘the way it’s supposed to be.’

Some viewers dislike that Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie’s choreography (‘after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’) takes liberties with the Petipa/Ivanov choreography and the arrangement of the score. I disagree. And similarly, I suspect that many viewers would have seen yesterday’s performances, by Hee Seo in the afternoon, and Isabella Boylston in the evening, as being deficient because neither was ‘the way it’s supposed to be.’ I disagree there as well.

To this viewer, ‘the way it’s supposed to be,’ with respect to the production, is essential to know the ballet’s origins (or at least its strongest root), but to rigidly maintain its original form – that is, the original Petipa/Ivanov choreography, the original score unaltered by any modified arrangement, and the original sets and costumes as created, to the extent that originals can be located - is fine for what it is, but the ensuing production runs the risk of appearing to be a museum exhibit. To me, Swan Lake has to breathe and grow and adjust to contemporary sensibilities.

As I’ve written previously, to this viewer Mr. McKenzie’s version of Swan Lake is his most successful creation – or recreation. It accelerates the ballet so that the tonnage moves with a contemporary sensibility; its addition of a Prologue and its changes to Act IV, as well as multiple additional modifications, add to the ballet’s accessibility without altering the story. And his re-conception of von Rothbart, which has as a consequence a changed vision of Act III (von Rothbart is a virile seducer and sorcerer, casting a spell over the queen, the princesses, and most everyone else within eyeshot), makes the ‘standard’ version look sterile by comparison. It’s not perfect [after Odette’s suicide and von Rothbart’s death, when the remaining swans are presumably released from von Rothbart’s spell, why are they still moving like swans?], but it’s a Swan Lake for our time.

Similarly, for those accustomed to only the best, performances of Odette/Odile, and to a lesser extent Prince Siegfried, have to be the way they’re supposed to be because there’s a right way and a wrong way, and anything that’s not right isn’t worth seeing. The argument goes that ABT is a world class ballet company, and presenting a stage character that’s not fully developed technically or emotionally diminishes the company’s artistic legitimacy and presents the audience with a performance more appropriate for a regional company, or maybe ABT 2. To the contrary, I think it’s essential for a company to be a company, rather than a frame for visiting stars. So while deficiencies can be recognized, I celebrate the opportunity given to a dancer to evolve in a role and improve from year to year, and for audiences to bear witness to the evolution, and only wish more such opportunities were provided.

I found Ms. Seo’s performance, which was her debut (my understanding is that this was her debut in the role with any company, not just with ABT), to be remarkable at what is particularly difficult to do – to convey the appropriate emotional components of Odette and Odile. I’ve frequently commented on the intensity with which Veronika Part and Diana Vishneva are able to inject the emotional quality necessary to convey the essence of their characters and to bring the audience in, and I saw the same in Ms. Seo. Her delicacy and dramatic facility are extraordinary (qualities that I’ve previously emphasized are hallmarks of her performances). In her matinee performance, Ms. Seo’s Act II Pas de Deux (Odette) ranks with the finest I’ve seen, and her Act III Pas de Deux (Odile), and her Act IV were not far behind in emotional quality. And this observation holds for her technical facility as well, within the context of the two pas de deux. In the Act II pas de deux, for example, when she bends backward languidly, Ms. Seo uncoiled her body almost imperceptively slowly, as all the great Odettes do. But Ms. Seo continued the movement through to the end of her body, from her neck and head, through her arms, through her back, and most remarkably continuing through her hands and her fingers - separately uncoiling from her hands - until her fingers almost scraped the stage floor. It was like watching slow motion footage of a flower evolving from a bud. She took my breath away. And then she did it again. But it was more than that. Her phrasing was remarkable for a first performance. She varied the tempo, added shades of vulnerability, and varied her facial expressions appropriately.

Certainly a lot of credit goes to her Prince Siegfried, Marcelo Gomes, who replaced the injured Alexandre Hammoudi. The change was a fortuitous one for Ms. Seo. As promising as Mr. Hammoudi is, there’s no substitute for dancing with one of the best, if not the best, partner in the world, and Mr. Gomes was at the top of his game yesterday afternoon – with his dancing and acting, as well as his partnering. But to attribute Ms. Seo’s success in the partnered sections of her performance to Mr. Gomes’s partnering alone would diminish what she, and others, do. Mr. Gomes’s partnering allows his ballerinas to be free. What they do with that freedom is up to them, and Ms. Seo was superb. Even her Odile was very well done. I’m a stickler about Odile – if that role isn’t done right, the entire performance suffers, no matter how great the Odette may be. [As great a ballerina as Natalia Makarova, whom I’ve described as my favorite overall Odete/Odile, recognized her deficiency as Odile, and worked to correct it – which she eventually succeeded in doing.] Ms. Seo was appropriately seductive – in her way. I’ve described it as an understated seductiveness. To some people, that’s an oxymoron. But again I disagree. Seductiveness within the context of her character is what’s needed, and Ms. Seo turned it on – at a lower decibel level certainly – but she knew what her character was supposed to be doing, and was able to show it convincingly. I would have liked more of it, but the kernel of it is already significantly there, and very clear.

However, there is no doubt that a lot of work yet needs to be done. For all her fragility, vulnerability, and dramatic skill, Ms. Seo is not the strongest of dancers – and that was unfortunately clear yesterday. Her solo work (her diagonal following the Act II pas de deux, her swan arms, her fouettes), was problematic, and needs considerable improvement. For those who count fouettes or measure distance traveled across the stage while executing them, or for whom anything less than the liquid arms of Nina Ananiashvilli or the vibrancy and virtuosity of Ms. Vishneva, Ms. Part, or Gillian Murphy are a prerequisite to minimal competence, Ms. Seo’s performance was disappointing. And there was no sense of any nobility to this swan queen; she was a victim – a particularly empathetic victim, but not more. That being said, I see her performance as a glass half full rather than half empty, and all the more extraordinary for a debut.

Ms. Boylston’s performance yesterday evening was half full also - well, to be fair, it was considerably more than half full. Ms. Boylston is a particularly strong ballerina – but not a particularly expressive one. What Ms. Seo lacked, Ms. Boylston had. But what Ms. Seo had, Ms. Boylston lacked.

Technically, Ms. Boylston was a fine Odette. She executed well – very strong fouettes (several doubles), very strong turns, equally strong whether with her partner or not. Her Act II entrance had considerably more flourish than Ms. Seo’s; her technical competence in the pas de deux, and the rest of Act II, to this viewer, was clear. Her Odile was similar. She did the steps.

But to this viewer, what was missing from Ms. Boylston's performance was taking her portrayal beyond competently executing the steps. Perhaps having seen Ms. Seo’s delicacy only emphasized the absence of it from Ms Boylston. But Ms. Boylston, as strong as she is, was monochromatic. I saw few changes in facial expression; no sense of vulnerability and no particular sense of regality (strength alone is not regality). Her acting improved in Act IV, but there’s considerably less work for her to do in Act IV in Mr. McKenzie’s version, so perhaps she didn’t have to concentrate so much on doing the steps.

Until the final section of the Act III pas de deux, Ms. Boylston’s Odile was equally weak in characterization. I found nothing particularly exciting in her Odile; no spark – understated or otherwise – until the pas de deux had nearly ended. I know that Ms. Boylston is capable of showing more dramatic flair (though sensuality and sexuality are different from ‘dramatic flair’, and are essential components of Odile). And it’s a bit unsettling when the spiciest part of Act III was the passion of her Prince Siegfried, Daniil Simkin, who showed enough hormonal excess to cover the two of them; he was like a 15 year old boy looking at his first Playboy centerfold - and in the costumed flesh: wide-eyed, leering, and clueless.

And that’s representative of the difficulty I continue to have with Mr. Simkin’s Siegfried. His partnering is better than last year – he kept her straight (but Ms. Boylston doesn’t need much help), lifted her with apparent ease, and was reasonably attentive. And technically, Mr. Simkin was his usual fabulous self. Rarely is a foot out of place or a line off the mark, and he’s never met a turn he couldn’t milk for two or three revolutions longer than anyone else. His ability to maintain his center is quite amazing – a slight breeze seemingly could keep him turning indefinitely. But to me that has little to do with conveying a sense of nobility, and except for a startlingly good fit between him and his stage mother, Nancy Raffa, I didn’t believe for a second that he was a prince.

From the minute Mr. Simkin came on stage, he looked every inch the pampered and petulant teenaged child, from his blown dry hair to his fake and affected attitude. If nobility means acting hautier than thou, and sticking your chin into the air to emphasize the power of your position, Mr. Simkin’s got it down pat. But I don’t think it is. To me, Mr. Simkin had the air of Geoffrey in the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” without the malevolent arrogance. And the deficiency in his portrayal is particularly noticeable when your Benno is Joseph Gorak, who possesses the innate elegance and nobility that Mr. Simkin lacks.

Again, to be fair, Mr. Simkin has not danced the role for as long a time as other, more successful Siegfrieds (for example, Mr. Gomes and David Hallberg), and his acting considerably improved in Act IV, when he displayed believable sympathy and heartache. Perhaps good coaching can help, but he may have a tougher job conveying a sense of nobility than Ms. Boylston will in conveying vulnerability and regality.

Be that as it may, and though Mr. McKenzie has beefed up the role of Siegfried somewhat (and von Rothbart a great deal), the role of Odette/Odile is the pivotal role in Swan Lake. If they had been combined into one ballerina, Ms. Seo and Ms. Boylston would have provided a more complete performance. I consider Ms. Seo’s to have been at a somewhat higher level, admittedly because I place a premium on being able to convey the essence of a character – this is ballet, but it’s also ballet theater. That’s a matter of personal preference, and others may disagree. But I don’t consider the likelihood that neither is yet capable of a complete performance to be a reason not to have given either one the opportunity (and in the case of Ms. Boylston, multiple opportunities) to grow in her role.

What I consider questionable, and unfortunate, is ABT’s stinginess in providing such opportunities on a regular basis, and its haste to summon guest artists. It isn’t a matter of ticket sales – both of yesterday’s performances were well attended. And it isn’t a matter of providing the audience with an ABT-quality performance – few audience members are in a position to compare and contrast individual performances, and all of ABT’s dancers are capable of delivering quality performances. And for yesterday’s performances, both audiences (a relatively dead matinee audience, and a relatively over-effusive evening audience) appeared to love the performances they saw, with good reason, and each performance merited the standing ovation it received.

And if ticket sales are a concern, ABT knows how to build an audience – I note that yesterday’s evening performance (not the matinee) was underwritten by a major corporation, which means at the least that ABT was protected, financially, from the loss of revenue from poor ticket sales (and which may also mean that tickets were sold at reduced rates). There’s nothing wrong with that – it builds an audience. But there’s no reason - particularly given its ability to obtain a measure of financial security - why ABT cannot give such opportunities to other soloists who, based on what I’ve seen them do on stage, are well capable of delivering credible performances. In the long run, this may be more rewarding for audiences and for ABT as a company than importing guest artists who have been provided with such opportunities by their ‘home’ companies, have had time to evolve, and who can be presented as more ‘complete’ artists as guests with ABT for that reason.

The consequence, and the benefits, of liberalizing casting opportunities was exemplified in yesterday’s performances. Swans aren’t hatched fully grown. Whether Ms. Seo or Ms. Boylston (or Mr. Simkin) grow into their roles over time is not knowable, but it’s a chance worth taking. Whether other highly competent soloists are able to do the same would be a chance worth taking as well.

A few final thoughts: Ms. Seo appeared at her performance, to me at least, to have lost a considerable amount of weight, and looked – again, maybe just to me – painfully thin. [Perhaps it was only apparent here because in other performances this season her costume covered her upper body.] There seemed to be no diminution in her energy level, and I don’t want to raise unnecessary (and probably unwarranted) alarms, but I mention this only as a point of concern.

Additionally, with respect to other portrayals at yesterday's performances: those of the two von Rothbarts, Sascha Radetsky in the matinee and Jared Matthews in the evening, were very good (and Mr. Matthews has advanced to the point where he knows he’s seducing the audience as well as the characters onstage). The two von Rothbarts in the lizard suit (Mr. McKenzie bifurcates the role), Thomas Forster and Roman Zhurbin at the same respective performances, were very good as well in their more limited roles. The pas de trois was nicely done by Devon Teuscher, Christine Shevchenko, and Blaine Hoven in the matinee, and by Misty Copeland, Simone Messmer, and Mr. Gorak in the evening. The matinee’s two swans (aka ‘big swans’), Karen Uphoff and Nicola Curry, were fine, as were the evening’s Melanie Hamrick and Ms. Shevchenko. And corps dancers Elina Meittinen, Marian Butler, Nicole Graniero and Gemma Bond were super Cygnets, as were Skylar Brandt and Luciana Paris in the evening (Ms. Meittinen, whom I have not previously highlighted, has grown considerably in apparent confidence over the past two years, and her presence lights up the stage). However, as was the case last year, it appears to me to have been unnecessarily and unreasonably cruel to have soloists Sarah Lane and Yuriko Kajiya join Ms. Brandt and Ms. Paris as the evening’s Cygnets.

Edited 6/22/13 to eliminate typos and superfluous language


Last edited by balletomaniac on Sat Jun 22, 2013 9:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013
PostPosted: Fri Jun 21, 2013 10:15 pm 
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Maria Kochetkova

***** A Gem *****


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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013
PostPosted: Sun Jun 23, 2013 9:42 am 
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Maria Kochetkova


There is a Rose in Spanish Harlem
A Rose that Grows in Spanish Harlem
With Eyes as Bright as Gold
That Reach Down in My Soul
I'll Have to Beg Your Pardon

Maria Kochetkova as she left Lincoln Center Friday evening.



I am quite in * Awe * of this remarkable young woman.

To give one of the most artistically beautiful stage performances that I've ever seen is one thing.

To be as gracious and lovely as she was to everyone who waited for her at the stage door afterwards is


The Real Thing


As an orchid-goddess of a human being, leaving Lincoln Center that evening, this is an image that I'll embrace for a very long time.


(lyrics above are a modified version of the Ben E. King song)


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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013
PostPosted: Sun Jun 23, 2013 11:22 am 
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Location: New Jersey
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

June 21, 2013
Swan Lake – Kochetkova and Cornejo debuts

-- by Jerry Hochman

Friday’s American Ballet Theatre performance of Swan Lake featured debuts in the two lead roles. Herman Cornejo danced Prince Siegfried for the first time with the ABT, and Maria Kochetkova danced Odette/Odile, also for the first time with ABT. Each delivered a very fine performance.

Mr. Cornejo joined American Ballet Theatre in 1999, and was promoted to Principal Dancer in 2003. Although I understand that he has on occasion danced Prince Siegfried with other companies (I do not know the number of times), Mr. Cornejo has never been previously cast as Prince Siegfried by ABT. One can speculate as to why it has taken so long for this debut, but it was worth the wait.

Long known and celebrated for his technical brilliance, I am aware of concerns that he might not be able to convey the appropriate character in roles requiring a noble bearing. Although the criteria for being a danseur noble have become relatively fluid of late, any such concern vanished immediately upon Mr. Cornejo’s Act I entrance. He was a prince – not just by hereditary entitlement, but by his demeanor. He was welcoming, gracious, and at the same time in command. The classiness was real. It was a super entrance, and his portrayal continued at a high level as the performance progressed.

Technically, Mr. Cornejo has in recent years developed classy technique as well. By that I mean that although he’s always been a fabulous dancer with extraordinary technical abilities, he has toned down his tricks so that they appear to be in keeping with whatever role he’s portraying. He still appears to leap as high and turn as quickly as he has in the past – but he’s not showing off. What he demonstrates now is a performance of a fully formed character, not a performance highlighted by brilliant but superficial bravura bursts. And he partnered Ms. Kotchtkova without difficulty.

My only criticisms of Mr. Cornejo’s performance are with respect to his interaction with the Princesses in Act III – he was more detached than he should have been for someone looking for a bride and not at all animated in his conversations with the Princesses as each presented her country’s dances, and in his Act IV I saw no sense of concern or fear of loss in his demeanor. But these are relatively minor quibbles. It was a very fine debut.

Ms. Kochetkova’s debut as a guest artist (replacing Alina Cojocaru, also a guest artist, who withdrew because of injury) was better than very fine. Her years of experience provided her with a remarkable level of apparent comfort in the roles of both Odette and Odile.

Born in Moscow and trained at the Bolshoi Ballet School, and a principal with San Francisco Ballet since 2007, Ms. Kochetkova has had a wealth of performing opportunities. She first came to my attention as one of the dancers in the Youth America Grand Prix film “Ballet’s Greatest Hits,” and as a performer in the annual YAGP gala this past April, but by that time she had already danced with the Royal Ballet and the English National Ballet, and (according to her biography on the SFB website) she has performed as a guest artist with the Bolshoi and Stanislavsky Theaters in Moscow, the Mariinsky and Mikhailovsky Theaters in St. Petersburg and the Tokyo Ballet in Japan. Again according to the SFB website, her classical repertoire includes the title role in Giselle, Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, Kitri in Don Quixote, Juliet in Romeo & Juliet, Odette-Odile in Swan Lake, Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, Tatiana in John Cranko's Onegin, Swanilda in George Balanchine’s Coppelia, the leads in the Emeralds and Rubies segments of Balachine’s Jewels, the title role in Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice in Wonderland, and she created the title role in Mr. Wheeldon’s Cinderella. And those are only the tip of her performance iceberg.

With that background, one would have expected nothing less than a perfect performance, and it very nearly was.

It would be easiest to reference deficiencies first, because there were so few. Her Act II entrance as a ‘walk-in’, and looked dull compared to the entrances of other Odettes in this production. Her exit in Act II was no different from that of other Odettes – given her experience level, one would have expected some extended ‘pull’ between her and von Rothbart on one side, and Siegfried on the other (and an exit facing the audience, rather than with her back to the audience, would have been less ordinary – but that’s rarely done). She very nearly turned into the wings at one point (just barely remaining on stage) – but that probably was a result of lack of familiarity with the Met’s stage dimensions (and I could see her mentally measuring distances thereafter and adjusting her steps to avoid any recurrence). And the usual flying leap off the cliff to her death in Act IV looked like a dead weight belly wop. [Mr. Cornejo flew in after her.]

But in every other respect, Ms. Kochetkova’s performance was either very good or superb, soup to nuts. Her execution, both technically and in terms of characterization, was spot on. She performed the steps with no apparent flaws (although not completely indicative of technical prowess, her swan arms were fine, and her fouettes were excellent – every other was a double). And she certainly conveyed the character of both Odette and Odile clearly and appropriately, and varied her expression throughout. She wasn’t as vulnerable or regal or nuanced as Diana Vishneva or Veronika Part, for example, or as technically spectacular as Gillian Murphy, and for me her performance did not reach the excitement level that is achieved by those ballerinas and others, but there is no question that it was an excellent performance by ABT’s latest guest artist.

The remainder of the cast was essentially identical to that of Wednesday evening’s performance, which I previously reviewed.


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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013
PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2013 12:32 pm 
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Alastair Macaulay reviews three casts of "Swan Lake" for the New York Times.

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013
PostPosted: Wed Jun 26, 2013 8:47 am 
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Several weeks ago, in a review of Irina Dvorovenko's farewell performance with ABT, I commented on ABT's failure to provide sufficient performing opportunities to its own dancers, and that this has resulted in ABT's dancers either retiring prematurely, like Ms. Dvorovenko, or leaving for better opportunities elsewhere (and stated that 'you don't know what you've got till it's gone'). Shortly thereafter, on May 28, I posted that I'd learned that another ABT ballerina soloist was leaving for better opportunities elsewhere, but did not feel comfortable identifying her because I did not know if the information had been publically released.

It has been now. The soloist is Simone Messmer.

Below is a link to an interview by Gia Kourlas with Ms. Messmer for Time Out New York, in which Ms. Messmer references what I, and others, have been saying for several years about ABT's failure to provide sufficient performing opportunities in lead roles at the Met on a regular basis to its 'home-grown' dancers.

http://www.timeout.com/newyork/dance/am ... cid=leader

[I'm digitally challenged, and can't get the link to post completely. If it doesn't work in the abbreviated form above, I guess go to the Time Out, New York web site. The interview is dated June 21, 2013.]


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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013
PostPosted: Wed Jun 26, 2013 1:01 pm 
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Alastair Macaulay reviews "Sylvia" for the New York Times.

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013
PostPosted: Thu Jun 27, 2013 10:31 am 
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balletomaniac wrote:
Shortly thereafter, on May 28, I posted that I'd learned that another ABT ballerina soloist was leaving for better opportunities elsewhere, but did not feel comfortable identifying her because I did not know if the information had been publically released.

It has been now. The soloist is Simone Messmer.


Thanks, Jerry, for finally making this news official. Here are two quotes from the article that I think give some valuable artistic insight into what makes her so remarkable.

"And I’m an actress. There needs to be more focus on what you say when you point your foot and what you say in your transition steps.
 
"It’s about telling a story and putting yourself out there…."

And two general sentiments.

"Over the last couple of years, something’s happened to my dancing. I’ve really come into my own, and I need more, because I just want to learn more and grow.
 
"I’m just trying to really experience it and make sure that I’m behaving and presenting myself the way I want to be seen, and I think something has sort of occurred with my dancing. I feel like I’m dancing well, and I feel like I’m dancing freer. It makes me happy…."


"….because I just want to learn more and grow." HopefulIy she'll now have more of a chance to do this and be rightfully appreciated for it. I wish her all the best.


 


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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013
PostPosted: Sat Jun 29, 2013 12:41 am 
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Alastair Macaulay reviews multiple casts of "Sylvia" for the New York Times.

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013
PostPosted: Sat Jun 29, 2013 12:57 am 
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Roslyn Sulcas interviews Daniil Simkin for the New York Times.

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013
PostPosted: Thu Jul 04, 2013 12:04 am 
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I just returned from a double-header of performances of ABT's The Sleeping Beauty. While a complete review of these, and the other two performances seen to date (all four) will have to wait until later, for those interested, this is a preview primarily addressing today's matinee.

Sarah Lane is a tiny dancer. But in her re-debut as Aurora (I'll explain when this review is finalized) at this afternoon's performance, she was huge.

Ms. Lane's was easily the most notable, memorable, and successful Aurora of the four I've seen during ABT's current run at the Met. She was dazzling in everything she did on her own (including nailing the Rose Adagio), performing with extraordinary clarity and precision, and with nuance and phrasing absent from the other Aurora performances. To say it was a gutsy, as well as brilliant, performance would be an understatement.

Indeed the entire performance this afternoon had a special luster [except for Daniil Simkin's affected 'princely' demeanor (he portrayed Prince Desire) and his partnering (he came perilously close, twice, to losing Ms. Lane in partnered turns)]. Stella Abrera provided another of her wonderful performances as Lilac Fairy, and Yuriko Kajiya was a sparkling Princess Florine (partnered by Jared Matthews, who had fine demeanor as Bluebird but lacked certain technical facility present in other performances). And in what I believe were debuts, Katherine Williams delivered the most impressive Fairy of Sincerity (the first of the fairies in this production, which to this viewer is the toughest to pull off because the pace is so slow that there's no place to hide any flaw in execution) of those I've seen so far this week, and Christine Shevchenko demonstrated that you don't need to be diminutive in size to be the Fairy of Joy. Her performance provided the role with a different, and striking, 'look' because of her height. It was another superb performance from this corps dancer.

This afternoon's performance demonstrates, yet again, that ABT does not need to rely as heavily as it has on guest artists. There is no question that Ms. Lane's remarkable performance should open more casting doors in the future for its soloists and corps dancers, and for her.

Briefly with respect to a few other performances - Maria Kochetkova's Aurora this evening was competently done - there were no mistakes, but it didn't have the flair of her Odette/Odile two weeks ago, and had no aura of excitement. However, Herman Cornejo's Prince Desire was every bit as good as his Siegfried. Hee Seo's debut as Aurora on Tuesday was promising, particularly with respect to her characterization; and, after overcoming obvious initial jitters (she fell off point during the Rose Adagio, and frequently looked like a deer caught in headlights), she recovered to give a delightful performance. Also on Tuesday, Joseph Gorak was an elegant Bluebird - particularly in comparison to Ivan Vasiliev's 'bullbird' of the previous night, and in what may have been her first appearance in a featured role, Stephanie Williams, another of ABT's talented corps dancers, gave an exemplary performance as the Fairy of Charity.

More to follow.


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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013
PostPosted: Mon Jul 08, 2013 1:28 pm 
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Alastair Macaulay reviews "The Sleeping Beauty" for the New York Times.

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013
PostPosted: Tue Jul 09, 2013 3:55 pm 
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American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

June 24, 28
Sylvia
July 1, 2, 3 (M and E), and 6 (M and E)
The Sleeping Beauty

- by Jerry Hochman

American Ballet Theatre’s 2013 Met season ended with consecutive weeks of performances of Sir Frederick Ashton’s Sylvia, and of the Kevin McKenzie/Gelsey Kirkland/Michael Chernov (‘after Petipa’) production of The Sleeping Beauty. This review addresses performances of both ballets. Why review the two sets of performances of two different full-length ballets in one review? Because although Ashton choreographed Sylvia in 1952, there are clear (at least clear to me) relationships between Sylvia and Romantic ballets in general and Giselle in particular, and between Sylvia and Petipa ballets in general and The Sleeping Beauty in particular, that made me wonder whether there was a connection between Sylvia and those ballets beyond what may have been a product of Ashton’s routine exposure to them and normal artistic osmosis. For that reason, putting the reviews of Sylvia and The Sleeping Beauty together seemed appropriate (albeit just a little wordy). [Frankly, it also was a convenient way to make my discussion of Sylvia a little less stale.]

But before I delve a bit deeper into the ballets and the performances, I must highlight, at the outset, Sarah Lane’s knockout performance as Aurora this past Wednesday afternoon. Ms. Lane is a tiny dancer, but in this performance she was huge. I’ll describe her performance, and others, in greater detail below, but Ms. Lane’s Aurora, in addition to being a well-deserved (and long awaited) personal triumph for her, is a shot across the bow to anyone who still thinks that ABT’s home-grown dancers do not merit the casting opportunities in full-length leading roles at the Met that are routinely offered to guest artists. If Ms. Lane’s performance finally convinces ABT management and (perhaps more importantly) its financial backers that growth from within may be more valuable than growth by acquisition, it would – almost – have been worth the wait.

Background

I must confess that I appreciate Sylvia, but don't really like it. The production received its world premiere with the predecessor of the Royal Ballet in 1952, and was known then to have been a ‘garland’ (as described by critic Clive Barnes) for the Royal’s prima ballerina and Ashton’s muse, Dame Margot Fonteyn. [I doubt that Mr. Barnes’s use of the word ‘garland’ was intended to reflect a connection between Sylvia and The Sleeping Beauty, but who knows?] After a relatively brief period of success, the ballet disappeared from the Royal’s repertoire. Ashton reportedly had planned a revival, but these plans were cut short by his death in 1988. The piece was eventually revived by the Royal in 2004, and this revival received its ABT premiere in 2005.

I reviewed Sylvia in some depth at that time, and again in connection with Diana Vishneva’s performance in 2009. I described the ballet then as being too fussy, too busy, too silly; too modern to be classic, and too old-fashioned to be modern. And although I’m warming to it somewhat based on the performances I saw this year (the way one warms to strange, eccentric relative who brings nice presents when he comes to visit), I appreciate its choreographic gifts, but it’s still a little weird.

But perhaps my reaction to Sylvia is a reflection of Sylvia’s artistic heritage. Ashton did not invent Sylvia out of whole cloth. On the contrary, Sylvia’s origins place it firmly on the cusp (in real time) of those ballets to which it bears such a striking resemblance. For all its contemporary-looking choreography, Ashton’s Sylvia is a creature of a transition period in 1876, as well as a transition period in the early 1900s. [Obviously it’s also a product of Ashton’s choreographic impulses and whatever artistic soup existed in 1952. Although it’s tempting to try to develop an artistic context for Ashton’s dizzying choreography, including perhaps a comparison between Balanchine’s direction and Ashton’s (and where Monotones, one of my favorite Ashton pieces, fits in), I’ll save that discussion for another day. Suffice it to say that Ashton deserves the credit (and the criticism) for the new combinations of 1952.]

Originally titled “Sylvia, ou La Nymphe de Diane,” the ballet was first choreographed in 1876 by Louis Merante to Leo Delibes’s score, and premiered at the Opera Garnier in Paris. This Paris Opera Ballet version (the original original) was presented in Russia at various times until a new version was created in 1901 by Lev Ivanov and others. Ivanov changed the title of the ballet to “Sylvia.” [My information is derived from various internet sources, and particularly from documented references in several different Wikipedia articles.]

These dates place the original original “Sylvia” directly in the transition period toward the end of Romantic ballet and Petipa, both before and after The Sleeping Beauty. It’s no wonder, then, that the setting for Act I of Ashton’s Sylvia looks a lot like your standard operating Romantic woodland glade where strange and mysterious things take place, that Sylvia’s Amazon-nymphs bent on killing any man who cross their path resemble Giselle’s Willis, that Act II looks like an alternate version of the pirate’s lair in Le Corsaire(originally presented in 1956 in Paris, 1958 in Russia, and which had its first Petipa revival in 1963), and that Act III resembles both the final act of Coppelia and the final act of The Sleeping Beauty, lite (Sylvia’s Goats are the Cat and Puss n Boots; Persephone and Plute are Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf). [The connections are not only the product of its timing. Delibes had previously composed the score for Coppelia (which is considered by many to have been the last ‘Romantic’ ballet), and would later create the score for the “Jardin Anime” sequence in Le Corsaire, the score for which was originally created by Adolphe Adam, who had previously composed the score for Giselle. Delibes was a student of Adam.]

There are also connections that may be more curious than substantive. The original 1890 Aurora, Carlotta Brianza, was also the first to perform the original (the original original) “Sylvia” in Moscow in 1892; and the original 1890 Prince Desire, Pavel Gerdt, was the man who presented (and probably made revisions to) the Ivanov "Sylvia" in 1902 after Ivanov’s death. [Gerdt also portrayed Orion in the Ivanov/Gerdt production.] Whether this Ivanov/Gerdt production incorporated any references to The Sleeping Beauty is not known (at least by me), but what is known is that excerpts from the Ivanov/Gerdt production found their way into a tour by Anna Pavlova, one of which Ashton attended in when he was 13 (he may also have attended another Pavlova performance in London when he was a slightly older teenager) and which, reportedly, inspired him to create (or re-create) Sylvia. We also know that Ashton regarded The Sleeping Beauty as a template for classical ballet, and that he danced various character roles in the Royal Ballet’s production of it.

But enough of this. I don’t pretend to be a ballet historian, at least not yet, and if this discussion proves anything, it’s probably that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Sylvia

I may not like it very much, but ABT’s production (essentially the Royal’s 2004 revival, staged by Christopher Newton) is gorgeous, with original scenery by Robin and Christopher Ironside and additional designs by Peter Farmer. And even though parts of Ashton’s choreography, intricate though it may be, look too contrived and busy to me, parts are extraordinary, particularly Sylvia’s solo in the Act III pas de deux (to Delibes's pizzicato music).

Ms. Murphy’s Sylvia was every bit as triumphant in the run’s opening performance on June 24 as was her initial portrayal eight years ago. If anything, she’s lightened the mood – and the less seriously the stage action is taken, the more accessible and endearing the ballet becomes. Ms. Murphy’s performance was complemented by Marcelo Gomes’s warm-hearted Aminta and Cory Stearns’s cold-hearted Orion. But to this viewer the most impressive work at this performance was done by Daniil Simkin as Eros. While Mr. Simkin has difficulty portraying nobility, he has no such problem portraying a god. [That he didn’t have to partner anyone was a side benefit.] The role fit him like a glove.

We tend to take Ms. Murphy’s excellence for granted. Not so with Polina Semionova. Ms. Semionova is still relatively new to the company, and while her technical ability is secure, her characterization is less so, and to this viewer her performances have run the gamut from competent (Kitri) to bland (Symphony #9) to superb (Odette/Odile). But she came to life with Sylvia. [Ms. Semionova had debuted in the role earlier in the week.] Not only was Ms. Semionova on the mark technically, but she seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself, in the manner of Ms. Murphy and Diana Vishneva (who was not scheduled to dance Sylvia this season, but whose 2009 performance was stellar). And although she took the choreography seriously, she didn’t take the ballet seriously, and her fun was infectious.

Of the remaining leads at this June 28 performance, Roberto Bolle was a super Aminta – by that I mean that even though he was portraying a shepherd, one knew that underneath the peasant garb was Mr. Bolle’s usual Superman. While this may make his Aminta somewhat less genuine-looking than Mr. Gomes’s, the power he projects made his Aminta heroic. [It also made Eros’s arrow superfluous – how could Sylvia not have been smitten on sight?] Jared Matthews was a vigorous and virulent Orion. All appeared to be having great fun – except for Arron Scott as Eros, who to this viewer took his role too seriously, and lacked the power and poise of Mr. Simkin.

Mention should also be made of Orion’s slaves, who perform the strangest dance in the piece (as if the characters in Balanchine’s "Tea," in his Nutcracker, had had their roles re-choreographed by aliens with a strange sense of humor). These roles demanded precise (and deadpan) execution. Julio Brigado-Young and Kenneth Easter on Friday, and particularly Grant DeLong and Mr. Scott on Monday, were fabulous.

The Sleeping Beauty

ABT’s production of The Sleeping Beauty appears to be unchanged from the substantial 2010 tinkering with the production that premiered originally in 2007. [The length of time that the curtain containing Indiana Jones-like bones trapped in the forest growth appears in view seems to have shortened, but at this point I may just be getting more used to it.] What has changed is the company’s comfort level – as a whole, the piece has a lived-in look analogous to that of a well-worn but much loved book of fairy tales. It feels ‘right’ now, and, like Mr. McKenzie’s production of Swan Lake, by and large it moves with a contemporary sensibility. And even though consistently tandem execution would have looked better, the smashing Prince-and-his-friends introduction to Act II almost makes up for the ponderous Prologue and any residual Petipa dead space.

And I must retract one of my prior criticisms of the initial production. In this version, the ‘fairy tale’ divertissements in Act III are reduced to only ‘the cat and puss n boots’, ‘little red riding hood and the wolf’ and Cinderella and Prince Charming. [The slack is taken up by the added divertissements for the Fairies.] These divertissements are further compressed to little more than walk-ons, with a little bit of cat play, a little bit of wolf play, and a predominance of ethical refereeing by Cinderella and the Prince. That is, the Prince, at Cinderella’s urging, and with the assistance of the two cats, convinces the Wolf to stop being a wolf and to be a nice guy to the little girl in red. It seemed silly to me when I first saw it, and confusing for those used to the more extended, more typical, and less politically correct variations.

But in a recent review of New York City Ballet’s production of The Sleeping Beauty (the NYCB version does the Red Riding Hood/Wolf divertissement the standard way), I suggested that the Wolf’s abduction of a little girl should be reconsidered, given contemporary sensitivity to the issue. It simply wasn’t funny anymore. But I hadn’t recalled that, essentially, ABT’s new version had already done just that. I don’t know if there’s a better way to accomplish the same thing (other than by simply eliminating the Red Riding Hood/Wolf divertissement entirely), but at least the ABT version anticipated that issue and addressed it.

I saw all but one of the Sleeping Beauty performances. Overall, the company looked very good, and with few exceptions, the performances by the leads and featured dancers were excellent.

If there was a common denominator among the Auroras, it’s that (with one exception) the performances improved to a greater or lesser extent following the conclusion of the Rose Adagio, and with the partnering provided by their respective Prince Desires.

I found Paloma Herrera’s Aurora (Monday), at the beginning of Act I, to be surprisingly tense-looking for a role that she’s performed many times. When she entered she seemed ‘tight’ to me, with her upper body somewhat compressed in appearance and her movement parameters somewhat restricted. She executed a satisfactory Rose Adagio, but it didn’t compare favorably to the more confident portrayals I’ve seen previously. And she maintained an unvarying expression throughout. Following the Rose Adagio, Ms. Herrera began to relax. Her Act I solo was significantly better, and her performance improved further in Acts II and III, when she could rely on her partner, Marcelo Gomes.

Hee Seo’s performance on Tuesday, her debut in the role, was promising, and better than her falling off point during the Rose Adagio would indicate. As I’ve previously observed, Ms. Seo is not the strongest of dancers (at least not yet), and that, coupled with natural debut nerves, easily explains her tentativeness at the outset of her performance. However, almost immediately after falling off point, Ms. Seo recovered and concluded the Adagio with a near perfect final balance. Her performance showed more security from that point forward, improving still further when she could rely on her Prince Desire, Vadim Muntagirov, for support (although Ms. Seo did not appear to have the same confidence with Mr. Muntagirov that she had with Mr. Gomes in her Swan Lake debut two weeks earlier).

But, similar to her Odette/Odile, to me Ms. Seo’s technique was secondary in significance to her characterization. Her technical ability will either grow or it won’t, but Ms. Seo’s natural delicacy and engaging presence is difficult to invent and took her performance to a higher level. Ms. Seo dances with understated grace, even when she looks like a deer caught in the headlights (which she frequently did). At one point, I watched as she breathed deeply – and even that breath was understated and graceful. [Ms. Seo doesn’t breathe in oxygen so much as she inhales inspiration.] And more than any of the other Auroras (except Ms. Lane), Ms. Seo was a believable sixteen year old. [Mr. Muntagirov, whom I had not previously seen, is one of ABT’s guest artists. He is tall and lanky, with technical ability that commands respect, and he did a fine job partnering Ms. Seo. But Mr. Muntagirov exudes confidence that at times looks overbearing and off-putting, particularly next to Ms. Seo’s natural sweetness.]

Wednesday evening’s Aurora was guest artist Maria Kochetkova (replacing the injured guest artist Alina Cojocaru). Ms. Kochetkova delivered a commendable performance, doing a fine job with the Rose Adagio and her Act I solo. But although she varied her facial expressions appropriately, her characterization lacked the flair she gave to her Odette/Odile a couple of weeks earlier, and any semblance of excitement. [Mr. Cornejo’s Prince Desire, on the other hand, was the equal of his Siegried. Very nicely done.]

Saturday’s Auroras were Xiomara Reyes in the afternoon, and Veronika Part in the evening. Both have performed the role previously, and their experience and confidence showed. Except for Ms. Lane’s performance, their Auroras were the week’s highlights.

Ms. Reyes did a fine job in all respects, and became energized by her partnership with ‘exchange artist’ Alban Lendorf, a principal with the Royal Danish Ballet. Her Rose Adagio was good, her Act I solo was very good, and her Acts II and III were superb. My only concern about her performance is a personal one – to this viewer, Ms. Reyes’s Aurora was more mature-looking than Aurora should be. [Mr. Lendorf’s debut as Prince Desire with ABT was an auspicious one. Physically he is a compact dance, but not hyper-developed. And, at least based on his Prince Desire, he doesn’t rely on tricks. He’s classier than that – he’s more remindful of a Mikhail Baryshnikov, for example, than an Ivan Vasiliev. His execution is clean as a whistle (unlike those danseurs who readjust their tour landings to appear to have landed perfectly - like a baseball catcher who moves his glove into the strike zone after catching a wayward pitch to try to convince the umpire to call a strike - Mr. Lendorf landed his tours in perfect fifth, every time), his acting was more than adequate (though he had a tendency to be handcuffed to a template – as in the vision scene, when his positions were always in lockstep with that of the Lilac Fairy who was escorting him through the forest), and he has an engaging quality that is in marked contrast to guest artists who frequently appear to be full of themselves. But most important, he can partner! His stage relationship with Ms. Reyes appeared to have been either very well-rehearsed, or intuitive. Either way, it was quite remarkable. ABT should be concentrating on developing its male dancers, not importing guests. But if a guest (or pseudo-guest member of the company) must be considered, for whatever reason, Mr. Lendorf should be at the top of the list.]

Veronika Part and Mr. Gomes are known quantities. Both are extraordinary dancers, and superb interpreters of their roles. At the closing night performance, Ms. Part was slightly less than perfect in the Rose Adagio (as were all the Auroras except perhaps Ms. Lane), but was stellar in everything else. And when Mr. Gomes partnered her, Ms. Part positively glowed – she had no worries at all, and acted and danced the ecstatic and regal 16 year old princess to the hilt. [I’ll address Mr. Gomes a bit more below.]

Which brings me to Ms. Lane’s Wednesday matinee performance.

This was not Ms. Lane’s debut in the role. Some five years ago, as a new soloist (after joining the company as an apprentice in 2003, and becoming a member of the corps in 2004, she was promoted to soloist in 2007), Ms. Lane was given the opportunity to dance Aurora. I saw that performance, and recall that it was perfectly appropriate for a new soloist debut in a principal role, and very promising. Indeed, the only criticism I recall having was that she wore a pasted-on smile throughout (a typical indication of nerves and inexperience).

After that performance it appeared that lead opportunities for Ms. Lane inexplicably dried up. I’ve heard tons of anecdotal explanations, but this has been a recurring and disturbing pattern at ABT – with rare exception, opportunities given are quickly taken away for no apparent reason, leaving no chance for the dancer to grow in the role. During the subsequent revival seasons of The Sleeping Beauty, Ms. Lane was not assigned the role at all. Last year, she virtually disappeared (I’m aware of no injury), assigned only to featured roles that she’d performed for years.

So the opportunity given her to perform Aurora again, for the first time in five years, was in effect a re-debut. I am not privy to Ms. Lane’s thoughts, but the pressure on her must have been enormous.

If she felt pressure, however, it didn't show. Ms. Lane was ‘on’ from the minute she hit the stage, with technique as clear as crystal. She danced freely, with a relaxed but broad carriage, fully stretched leaps, and sparkling footwork. Her pirouettes on pointe, with doubles and triples, were flawless. And she was the only Aurora of the six I saw that was secure enough in the Rose Adagio to lower her hand gently to her suitors, rather than in haste as if her balance depended on it. [The full-house audience started applauding even before the final balance.] And the extraordinary execution continued through the subsequent Act I solo, with perfectly executed turns and transitions.

But technical purity and consistency were not the only components of her performance. Ms. Lane’s demeanor in Act I was every bit the sixteen year old – not just because Ms. Lane is short and pretty, but because of her natural expressiveness and her intelligent characterization. Unlike most of the other Auroras, she didn’t look like she was acting (though she clearly was). Gone was the pasted-on smile that had marred her debut five years earlier. Her facial expression changed appropriately, her phrasing modulated, and her characterization was filled with nuance. For example, after Carabosse presents her with the spindle, Ms. Lane’s Aurora pranced with joy at the unusual gift. They all do that. And when the King tried to take it from her, she wouldn’t give it up. They all do that. But Ms. Lane didn’t just say no – for an instant she became daddy’s little girl trying to get what she wants (approval to keep what she has) from her doting father. The image took only seconds, but it was refreshingly endearing (and related to the sweet tease quality she brought to her role in Alexei Ratmansky’s Chamber Symphony earlier this season).

Things changed slightly in Acts II and III. Ms. Lane's performance was still glorious, but to this viewer it appeared to be slightly less secure, as if she did not have total confidence in her partner. [She’s been there before, and her concern was warranted.] Her Prince Desire, Mr. Simkin, did fine on his own (except for his affected ‘noble’ bearing, which I’ve discussed previously in connection with his Prince Siegfried), but he was at best a satisfactory partner, and at worst one whose lack of partnering ability ran the risk of adversely impacting the entire performance. In partnered turns, he almost lost Ms. Lane. Twice. Not because he wasn’t keeping her straight (which is a different problem, and may simply require a quick spatial readjustment), but because his arms created too much space and he let her list off center, and then had to quickly rein her back in – indicative to me of a loss of concentration, as if he was thinking about his solo rather than his primary job, which is to make his ballerina look good.

But Mr. Simkin’s partnering difficulty appeared to have little impact on Ms. Lane. Although not quite as spectacular as her Act I, Ms. Lane’s Acts II and III were beautifully done. Coupled with her Act I, hers was the most successful overall performance of the week, because it was so good, and because so much depended on it. Under the circumstances, Ms. Lane’s Aurora was not only a brilliant performance, but an extraordinarily gutsy and courageous one.

It also was a reflection of the caliber of ABT’s home-grown dancers. With rare exception, in every opportunity given to ABT’s soloists and corps dancers in featured roles, they excelled.

Highlights of the featured roles portrayed by soloists are as follows: Yuriko Kajiya was impressive both as Princess Florine (Wednesday matinee) and particularly as the Lilac Fairy (Wednesday evening, Saturday matinee), and Stella Abrera gave her usual wonderful performance as the Lilac Fairy (Tuesday, Wednesday matinee; Saturday evening). Of the various Princess Florines, to this viewer, Misty Copeland’s performances (Tuesday; Saturday evening) were the most balanced between bravura and finesse – her Florine conveyed strength, as well as abundant grace and elegance. Ms. Copeland also did a fine job with the Fairy of Valor (Monday, Wednesday evening).

Isabella Boylston excelled in multiple roles: Her strength and aggressive stage presence as Princess Florine (Monday, Wednesday evening) complemented that of her Bluebird, Ivan Vasiliev, and compared to his forced athleticism, her Florine looked refined. [Mr. Vasiliev, whose portrayal looked more like a ‘bullbird’, showed his usual power, but none of the finesse and elegance that a Bluebird requires. And although his kick to the back of his head at the conclusion of the pas de deux was spectacular, he looked like a goat rather than a bird (but it would have been dynamite had it been injected into the ‘goat’ variation in Sylvia).] Ms. Boylston also excelled as the Fairy of Fervor (Tuesday; Saturday afternoon) – at least in the Prologue, and her ‘cameo’ as the Cat (Saturday evening) nearly stole the performance.

Of the women members of the corps in featured roles, Gemma Bond’s Fairy of Charity (Monday, Wednesday matinee and evening, Saturday evening) was superbly executed, and was performed with particular warmth. Ms. Bond has been consistently fine all season in the few featured opportunities she’s been given. Stephanie Williams’s debut (Tuesday; Saturday matinee) was also very well done, and quite remarkable for a dancer who did not join the company until last year. [Ms. Williams, whom I highlighted at the beginning of this season as a dancer to watch, has considerable potential. She is an unusually vivacious performer, but also conveys an engaging quality that is surprising in a dancer who also projects a high level of self-confidence, as Ms. Williams does. I tend to leap forward and picture a dancer in different roles, just on instinct. Several years down the road, I can see Ms. Williams dancing Odette/Odile with ABT.]

The role of the Fairy of Sincerity (the first Fairy to perform solo in the Prologue in this production) appears to me to be particularly difficult. Slow to point of appearing ponderous (it is usually the least audience-appreciated of all the ‘Fairy’ roles), it is an unforgiving variation. There’s no place to hide any technical error. Melanie Hamrick excelled in the role (Monday, Wednesday evening, Saturday matinee). Ms. Hamrick has been with the company a long time, and has progressed to the point where she should be assigned more meaty roles. But I found even more remarkable Katherine Williams’s debut in the same role (Wednesday matinee; Saturday evening). Ms. Williams (this one), has been with the company roughly five years, and her crystalline execution and focus have been a consistent hallmark of her performances throughout. Even doing non-featured roles in the corps, she’s obviously engaged and involved not just in the steps she’s supposed to do, but in the character she’s supposed to be. [Even at the corps level, there are characters – although the acting by these corps characters frequently comes across as the equivalent of background noise that is comforting to hear but which is otherwise ignored.] But where other corps dancers competently but dutifully go through the usual acting motions, Ms. Williams appears to live it (as she did as a Garland dancer observing the King condemn, and then pardon, those involved in the spindle scandal that opens Act II). She seems to ‘feel’ more strongly than others, and this feeling is transmitted directly to the audience as real, rather than feigned concern.

Contrary to the Fairy of Chastity, the Fairy of Joy is always an audience favorite, because she’s…well, joyous. Luciana Paris did her usual fine job (Monday, Wednesday evening, Saturday matinee). [Like Ms. Hamrick, Ms. Paris has been with the company a long time, and deserves to assay more substantial roles.] But Christine Shevchenko (Wednesday matinee; Saturday evening) showed that the Fairy of Joy is not the sole province of diminutive dancers. Ms. Shevchenko is a relatively tall dancer, and necessarily she gave the Fairy of Joy a different perspective. She wasn’t just joyous in a cute way, she was joyous in a regal, mature way. It was a magnificent portrayal, and another excellent performance from Ms. Shevchenko this season.

The male soloists I saw in featured roles didn’t fare quite as well: Jared Matthews’s Bluebird (opposite Ms. Kajiya) had the proper elegance and sufficient technical facility, but lacked the technical brilliance necessary for a stellar performance (I saw no discernible leg beats, for example), and Sascha Radetsky (opposite Ms. Abrera) started off unimpressively, as if pacing himself too much, but concluded with flourish. [I later learned that Mr. Radetsky may have been nursing a minor injury.] Of the male corps dancers in featured roles, Joseph Gorak as Bluebird (Tuesday, opposite Ms. Copeland) delivered the finesse and elegance that Mr. Vasiliev lacked the previous and subsequent nights. On Saturday evening, the role was taken by Blaine Hoven (also opposite Ms. Copeland). Mr. Hoven is still rough around the edges, and his performance was appropriately deliberate – but he has a very clean line and his portrayal was earnestly and competently done.

Martine van Hamel and Nancy Raffa reprised their roles as Carabosse, and did their usual fine jobs (Ms. Raffa was somewhat more aggressively, and appropriately, nasty). Victor Barbee has a lock on the role of King Florestan, and was typically impressive, but Roman Zhurbin grew stronger in the role as the week progressed and was very good as well. Karen Uphof was a stunning and sophisticated Queen, and Kate Lydon in the same role exuded particular warmth.

I must also acknowledge performances in important, but non-featured roles that are frequently overlooked. Of the four prince/suitors of Aurora, the most critical is the Russian Prince, who appears to be charged with making certain that his Aurora gets through the partnered portions of the Rose Adagio satisfactorily. Mr. Hoven did a fine job on behalf of both Ms. Lane (and looked relieved that Ms. Lane didn’t need his help) and Ms. Reyes, as did James Whiteside opposite Ms. Herrera and Ms. Kochetkova. But Vitali Krauchenka’s work merits special mention. Mr. Krauchenka never gets star billing, but he seems to be everywhere at once. He did a superb job as the Russian Prince opposite Ms. Seo and Ms. Part, but he also appeared as Gallison, the prince’s aide, in the evening, and Saturday evening), and as Prince Charming, competently performing whatever role he was assigned.

The ABT orchestra, under the leadership of Charles Barker (Monday, Wednesday matinee) and Ormsby Wilkins (Tuesday, Wednesday evening, and Saturday evening) sounded quite good (as it did in Sylvia), and the brass, which has frequently been problematic all season (and in prior years as well), got it together as the week progressed. But I found Mr. Barker’s somewhat more expedited pacing preferable to Mr. Wilkins’s, whose conducting pace made the Prologue move even slower than it already does. Moreover, while the visual punctuations matched the musical punctuations when Mr. Barker conducted, the music was consistently behind the visual punctuation points when the conducting was under Mr. Wilkins's baton.

Finally, I must again acknowledge Marcelo Gomes. Mr. Gomes routinely injects something surprising into a ‘final-performance-of-the-season’ or a ‘farewell’ performance that makes that particular performance different and special (and great fun to watch). Although there didn’t appear to be much room for ad libbing in The Sleeping Beauty, suddenly, in the Act II vision scene, there it was. As he and the Lilac Fairy entered the boat that would transport them to the sleeping princess, Mr. Gomes became a fairy tale tourist, converting the sober and dutiful ‘quest to find his princess’ into a fairy tale magical mystery tour, excitedly observing every change in seemingly monotonous forest scenery, smiling and oohing and ahhing as the boat moved through the forest – with the characteristic twinkle in his eyes. All he needed was a camera. And he was so carried away by the touristy moment that at a couple of points he looked ready to grab his tour guide (Ms. Abrera) and hug her. It was priceless.

Mr. Gomes is also unquestionably the Derek Jeter of the Company; the Captain. During the second ‘company’ curtain call, I saw Mr. Gomes turn his back to the audience, and say something to the assembled dancers behind him with his arms raised as if to tell them to stay back. Of course, I don’t know what he said. But immediately thereafter, when the dancers moved toward the audience to bow, Mr. Gomes moved forward with Ms. Part, holding her left hand in his right hand – which is standard procedure. But for this ‘walk-up’, he also placed his left arm around Mr. Hoven’s shoulder, as if acknowledging his fine performance as Bluebird, and then, as he walked Ms. Part toward the audience, he took Ms. Copeland’s hand and held it high with his left hand and escorted her toward the standing audience as well, as if saluting her and reminding the audience that she gave a wonderful performance too. Ms. Copeland looked stunned, and thrilled. I have no doubt that this moment was engineered by Mr. Gomes, and my guess is that if it had been physically possible, Mr. Gomes would have similarly acknowledged the efforts of everyone on stage.

During the ensuing the front-of-the-curtain curtain calls where featured dancers typically receive special audience acknowledgement, the Fairies are supposed to walk out as a group. At this closing night performance, however, the only Fairy to walk out to audience applause was Simone Messmer, whose final performance with the company this was, and who deserved the special accolade. Ms. Messmer had danced the Fairy of Valor (as she had earlier in the week), with her usual flair, and in my opinion had her best season overall. Whether because of any particular performance change, or just by no longer having to be concerned about internal evaluations and being passed over for roles, she danced freely, powerfully, and exquisitely all season. I don’t know whether Mr. Gomes was responsible for Ms. Messmer’s solo curtain calls as he was for his outreach to Mr. Hoven and Ms. Copeland, but it would not surprise me. It’s something he would have done.

edited 7/11/13 to correct typos, and add a phrase or two - and a second time to eliminate 7/5 as a performance seen and reviewed - and a third time to change the reference to a May 28 Sylvia to the June 28 performance it was


Last edited by balletomaniac on Thu Jul 11, 2013 3:26 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013
PostPosted: Wed Jul 10, 2013 12:13 pm 
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Robert Gottlieb reviews the 2013 Met season for the New York Observer.

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre - Met Season 2013
PostPosted: Sun Aug 25, 2013 6:34 pm 
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balletomaniac wrote:
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

June 24, 28
Sylvia
July 1, 2, 3 (M and E), and 6 (M and E)
The Sleeping Beauty

- by Jerry Hochman

Wednesday evening’s Aurora was guest artist Maria Kochetkova (replacing the injured guest artist Alina Cojocaru). Ms. Kochetkova delivered a commendable performance, doing a fine job with the Rose Adagio and her Act I solo.


Veronika Part and Mr. Gomes are known quantities. Both are extraordinary dancers, and superb interpreters of their roles. At the closing night performance, Ms. Part was slightly less than perfect in the Rose Adagio (as were all the Auroras except perhaps Ms. Lane), but was stellar in everything else. And when Mr. Gomes partnered her, Ms. Part positively glowed – she had no worries at all, and acted and danced the ecstatic and regal 16 year old princess to the hilt. [I’ll address Mr. Gomes a bit more below.]


Isabella Boylston excelled in multiple roles: Her strength and aggressive stage presence as Princess Florine (Monday, Wednesday evening) complemented that of her Bluebird....Ms. Boylston also excelled as the Fairy of Fervor (Tuesday; Saturday afternoon) – at least in the Prologue, and her ‘cameo’ as the Cat (Saturday evening) nearly stole the performance.


During the ensuing the front-of-the-curtain curtain calls where featured dancers typically receive special audience acknowledgement, the Fairies are supposed to walk out as a group. At this closing night performance, however, the only Fairy to walk out to audience applause was Simone Messmer, whose final performance with the company this was, and who deserved the special accolade. Ms. Messmer had danced the Fairy of Valor (as she had earlier in the week), with her usual flair, and in my opinion had her best season overall. Whether because of any particular performance change, or just by no longer having to be concerned about internal evaluations and being passed over for roles, she danced freely, powerfully, and exquisitely all season. I don’t know whether Mr. Gomes was responsible for Ms. Messmer’s solo curtain calls as he was for his outreach to Mr. Hoven and Ms. Copeland, but it would not surprise me. It’s something he would have done.



Late is better than never on my part, I guess. Just finished your "Sleeping Beauty" reviews, Jerry. Thank you. I zeroed in on five of my favorites in all of ballet.

*Veronika* ,as I've probably written before, has after certain performances been my *Favorite* person in all of ballet, Ever ! (after Anna Pavlova, of course)

Simone Messmer is a Phenomenon !

Maria Kochetkova is an Amazingly Talented Sweetheart ! From my aesthetic distance, I Love her !

(These two remarkable artists will be performing at the San Francisco Ballet next season. I live in far away Southern California, but may have to start commuting if they are billed within a month of each other.)

Isabella Boylston -- Well, I Love her too !

Marcelo "The Man" -- "The Coolest Person in All of Ballet" (as dubbed by me) is just that !

(although Is-lom Bai-mu-ra-dov and E-ka-te-ri-na Kon-da-u-ro-va, celebrity wife and husband from the Mariinsky, do have cooler names, as I regrettably had to inform him)


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