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Gelsey Kirkland Ballet
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Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sat Feb 15, 2014 2:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Gelsey Kirkland Ballet

The Gelsey Kirkland Ballet, a 20 member company, will perform at Symphony Space at 95th and Broadway in New York. Works on the program include "Raymonda Suite," "The Leaves Are Fading Pas de deux," "Ballebille from 'Napoli,'" "Flames of Paris" pas de deus, "Pas de Quatre" and "Cavalry Hall."

Broadway World

Author:  balletomaniac [ Mon Mar 10, 2014 1:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Gelsey Kirkland Ballet

Gelsey Kirkland Ballet
Symphony Space
New York, New York

March 7, 2014
“Raymonda Suite;” “Leaves Are Fading Pas De Deux;” “Ballebille;”
“Flames of Paris;” “Pas de Quatre;” “Cavalry Halt”

-- by Jerry Hochman

The first time I ever saw Gelsey Kirkland dance, she was already a principal dancer with New York City Ballet. What I saw in that first performance (in Jerome Robbins’s “The Goldberg Variations,” and which also was the first time I saw NYCB) was not only obvious capability, but personal magnetism and an aura of youthful elegance and regality that was unique to her. When she defected to American Ballet Theatre, these qualities continued to mark her performances until other factors interfered. That she also was a perfectionist is not unusual – I think all professional dancers are – but her perfectionism extended beyond nailing the steps to nailing the style.

No one could duplicate Ms. Kirkland’s personal attributes – I’ve kept searching over the years, and although some ballerinas have come close, I’m convinced at this point that Ms. Kirkland is sui generis. But her demand for performance perfection is something that she obviously still carries with her, and that she is inculcating in her new company, Gelsey Kirkland Ballet (known as ‘GKBallet’), which premiered the second program in its inaugural season on Friday at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side. It was an extraordinarily ambitious program, not entirely successful but much more successful than it had any right to be, largely because of the attention to detail and style, the desire for perfection, which her company’s performances reflect.

The program looked like an ABT Gala performance without the fanfare or the furs – a series of excerpts from larger pieces, followed by a brief ‘chamber’ ballet, and then a complete one-act ballet, all of which gave the company and its dancers a chance to show what they could do. But it was a much more eclectic gathering of ballets and styles – not the ‘usual’ gala pas de deux warhorses. And although the company’s dancers aren’t yet on the level of the dancers in major companies, this wasn’t the point of the performance. Rather, the point was how far they’ve gotten in such a short time, that the company’s expectations are high, and that to a large extent these expectations have been met.

The highlight of the evening was its second ‘Act’, which consisted entirely of “Cavalry Halt,” according to the program notes a ballet created by Marius Petipa in 1896 that is rarely performed in this country. I had never heard of it – which perhaps says more about me than it does about its rarity. But even those balletgoers I informally surveyed who knew of it only had the knowledge through on line videos, and had never seen it live. It’s wonderful, and was given a rousing performance by GKBallet company dancers, apprentices, and students of the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet.

Not surprisingly, “Cavalry Halt” resembles other comedic ballet that Petipa created or refined. I saw images that briefly brought to mind “Don Quixote” (1869/1873), “La Fille Mal Gardee” (1885), and “Coppelia” (1884). But “Cavalry Halt” is not a carbon copy of any of these. It enlivens the music of Johann Armsheimer and Johann Strauss to which it’s choreographed (the music sounds a little schmaltzy, and a little central-European John Philip Sousa), and tickles on its own merits.

The story tells of the rivalry between two peasant girls for the affection of one peasant boy, and the complications that arise when the cavalry briefly bivouacs in the village, and three soldiers of various rank and personalities fight for the affections of one of the girls – who tolerates and plays with them but is not at all interested. The story was fun enough to begin with, but the performances, in addition to being competently danced, demonstrated superlative ability to capture the essence of character. Granted that the characters in this ballet are cartoonish, with little need for character nuance. But for what they were, the performances were top notch.

Dawn Gierling and Katrina Crawford were the peasant girls Maria and Theresa – the former the town sweetheart, the latter the town firecracker – and Anderson Souza was the object of their affection. All three of the lead cavalrymen brilliantly portrayed, and skewered, the character-types they represented. Erez Ben-Zion Milatin played the romantic, love-starved, and clueless Coronet (lowest rank) perfectly. As his superior, the Rotmeister, Johnny Almeida was nouveau-full-of-himself, as irresistible to women (in his mind) as he was to himself. And The General, Alexander Mays (a student at the GK school) was a lovable buffoon (similar to Gamache in ‘Don Q’, but more funny than fey), who knew that women would, or at least should, fall at his feet because he was the leader of the pack – unless he fell at their feet first. The remainder of the cast (eight Cavalry Men, seven Peasant Men, ten Peasant Ladies including featured soloists Nicole Assaud and Michelle Katcher, and eight dancers, all of them GK school students, in the Hungarian divertissement) did an equally fine job. The piece was effectively staged by Nikolai Levitsky and Vera Solovyeva.

“Cavalry Halt” was as impressive as it was because it was so well executed. And it was so well executed because, apparently, it was prepared and rehearsed so well. But the ballet didn’t lose any of its appearance of naturalness, or of spontaneity, as a result. The performance of “Raymonda Suite,” which opened the program, didn’t fare quite as well.

“Raymonda Suite” is an excerpt from the evening-length Petipa ballet “Raymonda,” which once was a frequent component of ABT performing seasons, but hasn’t been performed in some time. The program note indicates that Ms. Kirkland danced this role with ABT in 1976, partnered by Rudolf Nureyev, but although I thought I saw every New York performance by Ms. Kirkland, and if she danced it I must have seen it, I have no memory of this one. Rather, I recall vividly seeing the role danced by Martine Van Hamel and Cynthia Gregory. Be that as it may, as performed by GKBallet’s dancers, the piece shows the dancers’ remarkable facility given their level of experience, but also that it’s a stretch – particularly for the men.

The story excerpt is of the Hungarian wedding celebration of Countess Raymonda to her dashing knight, Jean de Brienne, and the style is classical/Hungarian folk. India Rose did a fine job with her portrayal of Raymonda, and although Mr. Almeida looked more starched than he needed to be, his portrayal of Jean de Brienne was well done. But overall the piece looks like it had been fine-tuned to within an inch of its life. Getting the style right is a commendable goal, and one expects the style to be executed appropriately both by the leads and the corps. But there’s a fine line between getting the style right and making it look regimented. It’s appropriate and essential, for example, to have the corps of white swans in “Swan Lake” dancing the same style and in unison. Here, however, the corps is supposed to be comprised of ‘real’ people celebrating, and to me the corps looked unnaturally uniform. Every hand gesture, every head cock, was exactly the same on every woman in the corps. They got it right – though to me they looked robotic. But perhaps this was also an understandable display of opening night/opening piece jitters. They all looked just a little stiff.

However, any sense of ‘stiffness’ disappeared as the program continued. Antony Tudor’s “The Leaves Are Fading” is one of my favorite ballets, evocative and sensitive without being overly syrupy, the ballet nudges the heart to remember things past with reflective joy. The ballet’s highlight is the central pas de deux, danced at its world premiere by Ms. Kirkland and Jonas Kage, and to this day, nearly forty years later, I can still see Ms. Kirkland balanced on Mr. Kage’s thighs, and can still feel my heart exploding out of my chest and the tears streaming down my face. It is one of the most choreographically unexpected, and most perfect, images of ‘true love’ (as opposed to MacMillan-esque images of ‘passionate love’) that I know. It sounds soapy, but it doesn’t come across that way. It comes across real.

The pas de deux loses some of its magic when danced as an excerpt, and particularly loses its reason for being when it’s performed as some sort of representation of ‘mature’ love. It isn’t; as danced that opening night, it’s a representation of the realization by young lovers that their love is real and will endure. The GKBallet’s program note describes it as a meditation on ‘maturing’ love. I can accept that – it starts as one of many summer romances, but grows before our eyes to something much more wonderful. Ms. Gierling doesn’t resemble Ms. Kirkland (as one commentator apparently has written), but she’s very sweet-looking and dances the role beautifully. Christian Laverde Koenig (who is not listed on the company’s roster of dancers or apprentices, which I assume was a copyreading omission), nicely complemented her, and added an appropriate sense of mysticism – of being overwhelmed by a force that was suddenly…there. Their performances were a credit to the staging by Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner (who also danced this pas de deux exquisitely during their years with ABT), to Ms. Kirkland’s coaching, and to their own dedication to getting it right.

“Ballebille” is an excerpt from the third act of “Napoli,” an iconic ballet by August Bournonville (other excerpts from “Napoli” used to be a fixture in programs, years ago, whenever the Royal Danish Ballet visited New York). The Bournonville style is not the easiest to replicate, but the GKBallet’s dancers – including the men – did a very nice job with it. Indeed, I thought at times that I saw echoes of Anne Marie Vessel and Eva Kloborg in two of the women. Madeline Graber (a company apprentice) and Mr. Souza led the piece.

“Ballebille” was followed by the pas de deux from “Flames of Paris” the only dance on the program that one might consider relatively familiar. Choreographed by Vasily Vainonen in 1932, the piece, and particularly the pas de deux, is a rousing paean to Russian classicism as well as Soviet ballet athleticism. [Its subject is the French Revolution, and it’s a barely camouflaged salute to the triumph of the People over tyranny. See also “Spartacus,” which the Bolshoi Ballet is scheduled to dance in New York this summer.] Mr. Ben-Zion Milatin and Ms. Assaad (another company apprentice) delivered a thrillingly exuberant performance.

Act I concluded with a performance of “Pas de Quatre,” the pastiche on, and salute to, the leading ballerinas of their time who originally danced the piece in 1845 -- Carlotta Grisi, Lucile Grahn, Fanny Cerrito, and Marie Taglioni – each of whom was known for her own particular style and strength. The piece is remarkable not because it replicates Romantic or Classical style, but because it clearly and successfully displays differences that a particular ballerina can bring to a performance. “Pas de Quatre” was reconstructed for ABT by Sir Anton Dolin in 1941, and was here staged (and is copyrighted) by Jelko Yuresha. The GKBallet dancers executed remarkably well, delivering appropriate stylistic nuances that made their ‘characters’’ performances unique. Anastasia Barsukova was Ms. Grahn, Ms Katcher was Ms. Grisi, Nicole Fedorov was Ms. Cerrito, and Katia Raj was Ms. Taglioni (and eerily looked like images I’ve seen of Ms. Taglioni).

Gelsey Kirkland Ballet is not yet a major ballet company. It’s too soon, and ballet companies, like swans, aren’t hatched fully grown. And a significant turning point will be if, and when, the company develops a style of its own rather than replicating classical styles to perfection. But that’s far down the road. Or perhaps Ms. Kirkland (who did not take post-performance bows; my understanding is that she was ill) prefers that the company grow as an accurate repository of classical Russian style, and that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing -- it’s something that New York Theater Ballet has done successfully, with respect to more contemporary dances and styles, for many years. But I suspect that Ms. Kirkland and her co-Artistic Director Michael Chernov, have grander ambitions, and New York always has room for a third major ballet company.

edited 3/11/14 to correct several egregious typos

Author:  AylwardRobert [ Thu Mar 20, 2014 11:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Gelsey Kirkland Ballet

I watched the show and it was outstanding.All the performers performed really well.The place where this show was organized I was unaware of that place but the theater district map of times square helped me out to find the exact location where this show was conducted.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Apr 25, 2014 1:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Gelsey Kirkland Ballet

Broadway World previews "The Sleeping Beauty" at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts, May 16-18, 2014.

Broadway World

Author:  balletomaniac [ Sat May 17, 2014 7:55 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Gelsey Kirkland Ballet

Gelsey Kirkland Ballet
Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University

May 16. 2014
"Sleeping Beauty"

Gelsey Kirkland Ballet's production of "Sleeping Beauty" premiered last night. While a full review will follow, it will be after the conclusion of the four-performance run on Sunday. So I'm providing this brief report to alert anyone interested to this little miracle in lower Manhattan. Performances will continue this afternoon and evening, and Sunday, at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University.

This is a 'real', professional, production, not pasted together, and classically (and classily) classical. It's not perfect - I had some concerns (primarily the recorded music, and the acting that could be more fully developed -- except with respect to Carabosse, whose characterization needs no improvement), but in the overall scheme of things, they're minor. What's important is that the production is believable (it looks like a 'full-scale' production, but has the feel of an amplified chamber ballet since the audience is so close to the stage that you feel transported into the fairy tale; the costumes alone are extraordinary), the staging is fabulous (every image is a storybook tableau; every stage space is appropriately utilized), the choreography looks right (the choreographic choices made work even without the bells and whistles of other productions; and there is a remarkable stylistic unity), and the dancers are quite good all around (they may not be ABT/NYCB level, yet, and may not have the 'ballet bodies' that one may be used to seeing, but they're uniformly very capable, look good, and dance remarkably well). Dawn Gierling's Aurora is on a very high level (except she needs more facial expressiveness) (note that there will be a different Aurora at the remaining two evening performances); Johnny Almeida was a stalwart Prince Desire; Eva Janiszewski's Carabosse was outstanding, and the fairies, variation-leads - indeed, the entire cast -- executed remarkably well (they even know how to handle the occasional wayward bouquet or feather). This production isn't just for children -- it's appeals to everyone, and would be worth the trip even if it weren't the only "Sleeping Beauty" in town this year.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue May 20, 2014 1:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Gelsey Kirkland Ballet

In the New York Times, Alastair Macaulay reviews the Gelsey Kirkland Ballet's "The Sleeping Beauty."

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri May 23, 2014 1:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Gelsey Kirkland Ballet

Robert Gottlieb reviews "The Sleeping Beauty" for the New York Observer.

NY Observer

Author:  balletomaniac [ Mon May 26, 2014 9:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Gelsey Kirkland Ballet

This is an expansion of a 'mini-review' posted last week; it's completion was regrettably delayed by illness.

Gelsey Kirkland Ballet
Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University
New York, New York

May 16. 2014
"Sleeping Beauty"

-- by Jerry Hochman

Logical expectations color what one sees in a performance. Although productions must be judged by relatively uniform standards, whether a particular performance is successful is a function of many variables, not the least of which is the company’s level of experience. For example, one doesn’t approach a high school production of a Broadway show with the same expectations that one might have of the original. Similarly, one doesn’t approach a performance of a classic ballet by a company in operation for a year with the same expectations one might have seeing a production of the same ballet by a company in operation half a century or more. With that in mind, and by any reasonable set of standards, Gelsey Kirkland Ballet’s production of “Sleeping Beauty,” which I saw at its premiere performance on May 16, is a remarkable accomplishment.

This is a 'real', professional production, not one pasted together with amateur dreams and equivalent skills. And it’s classily classical. By that I mean that although it’s ‘after’ Petipa and obviously classical in style, it’s not a reproduced 19th century relic. It has a contemporary sensibility, not only because its dancers are so young and inexperienced, but because it moves at a more contemporary pace. It's not perfect - I had some concerns (primarily the quality of the recorded music, and the acting that, with the exception of Carabosse, should have been more fully developed), but in the overall scheme of things, these concerns, though real, are minor.

What resonates most about this production is it audacity. As was evident in its repertory program this past winter, co-Artistic Directors Michael Chernov and Ms. Kirkland have high standards. Accordingly, this “Sleeping Beauty” has the ‘look’ of a full-scale, opera house production, but within the confines of the considerably more intimate Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University, it has the ‘feel’ of a ‘chamber’ ballet where the audience doesn’t so much watch the action as is transported into it. (By my count, the orchestra is a semi-circle 7-10 rows deep, and approximately 50 seats across – separated by two aisles. And the stage appears to be comparable in width and depth to the orchestra seating area. There’s also a balcony, the size of which I did not see.) And it’s believable. The costumes, designed by Mr. Chernov, are extravagantly appropriate, and with one exception (the Prologue backdrop) the sets, designed by Mr. Chernov and Katherine Fry, are both glorious and ingenious. While the cost involved likely was less than that for a major company’s presentation, this production doesn’t look threadbare or limited to essential expenditures. On the contrary, these sets, including Act II’s moving panorama, are noteworthy examples of intelligent conception and execution.

Equally important is the staging by Ms. Kirkland and Mr. Chernov. Every image in every scene presents a fantasy tableau, with each scene capable of being memorialized, image by image, into a richly illustrated, illuminated, and treasured storybook. There is surface similarity here to the current American Ballet Theatre production (which was co-staged by Ms. Kirkland and Mr. Chernov), but without that production’s bells and whistles and artistic excess. (For example, Carabosse here looks like a wicked witch rather than a cross between a beehive and the bride of Frankenstein, her minions no longer resemble spidery insects, and the forest isn’t littered with scary skeletons.) I’m sure liberties were taken with the choreography (additional choreography was by Mr. Chernov and Alexandra Lawler), but with the exception of a Garland Dance that took too long to get into gear, the tonnage moved with grace and speed. I found Act I to be particularly impressive, including a beautifully staged Rose Adagio. Act III’s Wedding Celebration contains many of the usual fairy tale dances and makes no concession to contemporary sensibility with respect to Red Riding Hood and the Wolf – but here it looks inoffensive and all in good humor. Even the Prologue, a weak point in many productions, sparkled as the dancers, including the fairies’ attendants as well as the fairies themselves, filled the stage with wide-eyed enthusiasm.

Of equal significance to the production’s staging is its sense of choreographic style. Here, the stylistic unity displayed from featured dancers to the corps (composed primarily of students from the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet) is quite exceptional. And unlike the company’s staging of its “Raymonda Suite” this past winter, the drilling does not appear to have been overdone. On the contrary, the performance looked remarkably unregimented – particularly in light of the use of a recorded score. Indeed, although dancing to recorded music can be a double-edged sword (there are no surprises in the tempo, so dancers can rehearse to the same beat repeatedly until they get it right; but there’s also no margin for error since there’s no way for the recording to adjust), here the GK Ballet dancers seemed unfazed one way or the other: they executed flawlessly, even ‘covering’ the occasional wayward feather or bouquet without missing a beat.

But the recorded score also represented one of two deficiencies that I noted in GK Ballet’s production. Using a recorded score in performances in New York is nothing new: companies with greater performing experience and considerably wealthier benefactors have frequently performed in New York without live orchestral accompaniment. In this economy – in any economy – it’s a necessary evil, and a relatively benevolent one. But here, whether the cause was poor orchestral execution or an inadequate audio system, this recording failed to do justice to the glorious Tchaikovsky score.

But the quality of the recording, annoying as it was, did not have a negative impact on the dancing. While I wouldn’t consider the dancing to be spectacular, that means less to me, certainly at this level, than getting the steps right and providing the audience with a rich visual experience. And in this respect this company did a fine job – nothing stood out as being beyond anyone’s capabilities; indeed, all the featured dancers did what they were supposed to do adequately as well as zestfully. This is not feint praise: this is a company comprised of dancers with no established pedigree (at least none that was trumpeted) and bodies that, generally, don’t fit the standard ballet body image. Consequently, their accomplishment, and that of their coaches, is all the more extraordinary.

But there are trade-offs that may be inherent in whipping a group of heterogeneous dancers with names that sound like a United Nations roll call into a cohesive and coherent company, at least at this early stage. Here, the trade-off was evident in those roles that called for characterization beyond executing the steps correctly. In this respect, and based solely on this premiere performance (characterization often develops only when inexperienced performers reach a particular comfort level), work still needs to be done. Dawn Gierling’s sweet and age-appropriate Aurora was danced at a high level, particularly with respect to the Rose Adagio and the post-pricked finger 'mad' scene, but her facial expression was relatively bland and fixed throughout – an understandable manifestation of opening-night jitters that was not fatal to her performance, but it's an area for improvement. Johnny Almeida’s Prince Desire was a stalwart companion, but he seemed more full of himself (as he was in “Raymonda Suite”) than taken with his princess – although his partnering was attentive and competent throughout. And India Rose’s warmly generous Lilac Fairy, though danced securely, lacked vivacity.

There were exceptions, the primary one being Eva Janiszewski’s Carabosse. Ms. Janiszewski, who is not on the company roster (she’s listed as a student in the GK Academy Professional Training Program), danced a memorable Carabosse in every respect. The stage came alive whenever she was on it. Cute-as-a-button Kyono-Chantal Morin (also in the Training Program) delivered an engagingly fake-fearful Red Riding Hood (aided by apprentice Ritchel Ruiz’s sheep in wolf’s clothing). Katia Raj and Alexander Mays danced a lively Cat and Puss In Boots, and Katrina Crawford and Samuel Humphreys were a regal King and Queen even though, in this production, their roles are diminished and there’s little for them to do beyond looking regal.

Among other featured rules, Anastasia Barsukova excelled as the Fairy of Joy and Anderson Souza was an admirable Catalabutte, and together they danced a strong Bluebird pas de deux (with Ms. Barsukova a particularly vibrant Princess Florine). And Nicole Assaad, a company apprentice, did a superb job in her roles as the Fairy of Charity in the Prologue and as the Diamond Fairy in Act III.

Ballet companies must start somewhere, and this was the third production in GK Ballet’s inaugural season. That fact alone makes this production of “Sleeping Beauty” particularly impressive – a little miracle in lower Manhattan. While GK Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty” may not yet be ready to challenge its bigger and more experienced cousins, it reflects extraordinarily high standards, and is already a formidable addition to the New York ballet landscape.

Author:  balletomaniac [ Mon Mar 30, 2015 8:58 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Gelsey Kirkland Ballet

Gelsey Kirkland Ballet
Peter Norton Symphony Space
New York, New York

March 28, 2015
Cavalry Halt; Harlequinade

-- by Jerry Hochman

It was double trouble at Symphony Space Saturday night as Gelsey Kirkland Ballet offered a program of two fanciful period pieces choreographed by Marius Petipa: Cavalry Halt, which the company premiered a year ago in a Symphony Space repertory program, and Harlequinade, which had its company premiere the previous night. Each of these ballets focuses on the lighthearted adventures of couples as they navigate the trials and tribulations of romance. Although performing these two comedies on the same program doesn’t provide a complete picture of what these GK Ballet dancers can do, the result was a highly entertaining evening that kept the audience smiling throughout.

It takes some degree of audacity to present Harlequinade after New York City Ballet returned George Balanchine’s Harlequinade to its repertoire only a month ago. But as its performances in the past year demonstrate, GK Ballet has an abundance of audacity, as well as the artistic talent and professionalism to credibly pull off what logic says should still be beyond its reach. And presenting Harlequinade in its original form (or some semblance of it) turns out to have been a felicitous decision. Not only does this ballet enable the company, and its audience, to chart the advancement of its dancers; but seeing it so soon after the Balanchine version enlightens them both.

Created when Petipa was just shy of 82 years of age and widely considered to be his last masterwork, Les Millions d'Arlequin premiered in St. Petersburg in 1900. Originally in two acts, it was restaged as a one act ballet, titled Harlequinade, in 1933.

In the tradition of Italian Commedia dell’arte, Harlequinade tells the story of Harlequin’s pursuit of his love, Columbine, her father Cassandre’s attempts to prevent the two from seeing each other, and the escapades that lead to the lovers’ ultimate triumph. Along the way, Cassandre recruits his servant, Pierrot, to keep his daughter locked up; and when that fails, hires some bird-brained comedic villains to ensure the penniless Harlequin’s demise. Assisted by Pierette (Pierrot’s wife and Columbina’s bff), Harlequin foils Cassandre’s dastardly deed; and a good fairy (who may have been the Lilac Fairy in a prior incarnation) blesses the couple with sufficient funding to overcome Cassandre’s objection.

Balanchine’s Harlequinade retains the essence of the Commedia dell’arte sensibility, but modernizes the style and presentation of the Petipa original. The action is more clearly told, and the production looks relatively streamlined – exactly what one would expect from a Balanchine revision. And the choreography appears much more complex and nuanced.

The Petipa original, however, is richer in many ways. Like most Commedia dell’arte stories, it includes an introduction that, essentially, tells the audience what it’s about to see. Here, this introduction serves another important function – it also makes it clear that Harlequin is the focal point of the piece, the character who controls the action. With a wink and a nod, Harlequin describes, physically and through props (including flying body parts) what will happen, and that – fear not - he’ll triumph in the end. The Balanchine version, not surprisingly, dispenses with the introduction and gets down to business immediately. By doing so, however, Balanchine’s version is more decentralized: Harlequin is just one of a number of characters in the story, and one who doesn’t appear until after other characters are first introduced.

The introduction also highlights the festiveness of the piece. This isn’t just a story, it’s a tale told within the context of a Venetian carnival, a mardi gras street festival of sorts, with hordes of masqued celebrants who are colorfully introduced at the outset. One can easily envision Columbine not only waving from her balcony, but tossing beads to the hordes below. To my recollection the Balanchine version doesn’t enlist the horde of celebrants (other than as a small group of Harlequin's 'friends') until the wedding celebrations and divertissements in Act II.

There are some adverse consequences – the Petipa version (here told in one act) is just short of being overly busy, though this may be a result of the relative small Symphony Space stage. And details that are clear in the Balanchine version tend to get buried in the broadly-populated action. For example, Cassandre’s plot to have Harlequin disappear through the assistance of incompetent comedic thugs is almost completely lost – either it wasn’t included in the staging, or it was overwhelmed by other stage action and I missed it. The beak-masked thugs are there; they just suddenly appear and then just as suddenly disappear until they’re captured by a wayward local gendarme.

But this version isn’t all staged comedic hysteria. The characters of Harlequin, Columbine, Pierrot and Pierrette, although stock figures, are clearly delineated, and the ensemble dancing makes a more immediate and more powerful visual impact.

As with other GK Ballet performances I’ve seen, the dancers do a commendable job. While no one expects that these GK Ballet dancers can match the capabilities of the NYCB dancers in the same roles, that’s not the point. Each of the leads handled both the choreography and the characterization well, and if the complexity of the original (here staged by Nikolai Levitsky and Vera Solovyeva) was toned down somewhat to meet the capabilities of the dancers, it didn’t show. The role doesn’t call for the effervescent doll-like cuteness as does the Balanchine version, but Anastasia Barsukova was an appropriately ebullient Pierrette. As Pierrot, Marko Micov’s one-note facial expression didn’t change (although I caught him smiling ever so slightly at one point). Nevertheless, he gave his portrayal surprising depth. This Pierrot was neither a dolt nor loser, but a cuddly bumpkin down on his luck with a highly functioning intelligence that he successfully kept hidden from his boss. And something inside him obviously lit up when he danced with Pierrette (which is where I caught him unable to hold back that smile).

I’ve commented on Nicole Assaad before in other performances – she’s a highly capable dancer well able to handle the choreographic assignment. But it’s her stage character that distinguishes her. As Columbine, there’s fire underneath her part tease, part sweetheart demeanor that can be seen in her animated stage presence. Simply put, she connects with an audience, and is great fun to watch. But the performance belonged primarily to Erez Ben-Zion Milatin’s Harlequin. Milatin, like Assaad, is short in stature, but he’s a dancing dynamo. Equally important, and unlike some other portrayals of the role that I’ve seen, he also comes across as an irresistible Harlequin next door; a thoroughly likeable rogue. The supporting “Harlequinade” corps – members of the company as well as students at the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet - was well-drilled in the technical requirements of the ballet, as has repeatedly been the case in all of the GK Ballet productions, but there was no sense of regimentation. These dancers were comfortable with both the choreography and the festive air. One in particular, Kyono-Chantal Morin, a company apprentice, dances with a rare combination of youthful elegance and innocence, as well as a controlled fluidity,that sets her apart from the others.

The professionalism of this production is also evident in its production values – particularly the extraordinary costumes created by Jennifer Wood-Bonnell, Jetty Maika, Debra DeJong, and Naomi Morin.

Even though it’s no longer a novelty (it was presented in one of the Mikhalovsky Ballet programs this past fall), Cavalry Halt remains as delightful now as it was when GK Ballet presented it a year ago. I reviewed it then, and the cast on Saturday was the same. While the execution overall didn’t appear quite as polished as it did when I last saw it, the performances by Dawn Gierling (Maria), Katrina Crawford (Theresa), Anderson Souza (Philipp), and Milatin, Johnny Almeida, and Alexander Mays (Coronet, Rotmeister, and The General) were appropriately cartoonish, and Gierling and Crawford did a particularly fine job, as did the ‘peasant ladies soloists’: Michelle Katcher and Ms. Assaad.

The company is not at the level of other major New York-based companies, but Ms. Kirkland and Michale Chernov, the company’s artistic directors, have served notice that GK Ballet has ambitions to eventually compete on the same level. And, with an expansive new home in DUMBO to which it will move in June, it’s taken another step in that direction. On its agenda are a new production of “Don Quixote” (which landed Ms. Kirkland, as Kitri, on the May 1, 1978 cover of Time magazine), and participation in the new DUMBO Dance Festival in October. As I wrote at the outset, GK Ballet has no lack of audacity, and although its artistic heart is firmly lodged in Russian classical ballet and its dancers hail from all over the world, it may just carve a niche for itself in New York.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Mar 31, 2015 10:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Gelsey Kirkland Ballet

Rose Marija reviews the March 27-28, 2015 performances of "Cavalry Halt" and "Harlequinade" for Broadway World.

Broadway World

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Apr 03, 2015 11:35 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Gelsey Kirkland Ballet

Andrew Blackmore-Dobbyn reviews "Cavalry Halt" and "Harlequinade" for the Huffington Post.

Huffington Post

Author:  balletomaniac [ Sun May 17, 2015 3:47 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Gelsey Kirkland Ballet

Gelsey Kirkland Ballet
Schmimmel Center at Pace University
New York, New York

May 15, 2015
Don Quixote

-- by Jerry Hochman

A few years after Gelsey Kirkland joined the company, American Ballet Theatre premiered Mikhail Baryshnikov’s version of the classic ballet Don Quixote. It was the middle of what I’ve previously described as ballet’s Golden Age, when ballet in the U.S. grew in popularity exponentially. I recall vividly the company’s first performance of the ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House, and smiling ear to ear throughout. I doubt that US audiences had ever previously seen the non-stop vitality of that 1978 production. Unfortunately, they have not seen it since.

Kirkland was ABT’s first Kitri. Following its world premiere in Washington, D.C., she graced the cover of Time Magazine. Three years earlier, in costume for the pas de deux (which ABT did separately before mounting Baryshnikov’s version, which was its first), Kirkland and Baryshnikov had been featured on the cover of Newsweek Magazine.

Forty years later, the ballet company that bears Kirkland’s name has now presented its first version of Don Quixote. I’d hoped that Gelsey Kirkland Ballet would in some way rekindle memories of that production and the magic of her performance forty years ago. It did. I smiled ear to ear throughout.

The production is ‘after’ Marius Petipa (who originally created the ballet in 1869) and Alexander Gorsky (who restaged it in 1900). Most of it appears to be standard, including some portions -- the prologue, for example (which here begins directly with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in the reality-challenged knight’s ‘library’, rather than in Cervantes’s study), and some Act III variations, that the Baryshnikov version deleted. I also don’t doubt that some of the ensemble dances have been modified to fit the relatively narrow Schimmel Center stage and a smaller company of dancers, and that some individual bravura highlights (for example, there was no one-arm overhead lift in this performance) were adjusted to meet these dancers’ capabilities.

But the nuts and bolts don’t matter nearly as much as the thrill of watching a finely staged production matched with a highly capable and well-rehearsed group of dancers (a company hallmark) whose enthusiasm is contagious. And the leads, given their training and natural ability, were fabulous.

I have previously observed that, though her technique is more than adequate, Dawn Gierling dances with a relatively flat affect, and I was concerned that her Kitri would not measure up to what the role requires. But she rose, and danced, to the occasion. From the first minute that Gierling roared onstage like a tornado, she was in character and in control. I remember clearly Kirkland’s entrance as Kitri; this was in the same mold, with ‘head kicks’ (‘Plisetskaya leaps’) from the first entrance, and dancing that was both furiously flamboyant and almost non-stop. And before one thinks ‘well, they all do that’ - they don’t. Her Act II ‘dream scene’ was not as strong as her scenes as Kitri, but her dancing there was more than adequate. And in the Act III Pas de Deux, she included the Russian variation rather than the pas de cheval that I adored when Kirkland danced the role, but that’s not wrong. Is she on the same level as many ABT dancers who perform this role? That’s not an appropriate question. The appropriate question is whether she displayed abundant technical ability, portrayed the essential character of Kitri, and transmitted that characterization with the necessary energy and charisma to make her character believable. She did. It was a super performance.

Her Basilio, Erez Ben-Zion Milatin, is small in stature, but he’s fiery and fun to watch, with energy resources that defy logic. When he danced on his own, he did a superior job, and his partnering, most of the time, was surprisingly strong. He had a more difficult time when Gierling ran into partnering position (as opposed to turning on point while otherwise stationary) – she appeared to push him off position, and he couldn’t keep her straight the two times that I noticed. But Gierling is not his ‘regular’ partner with the company (I’m advised that the dancer I’ve seen him partner previously, Nicole Asaad, who is smaller than he is, is no longer with the company), so it’s somewhat miraculous that he was able to partner Gierling as well as he did – including throughout the Act III Pas de Deux. And although those one-hand overhead lifts weren’t there, there were plenty of partnering gems to replace it, including a couple of sequences in which he threw Gierling straight up in front of him, let go, caught her on the way back down, and in the process converted the action into a fish dive of sorts – which required as much skill and intelligent execution as brute strength. He also handled the acting that his role requires very well, and his comic timing was pitch-perfect. The previous night at the ballet’s premiere, Milatin played Gamache, and I overheard many in the audience marveling at his ability to handle both roles so well.

Anderson Souza, who played Basilio at one of the company’s performances, danced Espada. He was impressive as well, and portrayed the matador with the authority and presence of one with considerable more experience. Katrina Crawford performed the Street Dancer (Mercedes in other productions) with appropriate skill – clearly communicating the combination of sensuality and detachment appropriate for the role. The Flower Girls, India Rose and Natalia Sheptalova, both delivered fine performances, with Sheptalova showing particular flair and an engaging, non-plastic smile. And Johnny Almeida, who danced Basilio at two of the company’s performances, was wonderfully out of character as Gamache.

In the Act II Gypsy Camp scene, the bulk of the dancing is borne by a woman (the ‘Gypsy Soloist’) rather than by Basilio or a Gypsy man. Sabina Alvarez executed this dance of emotional turmoil with remarkable intensity, although it went on a bit too long (not her fault). And in the Dream Scene, Nina Yoshida’s Amour was delivered crisply and with legs flying, but with a bit less cuteness than I’ve seen in other portrayals (perhaps intentionally). Nagi Wakisaka was an appropriately imperious Dryad Queen.

Although space does not permit identifying all the members of the corps – the men and women who danced the Sequidilla and the ‘Blindfold Dance’ (with a somewhat humorously salacious Marcus Salazar as Sancho Panza) in Act I, the Gypsy and Dryad demi-soloists and corps, and the ‘Amourchiks’ (roles I’ve not previously seen) in Act II, and the supporting dancers in Act III’s Wedding Scene – but they all performed well.

I was particularly impressed with the ensemble staging in each of the scenes, which always looked visually interesting above and beyond the skill of the dancers executing it. The staging was by committee, and the production was directed by Michael Chernov. My one complaint (actually, two) is the stiffness of the corps surrounding the action in the tavern scene, with everyone raising their cups in salute at the same time, but otherwise just sitting or standing like mannequins. It’s the way the scene is handled in the two recent Russian versions I attended, but authenticity doesn’t make the scene look good; it just makes it look old-fashioned. Considering the inventiveness of the rest of the production, this staging could have been handled better. And perhaps there was a fire sale on ‘tankards’ – it seemed that everyone involved in the tavern scene, not just Basilio, tossed one into the air. After awhile, it became a schtick, and was no longer funny. (Coincidentally, perhaps, the ‘knives’ that the toreadors usually stab into the stage floor and around which Mercedes dances in Act I were replaced by…tankards.)

Finally, contributing mightily to the success of this production were the sets by Court Watson, the outstanding costumes, including gorgeous individually-colored pastel leotards and tutus for the supporting women during the wedding scene (bridesmaid outfits with class), designed by Chernov and further credited to six women, and the lighting, by Christopher Chambers. It’s unfortunate that the delightfully designed town square doubled as the tavern in Act II (I suppose it was an outdoor tavern), and that the colorful translucent curtain permitted a viewer to see the dancers take their positions before they were supposed to, but those are minor quibbles in what was an extraordinarily colorful staging.

GK Ballet’s new production has no right to be as good as it is. No one should expect the dancers, recruited from around the world (as well as from the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Ballet) to perform at the level of dancers with major U.S. and international ballet companies (landings may not be as secure, for instance; transitions are obvious, and there’s more extraneous body movement than one might see at the Met), but no one expects them to be. Yet. Nor does the production have the bells and whistles of productions by companies with deeper pockets. But that doesn't matter. In many ways, this Don Quixote is superior to others – including the current version by American Ballet Theatre – because it’s alive, and the company’s enthusiasm for it, perhaps arising from Kirkland’s connection to it, is contagious. If you expect ‘perfection’, whatever that is, look elsewhere. But if you look forward to being energized and to smiling throughout the performance, this production is one to see. Unfortunately, GK Ballet concluded its Don Quixote run last night, after four performances, with Gierling and Anastasia Barsukova alternating as Kitri. But I suspect that the production will be performed again, and if so, it should be seen – particularly if you prefer to get visually involved in the production rather than just watch it go by.

The company, and the school, will be moving from Manhattan to DUMBO in Brooklyn next fall. The move appears to be an intelligent one, which could allow GK Ballet to grow into being Brooklyn’s primary ballet company. When it first started, it appeared to be a vanity project, and little more. Whatever its impetus may have been, GK Ballet has the potential to be considerably more than a vanity project in the future.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sun May 17, 2015 4:11 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Gelsey Kirkland Ballet

In the New York Times, Brian Seibert reviews the Thursday, May 14, 2015 performance of Don Quixote at the Schimmel Center at Pace University in New York.

NY Times

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