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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2014 at the Met
PostPosted: Mon Jun 30, 2014 4:44 am 
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I look forward to your review, Jerry, and am very glad to hear your fine praise for Hee Seo’s second back to back Swan Lake. The expression that I haven’t used yet for her absolutely beautiful St. Petersburg’s Giselle is -- ' Pure Poetry ’ .

Here’s what Siobhan Burke had to say in her brief New York Times review of Friday night. Thanks, Francis, for the post.

“As Odette, Ms. Seo had a different kind of delicacy: more urgent, more weightless and more musical. A leg unfurling in développé to the side was like the velvety, yearning notes of the violin made visible.”

Siobhan Burke also had much praise for Polina Semionova, whom I like very much.

“Ms. Semionova, whose interpretation eclipsed all those seen earlier in the week. Here was a being from another realm — and a dancer who seemed to belong nowhere but right there, her acting indiscernible from her dancing….As Odette, she seemed to hover between worlds: uncannily avian and deeply human, a woman at once in captivity and in control.”

This quote brings up a very interesting quality that I noticed in Polina Semionova’s ABT Swan Lake last year. She indeed was “right there” in her presence. I considered it an ‘Americanization’ in feeling, sort of a Gillian Murphy healthfully alive and in the minute approach. It was quite different from what I’ve seen her express before and I wondered where it would lead to. I liked it. Siobhan Burke seems extremely impressed.

She also praises Paloma Herrera’s Odette.

“Ms. Herrera had a wafting, understated softness that conveyed an unsuspecting innocence.”

Paloma Herrera was the first non ‘Russian sphere’ ballerina that I ever took seriously and I really haven’t had a chance to see as much of her as I would want to. There is so much talent at ABT that I just can’t cover it all. Once again Siobhan Burke mentions something that is very personal to me. She felt that Paloma Herrera’a Odile resembled her Odette. As I've written before, I happen to appreciate this sort of thing because, for me, it can help to maintain the spell of the Act II White Swan duet, which I think is the heart of both Swan Lake and perhaps ballet itself.


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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2014 at the Met
PostPosted: Mon Jun 30, 2014 11:09 am 
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In the New York Times, Michael Cooper reports on Kevin McKenzie's announcement of promotions: Isabella Boylston to Principal Dancer and Joseph Gorak, Christine Shevchenko, Devon Teuscher and Roman Zhurbin to Soloist.

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2014 at the Met
PostPosted: Tue Jul 01, 2014 10:32 am 
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Elizabeth Portnoy reviews the Monday, June 23, 2014 performance of "Swan Lake" for Broadway World.

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2014 at the Met
PostPosted: Tue Jul 01, 2014 3:29 pm 
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American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

June 23, 28M, 28E
“Swan Lake”

-- by Jerry Hochman

Regardless of the production and the lead dancers in it, “Swan Lake,” which used to be an old warhorse of a ballet, is now a sexy thoroughbred, perhaps thanks to the film “Black Swan” (in which American Ballet Theatre’s Sarah Lane was Natalie Portman’s ballet dancing double), perhaps to more contemporary and faster moving productions (like ABT’s current production, staged by Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie after Petipa/Ivanov), or simply because audiences will flock to performances of classics they know rather than dances they’ve never heard of. I attended three performances of ABT’s “Swan Lake” last week, and each of them was a sell-out (or close to it), and I suspect the others were as well.

In the current production, which ABT first presented in 2000, Mr. McKenzie has restructured most of Act IV, but the staging as a whole is faithful to the original, retains the story’s epic scope, and yet does this with a contemporary sensibility. Except for a few legacy Petipa dead spots (primarily in the context of pas de deux), and milked post bravura bows by certain ballerinas, the tonnage moves.

The three performances I saw dramatically illustrate two different individual styles of dancing the lead dual role of Odette/Odile. Although I can only extrapolate what Gillian Murphy’s entire performance might have been at Monday’s opening performance in the run, since she was unable to continue beyond Act II (the first white Act in this production) due to injury, based on what she was able to do, hers might well have been one that combined the two opposing qualities shown by Polina Semionova at Saturday’s matinee and Hee Seo on Saturday evening and as replacement for Ms. Murphy in Acts III and IV on Monday. Both performances were extraordinary, but they were radically different.

When I see a “Swan Lake” performance, I look for three broad categories of accomplishment: overall technical quality (which has a number of components), the characterization of the dual roles, and most importantly, whether the ballerina, through the steps and characterization, transports me (and, from what I can observe, the rest of the audience) into her stage world – to be seduced by her in Act III, and to feel not just for her, but with her, in the White Acts.

Odette/Odile is Ms. Semionova’s best role at ABT, and her performance Saturday afternoon was a technical feast, and a stunning accomplishment. She executed everything with a remarkable degree of effortlessness – appropriately legato phrasing, endless extensions, rock-solid balances, and very nice swan arms. Her Odile was a technical marvel as well – in addition to the abilities she already demonstrated as Odette, she added precision footwork, impeccable timing, and outrageous bravura abiity. Her fouettes alone were memorable - done so quickly, mostly with doubles, and centered as if she’d been nailed to the stage floor. I would have preferred a better Act II exit (she gave in to von Rothbart much too soon), and her mime, while satisfactory, was not as clear as it should have been (I got that she was a swan queen, but the rest was slurred). But in every other conceivable way her execution was extraordinary.

However, as spectacular as her technical ability was, there was something missing. Ms. Semionova was clearly the swan queen – she had an air of regality at all times. But there was no sense of character development, or of Odette’s essential vulnerability.

It’s one thing to let the steps speak, but it’s another to have the steps be the sole method of communication. The range of Ms. Semionova’s expression was limited: I sensed little emotional difference from moment to moment in each Act. Even in Act III, I saw the same fairly constant, low decibel level seductive smile throughout (though, admittedly, to be a credible seductress Ms. Semionova need only show up – anything beyond that might be overkill). The one time that I did notice a marked change of facial expression, it was in a strange way. At the end of their Act II pas de deux, she smiled: a hesitant smile (not a broad grin), but from my vantage point definitely a smile. I’ve usually seen the end of that pas de deux transmitted with a sense of relief, that a burden might finally be lifted, that there’s hope. But never a smile. I suppose that that’s a valid interpretation (if it was intentional), but it looked wrong and out of character.

But regardless of any wayward smile, Ms. Semionova’s failure to register emotionally beyond the steps resulted in a brilliant performance that I could recognize and admire, but one that I could not be part of: she never drew me in. Ms. Seo, on the other hand, showed more limited technical facility, but gave a more compelling overall performance.

In the first instance, one must take into account that her efforts last week were remarkable on a physical level alone. Ms. Seo replaced the injured Alina Cojocaru on Friday night, and then danced the following night in her scheduled performance. From dancers I’ve spoken with, this was the equivalent of running a marathon on consecutive days. And she began the week in spectacular fashion, converting the unfortunate development of Ms. Murphy’s injury into a personal triumph. What this says about ABT’s casting decisions and its lack of depth because of insufficient development is not the issue now. But it speaks volumes about Ms. Seo’s heart, even if it was somewhat foolhardy to subject her body to such punishment.

But she did more than just get through it. Ms. Seo’s performance on Saturday evening (as well as in her portion of Monday’s performance) displayed her character’s heart as if a spotlight had been turned on it. She didn’t so much emote (which has an unpleasant connotation) as she lived her character, and made the audience live it with her. Combined with satisfactory (and at times thrilling) technical ability, she carried her performance to another level. While Ms. Semionova’s performance Saturday afternoon was physically awesome, Ms. Seo’s was emotionally devastating.

Technically, Ms. Seo often looked weak. She repeatedly was unable to keep herself centered during partnered turns, failed to hold balances (particularly compared to her performance on Monday, which she began with a balance en pointe that sent a message that she was a worthy replacement for Ms. Murphy, a message the audience got, and responded to, immediately), and her fouettes in Act III were at a minimal level -- they were noticeably weaker than on Monday, and she fell out prematurely. But there were flashes of technical brilliance (her exit in Act II, in which – assisted her Siegfried, Roberto Bolle – she appeared to be pulled in two directions at once; an in-your-face balance at the end of the Act III pas de deux that showed that she still had energy in reserve; and crystal clear mime throughout) that made her execution if not memorable, then at least admirable.

But it was her characterization that made her performance. Among their principal ballerinas, ABT has many extraordinary dancer/actresses, but Ms. Seo, like Diana Vishneva, is different. She not only wears her heart on her sleeve, but she lives her performance in the moment and makes it real. But unlike Ms. Vishneva, she doesn’t demand, by her physical and emotional skill, that you watch her – you watch her because you want to and have to, because she’s so vulnerable, as if watching her could somehow help. In effect, she doesn’t just draw you in, she puts you on stage with her. And although I sensed no ‘regality’ in her demeanor appropriate for a swan queen, making her portrayal somewhat less than complete, it was still compelling.

On Monday, as she danced in Act IV, I saw audience members in my vicinity softly weeping or choking back tears. On Saturday, I wasn’t in the same position in the theater, but when she danced Odette, you could hear a pin drop. And at the top of the precipice that overhung the lake of tears, through her soft mime and the profound sadness that was manifest in every pore of her body, she demonstrated in three seconds the pain and hopelessness and courage of her character that some ballerinas are unable to transmit in an entire performance.

Her characterization of Odile was appropriate vivacious. On Monday, she turned the seductive juices on immediately, on entry; on Saturday, she was less obvious and only began to smolder after receiving ‘instructions’ from the humanized Rothbart. But it worked either way: her Odile was serenely seductive.

Even with sufficient rest, Ms. Seo may never develop the technical skill to dance Odette as Natalia Makarova did, or the sensuality to dance Odile with the fire of, for example, Birgit Keil (Stuttgart Ballet). But it has its own extraordinary merit, and like her performance in “Onegin,” it left me spent. And to me, getting emotionally enwrapped in a performance is of greater significance than appreciating the skillfulness of it.

But had I been able to see Ms. Murphy’s full performance on Monday, I might have been able to find both. Her Act II, the only Act she was able to perform, was a model combination of technical brilliance, regality, and vulnerability. In particular , her exit, in which she struggles mightily to overcome von Rothbart’s pull (and which to me is a critical component in the ballet) was marvelous.

Marcelo Gomes continued in the role of Prince Siegfried after Ms. Murphy’s injury. He is the complete package: acting, dancing; partnering. While the substitution must of necessity have changed some aspects of his partnering, even if only as to timing, there was no visible impact on his performance. And when the evening ended, he bowed low to Ms. Seo, showing obvious recognition of, and respect for, her short notice heroics. But under the circumstances, his impeccable performance was no less remarkable.

As Ms. Semionova’s Siegfried, Cory Stearns (who replaced the injured David Hallberg) danced powerfully, although his characterization was more detached than others. But his function opposite Ms. Semionova was less to emote on his own than to make his character credible, and to partner and lift her, which he did quite well. His acting is somewhat wooden, but he’s still relatively new to the role, and he’s already taken steps to add individual texture. For example, when he stumbles on von Rothbart’s hidden lakeside lair, he doesn’t just look at it, he walks up to it and touches it like a tourist who’d stumbled on an archeological relic from some ancient civilization – an interesting idea.

If Ms. Seo deserves a medal for her back-to-back performances, Mr. Bolle merits one also. He was an ardent, valiant Siegfried, who acted and executed ferociously. While I’ve seen him stronger, like Ms. Seo, he had good reason not to be at top strength. And even though he appeared at times unable to make a ball look like a strike (when she was off center, he had difficulty righting her), it was not for lack of effort. And emotionally, the two of them appear to be opposites - consequently they complement each other well.

In this production, the role of von Rothbart is bifurcated into a humanoid form and an other-worldly, animal-like creature who looks somewhat like the mutant offspring of Sasquatch and Katschei; or the Incredible Hulk crossed with the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The humanoid form is more interesting, and as Mr. McKenzie molded it, a fabulous theatrical creation. Mr. Gomes, former ABT soloist Gennadi Saveliev, and retiring soloist Sasha Radetsky have given memorable performances in the role, but over the past few seasons departing soloist Jared Matthews, who danced the role on Monday and Saturday matinee, has made the character his own. He’s added a fiendish quality that gives the character a combination of over-the-top controlling masculinity (which is common to all interpreters of the role) and unique ‘wink-wink’ comic book sarcasm. His characterization, as well as his execution, again demonstrates how far Mr. Mathews has come in the past few years, and how serious his loss to the company is. On Saturday evening, James Whiteside, who is new to the role, was eminently capable, but much too serious.

The ‘real’ monster, the one in the lizard suit, is not usually a role that one pays much attention to for its acting. He’s just there. But Roman Zhurbin deserves recognition for bringing the monster/wizard to life, and for making him almost human.

Each of the three sets of dancers in the pas de trois: Sarah Lane, Yuriko Kajiya, and Joseph Gorak on Monday, Melanie Hamrick, Stella Abrera, and Blaine Hoven Saturday afternoon, and Misty Copeland, Isabella Boylston, and Luis Ribagorda on Saturday evening, performed in exemplary fashion, with the first set looking best because they fit together as a group better than the others. The most successful of the three sets of ‘Two Swans’ (aka ‘Big Swans’) was Christine Shevchenko and Katherine Williams for the same reason.

As I’ve observed previously, “Swan Lake” is bulletproof: it sells tickets. Under the circumstances, it might be prudent in the future to provide more than one week of performances of it (perhaps a week to begin, and another week to end, the season). These performances would likely sell out no matter who dances the leading roles, and, as long as they’re not leased to guest artists, would provide more opportunities for additional capable ABT dancers. Considering the injuries that have plagued ABT this season, enabling more dancers would be a wise and worthy objective.


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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2014 at the Met
PostPosted: Tue Jul 01, 2014 10:24 pm 
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In the New York Times, Alastair Macaulay reviews the Monday, June 30, 2014 performance of Ashton's "The Dream" and Alexei Ratmansky's "The Tempest."

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2014 at the Met
PostPosted: Wed Jul 02, 2014 11:15 am 
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balletomaniac wrote:
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

June 23, 28M, 28E
“Swan Lake”

-- by Jerry Hochman

The three performances I saw dramatically illustrate two different individual styles of dancing the lead dual role of Odette/Odile. Although I can only extrapolate what Gillian Murphy’s entire performance might have been at Monday’s opening performance in the run, since she was unable to continue beyond Act II (the first white Act in this production) due to injury, based on what she was able to do, hers might well have been one that combined the two opposing qualities shown by Polina Semionova at Saturday’s matinee and Hee Seo on Saturday evening and as replacement for Ms. Murphy in Acts III and IV on Monday. Both performances were extraordinary, but they were radically different.

But she did more than just get through it. Ms. Seo’s performance on Saturday evening (as well as in her portion of Monday’s performance) displayed her character’s heart as if a spotlight had been turned on it. She didn’t so much emote (which has an unpleasant connotation) as she lived her character, and made the audience live it with her. Combined with satisfactory (and at times thrilling) technical ability, she carried her performance to another level. While Ms. Semionova’s performance Saturday afternoon was physically awesome, Ms. Seo’s was emotionally devastating.

But it was her characterization that made her performance. Among their principal ballerinas, ABT has many extraordinary dancer/actresses, but Ms. Seo, like Diana Vishneva, is different. She not only wears her heart on her sleeve, but she lives her performance in the moment and makes it real. But unlike Ms. Vishneva, she doesn’t demand, by her physical and emotional skill, that you watch her – you watch her because you want to and have to, because she’s so vulnerable, as if watching her could somehow help. In effect, she doesn’t just draw you in, she puts you on stage with her.

On Monday, as she danced in Act IV, I saw audience members in my vicinity softly weeping or choking back tears. On Saturday, I wasn’t in the same position in the theater, but when she danced Odette, you could hear a pin drop. And at the top of the precipice that overhung the lake of tears, through her soft mime and the profound sadness that was manifest in every pore of her body....

But it has its own extraordinary merit, and like her [Hee Seo] performance in “Onegin,” it left me spent. And to me, getting emotionally enwrapped in a performance is of greater significance than appreciating the skillfulness of it.

But had I been able to see Ms. Murphy’s full performance on Monday, I might have been able to find both. Her Act II, the only Act she was able to perform, was a model combination of technical brilliance, regality, and vulnerability. In particular , her exit, in which she struggles mightily to overcome von Rothbart’s pull (and which to me is a critical component in the ballet) was marvelous.

Marcelo Gomes continued in the role of Prince Siegfried after Ms. Murphy’s injury. He is the complete package: acting, dancing; partnering. While the substitution must of necessity have changed some aspects of his partnering, even if only as to timing, there was no visible impact on his performance. And when the evening ended, he bowed low to Ms. Seo, showing obvious recognition of, and respect for, her short notice heroics. But under the circumstances, his impeccable performance was no less remarkable.

If Ms. Seo deserves a medal for her back-to-back performances, Mr. Bolle merits one also.


Thanks very much, Jerry, for this very fine review. I singled out a few of your remarks above that I totally appreciate, some of which I've also experienced and was deeply moved by.

By the way, Jerry, Christine Shevchenko, whom I believe you like very much, has been made a Soloist. The highly talented and lovely Isabella Boylston is now a Principal. And there were others. Here is a capsule description from Marina Harss, if like me, you are not familiar with them, Shame on us !

Congratulations !

“Isabella Boylston, who made such a promising début in Giselle last week, has been made a principal (hooray).

“The others—Devon Teuscher, Joseph Gorak, Christine Shevchenko, and [Roman] Zhurbin—are now soloists. Zhurbin is the company’s most compelling actor. Shevchenko has a marvelous glow. Gorak is a hyper-refined technician, possibly the company’s next David Hallberg. And Teuscher is limpid, pure, linear—she was great as the Fairy Godmother in Ashton’s Cinderella.”

http://marinaharss.com/2014/06/30/some- ... -from-abt/
(thanks to BalletcoForum for posting this)


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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2014 at the Met
PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2014 12:33 pm 
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Sascha Radetsky gives his farewell performance as Franz in "Coppelia" on July 3, 2014. Gia Kourlas interviews him for Time Out New York.

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2014 at the Met
PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2014 1:06 pm 
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Diana Barth reviews "The Dream" and "The Tempest" for the Epoch Times.

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2014 at the Met
PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2014 7:29 pm 
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American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

June 30, July 2(E), 2014
“The Dream;” “The Tempest”

-- by Jerry Hochman

For its final program of its 2014 Met Season, American Ballet Theatre presented a curious combination of ballets under the heading “A Shakespeare Celebration.” Other than having a Shakespeare play as a libretto, “The Dream” and “The Tempest” couldn’t be more different. Although the ballets should have been presented in reverse order, it was a memorable program, with strong cast for each of the performances I saw.

In summary, I enjoyed “The Dream” immensely, and “The Tempest” less so. But the latter is growing on me.

In a review of George Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” earlier this spring, I noted that if there were a more beloved ballet, I didn’t know it. Sir Frederick Ashton’s “The Dream” may not be as beloved, if for no other reason than it’s less familiar, but based on heavily attended performances during ABT’s recent four performance run, it comes close, and in many ways it’s choreographically superior.

I’ve reconsidered my level of admiration for many Ashton pieces, particularly “Cinderella,” in recent years, but although “The Dream,” which premiered in 1964, has many of the same qualities that I found fussy and prissy in other pieces, here most of it works very well. Like Balanchine’s ballet, which premiered two years earlier, “The Dream,” cuts much of the original Shakespeare story, focusing on Titania and Oberon, Puck, the two pairs of lovers, and Bottom. But unlike the Balanchine version, Ashton’s also dispenses with Theseus and Hippolyta. And unlike Balanchine’s version, which adds additional Mendelssohn compositions and a second act that creates a classical ballet in the context of a comic one and adds characters that don’t appear in Shakespeare’s play, Ashton did it all in one act, and cut the original play to the bone. Curious reversal there. But each was reflecting his own background and milieu and the need to cater to, and grow, his audience: via his second act, Balanchine added ballet students, as well as their relatives and friends as ticket buyers, as he had earlier with his “The Nutcracker”; Ashton, as he did with his earlier “Cinderella,” added a music hall touch, this time with Bottom dancing en hoof. In a nutshell, Balanchine’s is more ‘American’ in attitude, and Ashton’s more ‘British’, but one isn’t better than the other. And although there are differences in individual words and idioms, they speak the same language.

For “The Dream,” the Mendelssohn composition has been significantly rearranged by John Lanchbery: some have described it as having been butchered. Without having researched the subject, I suspect that the arrangement was done pursuant to Ashton’s instructions. Regardless, I take a production as I find it, and unless the rearrangement changes the overall sense of the original, and as long as the production itself is valid, I don’t look beyond that. The arrangement maintains the original’s meaning, if not it’s flow, and Ashton’s production is certainly valid.

But it’s much more than that: Ashton here made the fairies dance like fairies might appear, not ballerinas. From its first moments, his fairies are pockets of starlit energy with a collective attitude, moving so fast you hardly see them, but making ‘quiet noise’ loud enough to let you know they’re there (the uniform pitter-patter of the fairies’ toe shoes hitting the stage floor had to have been intentional), until they ever so briefly stop moving. It’s a magnificent, bewitching opening, and the footwork he created for these fairies is inexplicably complex, as if Ashton had captured the essence of hummingbirds and bumble bees and converted them to step combinations. This opening is soon succeeded by a wonderfully complex dance as the fairies put Titania to bed. Later, the second major dancing sequence has Titania, under the influence, in a delightful pas de deux with Bottom as an ass. And the final major sequence, after the action is essentially done, Ashton created a quirkily brilliant duet for Titania and Oberon in which they don’t move like humans; they move like fairy royalty with strange-looking hand and arm positions, shimmying torso movement, and quicksilver footwork. It all looks a little affected and stylized, but they’re fairies, and fairies are supposed to move differently. (Ok, the four lead fairies, who are virtually indistinguishable, have been given names - Cobweb, Peaseblossom, Moth, and Mustardseed – for no discernable reason. It’s English and it’s Ashton. Live with it.)

There are some things I’d change: the transition from Bottom to ass and back is poorly done (the upstairs audience can see Bottom calmly changing his shoes and putting his donkey head on), and why would Puck pull the donkey head off before Titania is awakened? Wouldn’t it have been more startling and revolting to her, and satisfying to Oberon, if she had realized she’d slept with an ass? Not an ass of a human– a 'real' ass. And did Ashton really have to throw in a quote from one of the Petipa “Sleeping Beauty” fairies in the context of Titania’s duet with Oberon (the arms angled down, each with one punctuating outstretched finger)? The costumes for the human lovers are abysmal. And the interaction between the human lovers is just silly and prudish, much too….English (and not Benny Hill English), even though it’s funny in an understated way. (As an aside…I discovered that as his career began to take off, Benny Hill played Bottom in a British TV production of Shakespeare’s play. In 1964.)

But these are minor concerns – making Oberon the prime moving force, much more than he can be considered to be in the Balanchine version, letting the fairies be fairies, and making the ballet as a whole less diffuse (albeit a bit less magical) is more than adequate compensation.

I saw two casts: On Monday, Gillian Murphy and Cory Stearns (replacing the injured David Hallberg) as Titania and Oberon, Herman Cornejo danced Puck, Blaine Hoven played Bottom, and the lovers were Adrienne Schulte (Helena), Stella Abrera (Hermia), Grant DeLong (Demetrius), and Jared Matthews (Lysander). On Wednesday evening, these roles were danced, respectively, by Xiomara Reyes, James Whiteside, Craig Salstein, Kenneth Easter, Gemma Bond, Nicola Curry, Sterling Baca, and Roman Zhurbin. Although both dancers executed Titania commendably, Gillian Murphy gave her portrayal a more commanding presence befitting a fairy queen. The performances of Mr. Stearns and Mr. Whiteside were very different. Mr. Whiteside was more aggressive, more feral. Mr. Stearns was equally dominating, but with an air of intelligence rather than just power. I enjoyed both portrayals equally – but with Mr. Stearns, I saw a lot of Anthony Dowell, the original Oberon and the one I saw dance the role on my first exposure to it when the Royal Ballet visited New York in the 1970s (his Titania was the peerless Antoinette Sibley).

If you’re going to pull out all the technical stops, Puck is the role in which to do it. Mr. Cornejo, who danced Puck at its ABT company premiere in 2002, is a spinning top, still. At one point, he began a pitch perfect turn rotating at, say, 60 mph, and halfway through bumped it up to 80 mph. Like an ice skater. Mr. Salstein did well on his own, but his Puck couldn’t approach Mr. Cornejo’s technical brilliance, and it was wise of Mr. Salstein not to try. His was a polished, more well-bred Puck. Both Bottoms executed their roles well if somewhat apprehensively, and did a great job en pointe. And the two sets of lovers were very good, but I preferred the precision (and surprising – to me – comic facility) of Ms. Abrera and Ms. Schulte. (As costumed and made up, Ms. Schulte bears a remarkable resemblance to Carol Burnett, and she had the comic skill to match.)

Changing its venue from the David H. Koch Theater, where it premiered this past fall, to the Met improves Alexei Ratmansky’s “The Tempest” considerably. With room to breathe, it looks much better. It also looks better the closer you are to the stage. This isn’t a ballet with patterns that can only be appreciated from above and a distance: being up close makes you feel more part of the action. In that sense, it’s a sort of epic chamber ballet.

The conception of Prospero, Ariel, and Caliban has grown on me. With the larger space, these characters have ‘expanded’ as well, and are now appropriately larger than life. And the choreography for Ariel and Caliban looks more interesting, and at times (particularly for Ariel), spectacular. But the best choreography remains that between Miranda and Ferdinand, and to a slightly lesser extent (because there’s less of it) between Miranda and Prospero. But in other respects the problems I had with the ballet when it premiered, which I discussed in my review at that time, remain.

If the ballet could be distilled and limited, somehow, to its main characters, it might have fared better. But the secondary characters are underdeveloped and their roles confusing. It’s essential to pay attention to them in order to distinguish one from another and perhaps to gain an understanding of what the story (particularly the backstory) is about, but their roles are so uninterestingly crafted that it seems hardly worth the effort. And the ‘Chorus’, the choreographed ‘waves’ of ridiculously costumed dancers who pound the ships look silly. But this time as I watched, I realized that given the Sibelius score and the condensation (as opposed to distillation) of the story, there was little else Mr. Ratmansky could have done differently. He would have had to rely exclusively on lighting and sound to generate the fury of the storm, and that would have just looked gimmicky.

However, as I said at the outset, I’m warming to this. And Mr. Ratmansky concedes, in the program notes, that the ballet is "at once a fragmented narrative as well as a meditation on some of the themes of Shakespeare's play." That it is. And any ballet with a cast that has at its core Marcelo Gomes as Prospero, Sarah Lane as Miranda, Joseph Gorak as Ferdinand, Daniil Simkin as Ariel, and Mr. Whiteside as Caliban (essentially, the world premiere cast except Mr. Whiteside has replaced Mr. Cornejo), is worth seeing. Mr. Gomes, still looking like a cross between Neptune and Robinson Crusoe, is now yet more dominating. He doesn’t have much dancing to do in this piece – his is more a super-character role here – but even without dancing his presence rules the stage even during those few moments when he departs from it. It’s an extraordinary portrayal. And the little dancing of sorts that he does with his ‘daughter’, Ms. Lane, is top notch as well. As he spins her up and around like an oversized toothpick, one realizes that Mr. Gomes’s career might be extended perhaps indefinitely if he could spend most of his stage time partnering her.

But it is their acting together, what little of it there is, even more than the dancing that makes this stage father/daughter relationship work. And in this respect the credit goes to Ms. Lane, who has the more complex role. She’s the dutiful and respectful daughter (as well as the sweet as sugar young girl in love). But she’s also a little firebrand. When Prospero keeps her from Ferdinand, her Miranda doesn’t just disagree, she briefly flashes anger and hatred. It only takes a second or two to see it, but it’s one of those things Ms. Lane does to enrich a role.

The duets that Mr. Ratmansky has crafted between Miranda and Ferdinand are your typical boy-meets-girl-and-they-immediately-falls-in-love duets. They’re about ‘feelings’, and there’s little beyond that – the job is to make the instant romance look believable. But as Mr. Ratmansky has choreographed it, and as Ms. Lane and Mr. Gorak dance it, they’re beyond cliché and not only believable, but touching.

Mr. Simkin is as fabulous as Ariel as he was last season. It’s, literally, a role he was born to play. Mr. Whiteside’s Caliban, however, was a revelation. It was a superb performance of a role that’s highly complex and difficult to like.

In Wednesday’s cast, Mr. Stearns is not at Mr. Gomes’s level of innate power, but he executed the role very well. For a dancer injured for much of the early part of the season, he’s shown significant improvement this season in all areas. Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews (Miranda and Ferdinand), and Mr. Hoven (Caliban) gave solid performances as well, although they lacked the extra texture that the first cast brought. But Gabe Stone Shayer, a corps dancer who’s only been in the company a short time, gave Ariel a remarkable and distinctive portrayal.

“The Tempest” is a haunting, melancholy ballet, befitting the play on which it’s based, and consistent with the Sibelius score. The composition is not particularly balletic, but it’s ending is perfect. As Ariel is freed, Prospero, Miranda, Ferdinand and entourage return home, and Caliban is left on the island to bemoan his fate, Sibelius’s final strains reflect the duality of the story (and of Mr. Ratmansky’s ballet): the gift of freedom, and the cruelty of the absence of it. Last year, I left believing that this was a ballet I could easily forget. Now, there are aspects of it I can’t, and don’t want to, forget. Maybe there’s something to this ballet after all.


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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2014 at the Met
PostPosted: Fri Jul 04, 2014 7:20 pm 
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Alastair Macaulay summarizes the 2014 Spring Season for the New York Times.

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2014 at the Met
PostPosted: Sun Jul 06, 2014 4:59 pm 
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Alastair Macaulay reviews the season ending performances of "Coppelia." celebrating the careers of departing dancers and the promise of some newly promoted dancers in the New York Times.

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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2014 at the Met
PostPosted: Tue Jul 08, 2014 3:40 pm 
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American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

July 5 (M & E)
“Coppelia”
Season Wrap-Up

-- by Jerry Hochman

The final performances after a long season are supposed to be celebratory, and maybe a little bittersweet. The final performances of American Ballet Theatre's 2014 Met Season were certainly celebratory, but, despite memorable portrayals and a personal milestone event, they were also more bitter than sweet.

ABT's final programs consisted of three more performances of “Coppelia,” supplementing the three earlier this season. I was unable to see the July 3 performance, at which Sascha Radetsky portrayed Franz opposite Xiomara Reyes as Swanilda. The two Saturday performances that I did see featured Yuriko Kajiya and Joseph Gorak as Swanilda and Franz in the matinee, and Paloma Herrera and Jared Matthews in the same roles in the evening. After ABT unveiled the initial scheduling, and casting, for its 2014 Met Season, Mr. Radetsky announced his retirement, and both Ms. Kajiya and Mr. Matthews, who are a couple offstage, announced that they were leaving the company and joining the Houston Ballet. Subsequently, these performances morphed into their 'farewells'.

This review will focus on the performances of the departing dancers, and then comment on the past season and on issues facing the company.

My understanding from people in a position to know is that Mr. Radetsky’s portrayal was superb, that the performance was attended by a slew of current and former dancers, and that the celebration following it was marked by repeated floral salutes and curtain calls. Mr. Radetsky, who was promoted to soloist in 2003, has always been a highly competent and respected danseur, leaving memorable impressions in each of his roles. My particular strong memory, as I recently mentioned, is of his previous portrayal of von Rothbart (the ‘human’ one), but they also include his performances in prior seasons of Tybalt, the Champion Roper (in “Rodeo”), and in Alexei Ratmansky’s “Symphony No. 9.”

Each of the Saturday performances was a memorable valedictory for the departing dancers.

Simply put, the matinee performance of “Coppelia” was one of the finest of the season. I wrote previously that the portrayals of Swanilda by Sarah Lane and Gillian Murphy earlier were exceptional – and they were – but Ms. Kajiya’s Swanilda was that and more.

I tend to use words like ‘remarkable’ and ‘superb’ and ’extraordinary’ all too frequently – there are only so many ways to express the same thing. But on Saturday, Ms. Kajiya’s Swanilda was better than outstanding, and her dynamic characterization reflected that quality of effervescent joy that has marked her stage persona since I first saw her dance. As I once observed, you can’t watch Ms. Kajiya dance and not smile. At this performance, her technique was impeccable, and her acting was every bit as fine as Ms. Lane’s earlier in the season, but broader. And although she didn’t quite look like the ideal Swanilda as Ms. Lane did, by the strength of her acting and the effortlessness of her dancing, this didn’t matter in the least.

Although most of her character’s qualities are those she displayed on her own, certainly Mr. Gorak’s polished partnering and demeanor helped make Ms. Kajiya’s performance as memorable as it was. Although his partnering had always been somewhat tentative, whatever issues caused this appear to have passed; his portrayal of Franz was pitch-perfect in every respect. Recently promoted to soloist, which surprised no one, he is well on the way to fulfilling the promise I saw two years ago, when I characterized his future as ‘the sky is the limit’.

In 2010, I wrote that Mr. Matthews was an ‘unfortunate choice’ for the role of Espada in “Don Quixote.” In the four years since then, he has developed far more consistently, and far more splendidly, than anyone could have dreamed possible – other than perhaps Mr. Matthews himself. He now owns that role, and dances exceptionally well in every role in which he’s cast, including his deliciously fiendish von Rothbart and his youthful and passionate Albrecht this season. His performance Saturday evening as Franz was on the same level.

Until Act III, the role of Franz is significant more for his mere presence as a foil to Swanilda and Dr. Coppelius than his acting or dancing. So throughout Acts I and II, except for appearing, appropriately, to be one of the duller knives in the drawer, there was little for Mr. Matthews to do except again demonstrate his skill at creating a character. But he came alive when the choreography did, in Act III (which is also when Ms. Herrera did), and delivered a performance in the pas de deux that had the audience cheering. His circle of leaps, for example, was full-throttle into the wings – and looked like they’d continue all the way to Houston had he not had to return to the stage for the coda.

When the afternoon and evening performances ended, Ms. Kajiya and Mr. Matthews each received ovations from their casts, and were presented with enough floral bouquets to fill a warehouse – not only stage bouquets and a blizzard of them tossed from the standing and cheering audience, but also what appeared to be matching little stuffed teddy bears. After the matinee curtain fell for the last time, a friend heard a cheer from behind the curtain. Amid the evening post-performance celebration, we learned what the cheering was for: Ms. Kajiya, with a big smile on her face, even bigger than usual, flashed the engagement ring she’d been presented with by Mr. Matthews a few hours earlier.

This, their quality performances, and the genuine enthusiasm from fellow cast members and the respective audiences, would seem to have made these farewells happy occasions. And they were – to a degree. But they were also terribly sad – presumably for the dancers, but also for ABT and its audience. Given the timing of their announcements, losing these highly competent and engaging dancers must have been, to at least some extent, a consequence of the company’s failure to provide them with casting opportunities they had earned and for which they were well qualified.

On the surface, this season has been a good one, despite a larger than usual number of injuries that the company seemed ill prepared for. There have been stellar performances in lead and ‘second lead’ roles, not only from ABT’s principals, but also from soloists when given the opportunity, particularly by Ms. Kajiya, Mr. Matthews, Ms. Lane, and Stella Abrera in everything they were given, by Misty Copeland, who was assigned more opportunities this year than other soloists, in several of the roles she assayed (Gamzatti, the ‘street’ Mercedes, Lescaut’s Courtesan, and a promising Swanilda), and by Craig Salstein as Cinderella’s shy stepsister. And Isabella Boylston continued to take advantage of repeated opportunities to dance new leading roles and to grow in them. Certain of ABT’s corps dancers have also shown continuing excellence. In addition to those recently, and deservedly, promoted to soloist (Christine Shevchenko, Devon Teuscher, Roman Zhurbin, and Mr. Gorak), they include Melanie Hamrick, Luciana Paris, and Gemma Bond, each of whom merited promotion as well, and dancers who have excelled in the demi-soloist roles they’ve performed, including (in no particular order, and not exclusively) Skylar Brandt (who has an infectious spirit and should be given more opportunities to show it), April Giangeruso (a most pleasant surprise), Zhong-Jing Fang (who has shown considerable improvement this season), Stephanie Williams (who still, as I observed previously, looks like an eventual Odette/Odile), Katherine Williams (a crystalline technician who provides extraordinarily detailed characterization where appropriate), Adrienne Schulte (whose ability as a comedienne in her portrayal of Helena was a revelation), and Luis Ribagorda (who has had a break-out year). And there are corps dancers who have been with the company for a shorter period, or are new this season, who are already making positive impressions, including (again, not exclusively) Brittany DeGrofft, Courtney Lavine, Puanani Brown, Catherine Hurlin, Mai Aihara, Alexei Agoudine, Gabe Stone Shayer, and Sterling Baca. Several years ago, at a ‘Works and Process’ presentation, Artistic Director Keven McKenzie stated that ABT’s dancers were the best in the world. While other companies’ artistic directors say the same thing, ABT’s dancers certainly qualify.

And within the past three years, ABT has promoted two of its own home-grown soloists (by that I mean dancers who began their ABT careers in the corps) to principal: Ms. Seo and, this year, Ms. Boylston (in between, James Whiteside, a lateral from Boston Ballet who joined ABT as a soloist, was also promoted to principal); and, as noted, four more were promoted to soloist this year. It certainly would appear as if ABT is expanding performing opportunities for its own dancers.

But these promotions mask a serious problem: the lack of sufficient leading role opportunities for all of ABT’s highly qualified soloists, and the promotion logjam between the corps and soloist level that to a large extent is a consequence.

For years, I’ve noted the dearth of casting opportunities in leading roles given to ABT’s home-grown dancers, as well as the overwhelming number of leading roles given to “guest artists.” ABT has always had guest artists, and as long as these dancers can contribute some extraordinary quality that its own dancers may lack, their presence is a benefit to ABT and its audiences. But in the past few years, and particularly this season, the trickle has become an avalanche. Of 27 ‘principal’ positions listed in programs this year, 11 were occupied by guest artists (or ‘exchange artists’ – the difference, if there is any, has no significance with respect to casting). At least two appeared on more than one occasion. That’s a minimum of 13 leading roles that might have been assigned to ABT’s own dancers. (And this total does not reflect performances by company principals who are only members of the company for a limited time at high visibility performing venues.) Combined with inexplicable casting decisions that reward seniority at the expense of internal growth, or that give ‘most-favored-nation’ status to one or two dancers for whatever reason, ABT is increasingly viewed as acting not just unfairly with respect to certain dancers, but irresponsibly and unwisely in terms of the company’s future.

The problem, in the first instance, is the repertoire that ABT primarily relies upon at the Met and for its international tours. At that same “Works and Process” program, Mr. McKenzie said that the story ballets were not the ‘real’ ABT. Whether they represent the ‘real’ ABT or not, they’re the ballets that ABT is known for, and that dominate its programming at the Met and other prestigious venues. This repertoire is not going to change. But in‘story’ ballets, there are precious few leading roles to go around. As a consequence, those soloists stuck in what I’ve previously described as soloist purgatory who are not given significant leading roles stagnate in featured roles they’ve danced for years. And awarding the few leading roles there are to guest artists necessarily reduces the number of lead roles available to soloists still further.

From my vantage point, the promotion of Ms. Boylston has caused something of an uproar – because it appears to have been both premature and preordained. Some dancers are natural wunderkinds who leap over others because they are ‘instant’ ballerinas. As fine a dancer as Ms. Boylston is (and she is – or I would not have singled her out as a dancer to watch the first time I saw her dance), she isn’t that. She still has considerable work to do in classical roles. (A ‘ginched’ upper body, for example, as well as a tendency toward power at the expense of musicality.) This is particularly apparent when Ms. Boylston dances the same choreography opposite, or immediately before or after, another dancer. For example, in “Coppelia” this weekend, after she danced ‘Dawn’, when they danced at opposite sides of the stage during the coda, she looked disheveled and hunched compared to Ms. Hamrick (who had danced ‘Prayer’ at the same performance). And compared to Ms. Abrera’s ‘Dawn,’ perfectly danced in the evening, Ms. Boylston’s was ‘out there’; more aggressive, more about her (as I previously described, like ‘high noon’ rather than ‘dawn’).

I celebrate the repeated opportunities she’s been given, and don’t doubt that eventually Ms. Boylston will grow into whatever role she’s assigned. She’s already doing that – as any dancer at this level of accomplishment would. (And I note that similar outrage was expressed when Ms. Seo was promoted, and although still somewhat weaker technically than other principals, she has nevertheless provided ABT’s audiences with many brilliant performances.) But the issue is opportunity. And where the only path to advancement, or self-fulfillment, is to be given an opportunity to prove yourself in a role, and the only available opportunity (with respect to Giselle, for example) is given to the dancer who would appear to be less qualified for it than other soloists (Ms. Lane; Ms. Kajiya), it makes it appear as if the reason Ms. Boylston got the assignment in the first place was to cement her promotion.

A solution to this problem would be either to expand the number of available opportunities to dance leading roles (which would mean reducing the number of guest artists or reconsidering the casting of certain ballerinas who may no longer be the best choice for a role, neither of which ABT seems willing to do), or to spread the already limited number of opportunities around. A variant might be to agree that for every guest artist, an opportunity will be given to a soloist or corps dancer who has not previously been cast in a particular role. Giving opportunities to dance significant leading roles (those, like Odette/Odile, Giselle, and Juliet, which many consider to be predicates to promotion) only, or primarily, to one soloist a year, which is a continuing pattern, only makes the system look rigged. And ‘auditioning’ a dancer once, and then not allowing him or her to grow in the role, is foolish and self-defeating. Surely ABT can spread opportunities around and focus on more than one soloist’s performance qualities and achievements at a time.

The loss of Ms. Kajiya, Mr. Matthews, and Mr. Radetsky might, logically, have been avoidable if they, rather than guest artists, had been cast in roles for which they were qualified when this season's schedule was first announced. (Although if the present policy continues, perhaps Ms. Kajiya and Mr. Matthews -- and others, like Maria Riccetto, who have left ABT in recent years without being given the opportunity to fulfill their potential -- may yet return some day… as guest artists.) But ABT will survive regardless. If certain dancers are not given opportunities, for whatever reason (they don’t fit a particular image; they don’t bring with them a book of business; they’re not what high-profile donors want; their casting wouldn’t be as good for publicity as others), there's no consequence: there will be other dancers just as talented in the future. Life isn’t fair, and artistic directors will always have inexplicable blind spots with respect to certain dancers regardless of their objective level of accomplishment and capability. But not giving sufficient opportunities to well-qualified dancers not only fails to recognize and develop talent and artificially restricts the scope of a particular dancer’s career, it also cheats the public. Not everyone attends ABT performances to see visiting stars; many go to see what purportedly is the best of America’s ballet companies, and the best of America’s dancers.


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 Post subject: Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2014 at the Met
PostPosted: Thu Jul 10, 2014 5:00 pm 
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Robert Gottlieb reviews the season for the New York Observer.

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