American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, New York
May 12, 2014
-- by Jerry Hochman
It was wall to wall conspicuous affluence at American Ballet Theatre’s Gala on May 12 to celebrate the beginning of its 2014 Season at the Metropolitan Opera House. From the suited and gowned patrons to the elegantly dressed dancers, former dancers, and future dancers who filled the house to near capacity, the only sights more prevalent than the designer outfits were the air kisses. Once the company got to its regular performing season, with eight performances of “Don Quixote,” things got back to normal – at the performance I saw, a cast change, a guest artist, and an overall fine performance by the replacement and the guest.
The Gala contained the usual assortment of previews from the upcoming season and soloists with little to do, and the second half of the program generally was more successful than the first. But there were two events of particular note, including one terrific company premiere.
Diana Vishneva is an extraordinary ballerina. To those who evaluate dancers in terms of ‘the best’ and ‘the rest’, she’s certainly one of the best in the world. Marcelo Gomes is also one of the best danseurs in the world, and certainly one of the best partners. As I wrote years ago, in my opinion he’s the most valuable dancer on ABT’s roster. And the two of them have an extraordinary stage relationship: when they dance together, magic happens. It happened at Monday’ Gala, in the company premiere of “Nuages,” a duet choreographed by Jiri Kylian to one of Claude Debussy’s “Nocturnes.” “Nuages” is a piece of unusual choreographic and emotional depth, and the performances brought out every ounce of passion inherent in the music and the choreography with a degree of muted non-melodramatic intensity that could have registered on the Richter scale.
When Mr. Kylian’s work first appeared in New York in 1979 during a visit by Nederlands Dans Theater, I recall being swept away by the dynamic, inventive choreography in such pieces as “Sinfonietta,” “Symphony of Psalms,” and “Symphony in D” as if by a gust of invigorating, fresh air. New York was quickly abuzz with Kylian and his company of engaging and electrifying dancers. The company returned a few years later with new Kylian pieces (as well as repeat performances of some of those seen previously), and a few years thereafter, ABT mounted “Sinfonietta” itself to considerable acclaim But it’s been a long time since I’d seen any new Kylian piece (or performances of any of his dances that I’d seen previously), and I’d heard that his style had changed. While that may be the case, it isn’t evident in this duet, which was choreographed approximately 30 years ago.
At Monday’s performance, the piece appeared to have been choreographed for Ms. Vishneva and Mr. Gomes – it fit them like a second skin. [I learned later that Mr. Kylian had worked with the two of them on this piece prior to the Gala.] Although what’s specifically happening isn’t clear, it doesn’t matter. There's a relationship here -- at times it seems that the dancers are holding onto each other for dear life. This is wonderful choreography, contemporary but not dogmatic, lyricism combined with angularity, and with extraordinary images of mutual dependence -- the most stunning of which are repeated images of Ms. Vishneva being lifted, turned upside down, and held solely (it appeared) by the back of her knees. Ms. Vishneva still dances with the delicacy and strength and emotional command that she’s demonstrated since I first saw her dance, and still, remarkably, has a back that’s so flexible she looks like liquid silver as she slides down her partner’s body. And Mr. Gomes, shirtless, was in total control, without being in any way dominating. They were the only two on stage, and there are no sets, but their dancing and emotional connection, with themselves and with the audience, filled the stage and the theater as a whole.
ABT does not presently list “Nuages” in its repertory this season.
The other notable event at the Gala was the appearance of students from the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School (14 from the ABT Studio Company – one of whom I recognized from “The Nutcracker”, and 15 ‘level 7’ students), in a piece called “La Vie Petillante,” choreographed by Raymond Lukens, Artistic Director of ABT’s National Training Curriculum and a member of the faculty of the JKO School. The ballet is a ‘standard’ showcase for students that accomplished exactly that, and the students were accomplished – with one unidentified male dancer in particular who excelled in jumps and entre-chats. But seeing a bit of what may be ABT’s future dancers was a little treat.
Other than “Nuages,” the highlights of the evening were Julie Kent and Roberto Bolle’s Act I Pas de Deux from “Manon,” and the ‘Scherzo’ excerpt from “The Dream.” “Manon” is still a perfect vehicle for Ms. Kent, and she danced and acted to the hilt, aided by Mr. Bolle’s ardent partnering. In the excerpt from “The Dream,” James Whiteside and Daniil Simkin were super as Oberon and Puck respectively. Their ‘back up’ dancers, a quintet of fairies who move like lightning while the main action is going on elsewhere, was also excellently danced by soloist Sarah Lane, and corps dancers Nicole Graniero, Cassandra Trenary, and Gemma Bond. Hee Seo and Mr. Gomes also provided a finely danced Act II pas de deux from “Cinderella.”
Of the remainder of the program, the excerpts from Act II of Manon, danced by Polina Semionova and Mr. Bolle (replacing Cory Stearns) was disappointing. Ms. Semionova executed the steps perfectly, but was a dry, empty vessel, more object than object of desire. Isabella Boylston (replacing Gillian Murphy, who was reportedly injured), and Ivan Vasiliev, did fine with the Pas D’Action from “La Bayadere,” although there was no interaction between them. Ms. Boylston has danced the role previously, and has grown into the pas d’action well, and Mr. Vasiliev’s acrobatic tricks were well received. The evening opened with a somewhat forced execution of an Act I excerpt from “Don Quixote” (Paloma Herrera danced Kitri), and the Act II excerpt from “Coppelia” seemed a poor example from the ballet (Xiomara Reyes danced Swanilda).
The evening closed with an extended set of excerpts from “Gaite Parisienne,” led by Veronika Part, Herman Cornejo, and Jared Matthews, with soloist Misty Copeland (who earlier had appeared as one of eight 'featured dancers in the "La Bayadere" excerpt) heading the Can-Can Dancers, was well done, had terrific sets (by Zach Brown), and sent the audience home, or to the adjacent tent where the post-performance festivities took place, happy.
Last edited by balletomaniac on Fri May 16, 2014 10:36 am, edited 1 time in total.