CriticalDance Forum

American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2015 at the Met
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Author:  Francis Timlin [ Wed Jun 03, 2015 2:23 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2015 at the Met

In the Huffington Post, Michael McLaughlin reports on an African American actor's objections to the casting of Marcelo Gomes in brown makeup as Othello in the Lar Lubovitch production on May 19, 2015.

Huffington Post

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Wed Jun 03, 2015 2:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2015 at the Met

Robert Greskovic reviews The Sleeping Beauty for the Wall Street Journal.

Wall Street Journal

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sat Jun 06, 2015 11:39 am ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2015 at the Met

In Broadway World, Rose Marija reviews the Tuesday, June 2, 2015 performance of La Bayadere with Maria Kochetkova as Nikiya, Herman Cornejo as Solor and Misty Copeland as Gamzatti.

Broadway World

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Jun 09, 2015 10:34 am ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2015 at the Met

Deborah Jowitt reviews the Ratmansky Sleeping Beauty for Arts Journal.

Arts Journal

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Wed Jun 10, 2015 11:35 am ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2015 at the Met

Stav Ziv writes about the history of The Sleeping Beauty for Newsweek.


Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Jun 11, 2015 11:29 am ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2015 at the Met

Robert Gottlieb reviews Othello for the New York Observer. [Scroll past the Eifman review.]

NY Observer

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Jun 11, 2015 12:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2015 at the Met

Joan Acocella previews the Ratmansky production of The Sleeping Beauty for the New Yorker.

New Yorker

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Jun 15, 2015 8:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2015 at the Met

Alastair Macaulay reviews Alexei Ratmansky's The Sleeping Beauty for the New York Times.

NY Times

Author:  balletomaniac [ Mon Jun 15, 2015 9:27 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2015 at the Met

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

June 11, 13E
The Sleeping Beauty
Review and Casting Opinion

-- by Jerry Hochman

For those interested, my reviews are now being published directly (with rare exception) to the new CriticalDance site ( ). I’ll try to remember to post links here as the reviews are published.

I have previously reviewed two of the opening performances of Alexei Ratmansky’s new/old version of The Sleeping Beauty – the New York premiere on May 29, with Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes in the lead roles, and the May 30 matinee, with Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo. The link to that review is: ... -beauty-2/ (If the link is faulty (the particular page may move because of subsequent reviews), just go to the site, click on ‘Reviews and Features’, and go back a few pages, or click on the American Ballet Theatre link.)

This is a follow-up review of two more performances of The Sleeping Beauty that I was able to see last week, on June 11 (another by Lane and Cornejo), and on June 13 with Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes. I found both performances to be excellent, interesting, and revealing, and I will focus on them.

Initially, however, some follow-up thoughts on the production. As I anticipated, Ratmansky’s partly resuscitated, partly new version grows on you – or at least it did on me. In terms of pace, the problem, as with all Petipa-based Sleeping Beauty productions I can remember seeing, is the Prologue, which is interminable (but necessarily so if one keeps the fairy dances in something resembling their ‘standard’ form). And the final act’s parade of fairy tale characters is much too long as well, but, like all creations, if I were the creator I wouldn’t want to cut any of them. In between, however, Ratmansky has made great efforts to move things along.

Further exposure to the production also has unlocked one secret, and clarified something else. The extraordinary 'second' back bend in the Grand pas de deux appears completely unsupported. But a view from above and to the side shows that it is supported -- belly to belly. That to some extent it's sleight of hand, or belly, doesn't make it any less theatrically extraordinary, particularly as executed by Lane and Vishneva. And I mentioned that the Princes (suitors) suddenly materialize from the wings following the Garland Waltz, and essentially stand aimlessly until Aurora appears. I see on third view that these overdressed suitors initially appear when the king enters in Act I, but become part of the corps-woodwork during the village women/spindle scandal, then unceremoniously leave the stage and subsequently reappear. It makes no difference - they still look like staging afterthoughts until the Rose Adagio begins.

The sets remain the most visually magnificent part of the entire production. Scenery designer Richard Hudson and lighting designer James F. Ingalls have worked miracles, opening up the stage to light and air and endless imagined vistas, and the glorious staging for Aurora’s ‘sleeping’ chamber is a particularly brilliant conception.

But it is the costumes that are most infuriating, and that almost bring the production down with them. Without even bothering about the longer tutus, which add to the period effect, the wigs, though perhaps ‘authentic’ to the original production, are unattractive and makes the production look like it had been mothballed for a century and, unfortunately, emerged unchanged. The “Sleeping ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Ballet,” if you will.

And many of the costumes themselves, including the headpieces, make no sense at all. It may be historically (or ‘original-production’) accurate to have nearly everyone bewigged or dressed in drapery overruns (this is presumably representative of a French Court in the Middle Ages – although the story synopsis makes no mention of a venue or a temporal limitation), but the Queen has been given a head covering that gives new meaning to Big Hair, and it’s hard to keep from laughing at it. And many of the Fairies, in addition to having strange French names, have odd gizmos attached to their blonde wigs. Feathers are fine (and continue the ‘theme’ of feathered oversized haberdashery that’s foisted upon court hangers-on), but insect antennae? And while I’ll concede that the costumes for the fairies are growing on me (aside from what’s atop their heads), the costumes for the Fairy Cavaliers look ludicrous. If the fairies' costumes could be unburdened by period restrictions and reasonably consistent with each other (aside from identifying decoration and those headpieces), why do the cavaliers have to wear individualized costumes that may be ‘period authentic’ but are overbaked and clash with each other?

This unfortunate costuming continues beyond the Prologue through much of the ballet, with, among other unfortunate decisions, the Lilac Fairy costumed in something out of Gaiete Parisienne following the Prologue, and the male partners for the Act III Mazurka wearing helmets that make them look like Prussian Army conscripts with lace-edged white mini-pantaloons (and escorting women who look like a horde of army nurses). Overall the costumes look overly complex and fussy – which only adds to the antiquated sense inspired by much of the more complex and fussy-looking choreography.

Which brings me to the performances. Both were wonderful, but very different. Lane (who had no difficulty completing the Rose Adagio at this performance) was remarkable. Youthful and radiant from the outset, with the solo that follows the Rose Adagio (brilliantly choreographed to match the violin music in the score with ‘violin pages’ who materialize on stage) even more excruciatingly pristine than what she had delivered in her first outing. And, appropriately, she had grown into a mature regal princess by Act III and her Grand pas de deux.

As I’ve previously written, Diana Vishneva may well be the finest ballerina in the world: her execution here was flawless, and her characterization was consistent and nuanced (as much as it can be in this more low-key production). But her Aurora was very different from Lane’s. Compared to Lane’s somewhat demure, protected-daughter entrance, Vishneva entered fully animated, like a 16 year old Valley Girl (perhaps the Loire Valley). Or a ballerina trying to act like a 16 year old. And this portrayal continued throughout: the Rose Adagio was more ‘out there’; and in her Act III she was the confident, bubbly princess. Vishneva is certainly capable of delivering a more low-key youthful presentation – she does it with her Juliet. This was an intentional character decision.

I am aware that some prefer the latter, more animated, approach – and also that to some this shows an ability to ‘project’ that Lane doesn’t have. I disagree. Both are perfectly capable of projecting – but it’s a difference in character interpretation. To me, being a 16 year old girl in the Middle Ages being raised by possibly (and understandably) over-protective regal parents requires regality, but a demure quality. Vishneva’s portrayal was the antithesis of that, and I found the characterization somewhat off-putting, while Lane’s was exactly right. But in terms of performance quality, they were both superb, with Lane providing the superior Act I, Vishneva the superior Act II (there, the more muted animation in her portrayal was handled almost like a seduction, and worked well), and Act III was very close, with my preference being for Lane’s more serious, mature demeanor as opposed to Vishneva's more self-congratulatory one. But they were both exceptionally fine performances. And Cornejo and Gomes were at their best, which is about as good as it gets.

ABT has now completed its run, this year, of The Sleeping Beauty, and segues this coming week into Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet – which encourages me to segue also into some brief comments on ABT’s casting – particularly with respect to not casting Lane as Juliet.

Late last week ABT announced that to fill the void created by Natalia Osipova’s injury, casting has again been juggled and, in effect, the open performance has been given to Misty Copeland, who was scheduled to debut as Juliet later in the week. Copeland, who to my knowledge has not previously danced the role, now has been assigned two Juliets at the Met this season. This follows a decision to give a second Juliet to Hee Seo after Polina Semionova withdrew because of an injury, and the initially announced casting that gave a Juliet to only one arguably ‘qualified’ soloist, Copeland, but to invite yet another guest artist (aside from Osipova) to fill what would have been another ‘open’ slot. [Another theoretically open slot was reserved for Julie Kent, who, after a long and distinguished career, is entitled to select her farewell ballet as she pleases.]

A critical review of, and a knowledgeable audience’s reaction to, a performance can depend on a number of factors – as it does in The Sleeping Beauty and other ballets. Critics don’t think alike, and neither do audience members. But neither a critic nor an audience can evaluate a performance unless the dancer is given an opportunity to perform the role in the first place, so that performance can be evaluated both on its own merits (preferably over time) and in comparison to others. So unless ABT’s Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie is holding off until she no longer looks appropriate for the role and has to ‘act’ it (which, in her case, may be quite some time), critics and audience members will never know how Lane would handle Juliet, how her performance would compare to others, and how others compare to her.

That Lane is well qualified to be a Juliet cannot seriously be in dispute. Aside from fitting a stereotypical image of a MacMillan Juliet – unwavering focus and determination, combined with youthfulness and innocence, which for Juliet is a significant performance ingredient (and one that Mr. McKenzie’s colleague across the Lincoln Center plaza, Peter Martins, has recognized on many occasions) - her dancing has garnered highly favorable reviews (and not just from me) for its classicism and lyricism, and for her attention to stylistic detail. Her acting is nuanced without being melodramatic. She’s not just a cute little Amour or childlike Aurora or Swanhilda incapable of generating lustful emotion (incredulously, I’ve heard that as one of the possible thoughts in McKenzie’s mind) – she can be an irresistible and thoroughly believable sensual siren when appropriate (e.g., in Ratmansky’s Chamber Symphony - from his Shostakovich Trilogy), and Liam Scarlett’s disturbing With a Chance of Rain. And although I don’t know her, from interviews with people who do, as well as information received from other sources, she’s feisty and fiery – a necessary stage quality for a Juliet as well. The fact that Ratmansky has repeatedly cast her in new roles in the past few years speaks volumes. And I understand anecdotally that she has been prepared and coached to dance Juliet in the MacMillan production for years.

So something else is going on here that has created this situation. Perhaps Lane is still being punished speaking the truth about Black Swan. But I don’t think that’s the reason.

I stress again, as I have on many prior occasions, that I have no objection to anyone otherwise qualified being given performance opportunities. I celebrate the many opportunities Copeland has been given over the past few Met seasons (just as I did Isabella Boylston and Hee Seo before her), and look forward to seeing how she does as Juliet. And Copeland is a professional – she’ll at least handle the assignment competently, and at best may give a smashing performance. But being pushed so hard, and being pushed exclusively, appears to poorly camouflage a different agenda – to cement without criticism what has already been preordained.

But regardless of the reason, what is happening is that critics and audiences are not being given an opportunity to weigh the relative merits in an iconic role of two (or more) soloists – an ABT pattern over the past few seasons. The possibility that one might be clearly superior to the other is unacceptable. Therefore it can’t be allowed to happen, and no soloist other than Copeland can be cast as Juliet this season, even when holes in the initial scheduling materialize. Although I’ve heard other rationales, on any criteria based on some semblance of logic, no other possible explanation makes any sense.

Whether an artistic director may have a blind spot with respect to one dancer, or favors one over another for whatever reason, is not unusual and isn’t the point. Life is tough, artistic directors have blind spots, and ABT will live long and prosper – there are always more dancers knocking on the door (and, as I’ve reported, already are). But what ABT is doing, in addition to making headlines and being highly selective in nurturing its dancers, is that it’s cheating its audience. I don’t doubt that there are many audience members who prefer having ‘best in the world’ guest artists (i.e., to make ABT the Metropolitan Opera of ballet companies), or who want opportunities to be based on criteria other than. or in addition to, artistic merit or common casting sense. But there are many others who believe that artistic merit and providing opportunities to qualified dancers when possible should be the primary criteria. Not permitting performance opportunities to one highly qualified dancer but giving it exclusively to another makes a fair evaluation of artistic merit of both impossible, and is simply wrong. And a large segment of ABT’s audience is being cheated as a result.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Wed Jun 17, 2015 11:58 am ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2015 at the Met

Broadway World reports on casting for the June 22-27, 2015 performances of Swan Lake and the June 29 - July 4 performances of Ashton's Cinderella.

Broadway World

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Jun 19, 2015 10:22 am ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2015 at the Met

Elise Taylor profiles retiring principal dancer Julie Kent for Vanity Fair.

Vanity Fair

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sun Jun 21, 2015 9:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2015 at the Met

In the Wall Street Journal, Pia Catton discusses whether soloist Misty Copeland will be promoted to principal dancer.

Wall Street Journal

Author:  balletomaniac [ Mon Jun 22, 2015 9:11 am ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2015 at the Met

Pending editing and publication, below is a review of three ABT performances of Romeo and Juliet last week.

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

June 18, 19, 20M
Romeo and Juliet

-- by Jerry Hochman

As my reviews over the years probably have made all too obvious, I’m a softie, my weakest link is Romeo and Juliet, and I consider Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s version to be the gold standard. What makes this version singularly extraordinary to me is the combination of passion combined with the innocence and impulsiveness essential for the characterization, both of which are embedded in the choreography. The ideal portrayal not only reflects these qualities, but also transcends the fourth wall and engenders a personal response. Alessandra Ferri, for example, combined passion with innocence of attitude and appearance no matter her age, and brought me (and I daresay anyone with a beating heart) onto the stage with her when she danced the role - consequently, hers is my gold standard of Juliets. Portrayals that are more passionate than appropriate, or come across as mature beyond their years, or are too aggressive, kill it for me. On the other hand, seeing the passion grow within the bodies of the youthful Shakespearean characters makes it sublime. And then there’s the vast territory in between.

There was a lot of the ‘territory in between’ in the three portrayals of Juliet and of Romeo that I saw with American Ballet Theatre last week: Evgenia Obraztsova and Herman Cornejo on Thursday, Hee Seo and Marcelo Gomes on Friday, and Misty Copeland and Joseph Gorak on Saturday afternoon. The first, after a slightly shaky start, was very well done. The third was promising – particularly if assigned different partners in the future. And the portrayals and performances as a whole on Friday were miraculous.

Obraztsova, one of ABT’s many guest artists this season, had been disappointing to me in her previous outings in New York – with the Mariinsky during its 2011 engagement at the Met, and most recently at two of the galas presented under the auspices of the Youth America Grand Prix. But she’s clearly a dancer of quality, and the role of Juliet suits her well.

Her portrayal was not without flaws, most of them minor (and not all within her control), but they’re there. Her opening scene was far too stiff and one-dimensional, and she wore a much too fixed plastic smile through most of ballet, until the third act (I’ve noted her pasted-on smile previously). And in the balcony scene, she spent too much time at the beginning in shadow behind the portico pillars, and took too long to reach down to Romeo at its end. Most importantly, I could see the transitions as she’d prepare for a certain combination, and some of these transitions ended up looking too much like brief poses (particularly in Act III’s bedroom scene), even when the delivery ultimately turned out beautifully (the end of the bedroom scene, the balcony scene). But she was very good when she had to be, and her experience as a Juliet showed. Overall, it was a skillfully executed, emotionally fulfilling, and high quality performance – definitely one of the better portrayals I’ve seen.

Her partner, Herman Cornejo, was somewhat off in Act I – both on his own and in his first dances with Obraztsova. Part of this may have been a lack of sufficient rehearsal time, and part because of size (he looks to be about her height on stage, but in this production that’s not optimal). Most importantly, however, and although they interacted reasonably well, I felt they were oil and water – just not the right stage match (though that’s a more gut than performance observation). Regardless, following Act I, he delivered a fine Romeo throughout the rest of the performance.

As good as Obraztsova was, Seo delivered one for the ages the following night.

When a ballerina is given the opportunity to dance a leading role in the same ballet three times in the same week, it's usually because the company has no one else who can dance the role, or because management is pulling out all stops to push her. For Juliet, ABT has a plethora of ballerinas who have danced the role, and others who can, but have never been given the opportunity. Seo was appropriately assigned one performance of Juliet (the second of the season) when casting was initially announced. After injuries sidelined two previously-cast Juliets, Polina Semionova and Natalia Osipova, and after considerable schedule juggling, Seo was given Seminonova’s opening Juliet, as well as Osipova’s slot opposite Marcelo Gomes (who himself had replaced the injured David Hallberg). And Friday, when it was disclosed a few hours before the performance that Diana Vishneva had suddenly withdrawn because of illness, Seo at the same time was announced as her replacement. When so many ballerinas are qualified to dance this role, giving Seo three opportunities makes it appear that management is attempting to expose her whenever possible to pre-sold out houses and, effectively, to captive audiences.

Seo’s technical capability, strength and stamina have heretofore been suspect in a number of critical roles, although to me those were more than compensated for by a refined delicacy and understated demeanor that made the expressions of high volume emotion stand out more prominently, and that few ballerinas at ABT can match. Her performances in Onegin, for instance, were extraordinary in their in-the-moment intensity. However, up to this point this season, those performances of hers that I’ve seen have been relatively lackluster.

All this having been said, and my preference for a broader range of casting opportunities aside, Seo delivered a sublime performance, all the more remarkable because it was her third in five days, and because she won over an alienated audience. I wouldn’t put it in the same league as Vishneva, yet, but it was one of the most indelible Juliets I can remember.

As nitpicky as I am, I cannot identify a single flaw: her acting was moderated appropriately throughout (no artificial-looking anything) from the first minute to the last – although I must add that for this performance I was in the orchestra, and people in the upper reaches of the theater have told me they had more difficult ‘reading’ her more modest expressiveness (a quality of hers that I love). Her edge-of-the-bed was minimally expressive, but just right – you could see the light go on in her head without any excess histrionics, and she inserted her own nuances throughout that made this Juliet her own. In short, she was a believable sixteen year old girl, overwhelmed by passion, her own impulsiveness, and forces outside of her control. Technically, her transitions were seamless, her extensions to die for, and, like Obraztsova, her bourrees were flawless. And no matter how many performances I see, and even though I know it’s coming, that MacMillan Scream, when executed well, still touches my inner softie. Obraztsova got me to brush back a tear; with Seo I choked back a river. Of those ABT dancers who have assayed the role, and aside from Vishneva, hers is the most compelling.

Seo’s remarkable performance was based on her own ability. But there’s no doubt that it was also in part the product of having Gomes as a partner – he could make a stick or brick of a ballerina look good. As I wrote many years ago, he’s the most valuable member of ABT’s roster: his attentiveness and skill allow his ballerina to perform free from fear, something that few male dancers in this company can do. It’s unfortunate that he can’t be cloned and partner every ballerina in the company – he and whoever he partners always look perfect together.

But partnering aside, Gomes was an extraordinary Romeo as well. At this point, one would think that this role is one that he might want to put behind him now, but his Romeo was exceptional on its own – free-wheeling (with something of a kinship to a certain sailor on leave), vital, and surprisingly youthful. Bravo.

The performance by Copeland and Gorak on Saturday afternoon wasn’t in the same league as the other two for a variety of reasons. (Saturday was supposed to have been her debut, but she was given an extra performance as a consequence of the injuries to previously-cast Juliets, and actually debuted on Tuesday, opposite Alexandre Hammoudi, who originally was supposed to partner Seo….So it’s been in the past few Met seasons.) But it was certainly promising – more for each individually than the two of them together.

Copeland’s Juliet started out on the wrong, er, foot. Her first appearance (Act 1, scene 2) was seriously flawed. Her timing was somewhat off the music, but more importantly, she overdid the cutesy-poo stuff to disadvantage, and had no clue what to do in the closing moment, when the Nurse shows her she’s developing: she just looked slightly upward, totally expressionless. The beginning of Scene 4 (the Capulet ballroom), when she first appears and briefly dances, started out the same way. More mature ballerinas aside, hers was the oldest sixteen year old I’ve seen.

But to a large extent, once she got away from trying to act sixteen, and with several exceptions, her performance improved as the ballet continued because the emphasis was on overt emotion and aggressiveness, which are her strengths. Generally, she executed the essential balcony, bed, and bier scenes well, albeit with acting that was somewhat over-baked, but nuances were missing (understandable for someone new to the role) or mis-stated (in the moonlight, instead of caressing her hand where Romeo had touched her, she celebrated herself). The passionate dancing didn’t look seamless – but again, for someone new to the role, that’s understandable. Worse, when in the bedroom scene she’s required to extend her arms and legs at various points, she pushed them out from her body as if they were independent gestures and punctuations rather than being of a piece with the rest of the choreography. Her bourrees in Act III were poor – instead of floating across the stage with steps that appear separated by millimeters, hers were a connection of separate steps at least six or more inches apart. At this point in her training, I doubt that those (or the necessity for the orchestra to slow to enable her to keep up with the music during brief solo in Act I’s ballroom scene) will change. And her edge-of-the-bed sequence was done with her face in a fixed artificial grimace throughout, until she got up from the bed. There was no mental/thought process aspect to it at all.

And there was the partnering issue. Gorak did a generally good job of partnering (when not injured, he’s not a bad partner), but his strength is limited. Lifting her overhead in the balcony scene, he strained like an Olympic weightlifter trying to press a 500 pound barbell. When he had to carry her across the back of his neck, he looked like Atlas bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders. And he didn’t even try lifting her in other critical ‘lift’ moments – but they anticipated that, and covered it well enough so that unfamiliar audience members didn’t know how it was supposed to look.

This, of course, isn’t Copeland’s fault – or Gorak’s. It simply demonstrates that Gorak is not the right partner for her. Although Copeland is short in stature, she’s dense. He would do better partnering a ballerina of slighter build, and she would look better being partnered by someone taller and/or stronger. Further, Gorak’s transcendent ability as an up-and-coming danseur noble is based on his smooth and crystalline execution. There are no rough edges, either technically or emotionally. He’s the Prince, or the Romeo, next door. Even though he may eventually gain sufficient strength, he’s not a ‘power’ dancer. Copeland is. There are better and more compatible partners for both.

In other roles, on Thursday Daniil Simkin played Daniil Simkin playing Mercutio, milking every turn in the process. He danced very well, as he always does on his own. In the role on Friday, Craig Salstein’s Mercutio was equally energetic, but his performance was less about him showing off. And Arron Scott’s on Saturday afternoon was quite accomplished for one so relatively new to it. Devon Teuscher gave Lady Capulet considerable depth, and Stephanie Williams’s portrays was finely done as well – but she looked a little too young for the role. And in the current trend toward de-fanging Tybalt, only Roman Zhurbin was sufficiently nasty – the others were just having a bad day.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Jun 22, 2015 1:01 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2015 at the Met

Alastair Macaulay reviews three casts of Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet, including Julie Kent's farewell, for the New York Times.

NY Times

Author:  balletomaniac [ Mon Jun 22, 2015 4:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre: Spring 2015 at the Met

Pending editing and publication, below is a review of Julie Kent's Farewell performance in Romeo and Juliet.

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

June 20 (Eve)
Romeo and Juliet – Julie Kent Farewell

-- by Jerry Hochman

It’s been a long time, 1986 or 1987, since I first saw Julie Kent. She was a new member of the company, but had already been assigned a role that carried some responsibility beyond being an anonymous member of the corps. The role wasn’t much (one corps dancer selected from the pack for an individual cameo), but she stood out immediately for her clarity of line, precision of movement, and ephemeral elegance – remarkable then for someone so young. I didn’t pick her out – the company and Mikhail Baryshnikov beat me to it. I noted her name in my mind, and never forgot that first image of her.

Much has happened since then. I absented myself from ballet for awhile to attend to other priorities, just as Kent’s star was rising, so I missed many performances when she was in her prime. But Kent went on to become the most enduring American Ballet Theatre ballerina of her generation, with a reputation not only for technical precision, but for translucent characterization in a multitude of roles that required both finesse and internal strength.

So when ABT announced her retirement at the end of this season after a nearly thirty year career with the company, one knew that the performance would be both an Event and a milestone – the formal recognition of the end of an ABT era. And it was. Saturday night’s Farewell was sold out weeks in advance, and orchestra standing room was three rows deep – something I have not seen in years. Many of those attendees I spoke with or overheard had never seen her dance before – they just wanted to be part of the Event or be able to tell their children they’d seen Kent dance. But many more witnessed her performances, and wanted to honor that memory with their presence, even if they had not seen her dance in years.

Regardless of their reason for being there, Saturday night’s full house was treated to two performances: a moving portrayal of Juliet, one of Kent’s most celebrated roles. In addition to rekindling memories, her Juliet Saturday night stood on its own as a remarkable achievement. There are technical things she can no longer do, but they were far outweighed by the things she still can. And although her experience is evident and unavoidable (and at this performance, totally insignificant), her portrayal transcended that. She delivered a very fine balcony scene, the performance’s highlight (which brought down the house), as well as a thoroughly believable Act III. It was by far Kent’s finest performance that I’ve seen in many seasons.

And it was aided by the extraordinarily able and gracious partnering of Roberto Bolle (who, as I’ve previously noted, has carved a career niche as a Farewell partner). He presented her, carried her, and treated her like a passion-inducing teenager who happened to be light as a feather – but at the same time like a living precious gem.

Augmenting these sterling performances were many that would have highlighted any performance, but were particularly impressive Saturday night. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Herman Cornejo's Mercutio, but he can still light up the stage in the role without looking full of himself. Blaine Hoven’s Benvolio has improved his portrayal considerably since I last saw him dance it. Others included Alexandre Hammoudi’s gracious Paris, Patrick Ogle’s dogged Tybalt, and most impressively, Stella Abrera’s vibrant Lady Capulet. And the performances of the Three Harlots by Luciana Paris (who is one of the finest to assay the role), Cassandra Trenary (an electrifying livewire), and Alexandra Basmagy (who lent her portrayal a more refined air than others) was at the same high level.

The second performance, at least of equal significance to the first, was after the curtain came down on the final performance bows, and then rose again to cue the Event’s second act – the celebration.

There are few surprises to these ABT Farewells anymore. They follow a fairly pre-determined script – an abundance of flowers (here, after the curtain rose, the assembled multitude on stage each tossed a single rose toward Kent as she stood downstage half-heartedly attempting to duck), gold confetti, tears, cheers, and a parade of principal dancers, family members, administrators/teachers, and former dancers who greet, kiss, and present individual bouquets. Soloists and corps dances surround the stage perimeters, and like the members of the audience, all assembled enthusiastically stand and applaud until, after multiple mutual salutations from the stage to the audience and from the audience back, the curtain comes down for a final time. So it was Saturday night.

But this Farewell showed a side of Julie Kent that most audience members cannot see, or haven’t seen in many years. Unlike Alessandra Ferri, who had the warmest of stage personalities (and who joined others on stage Saturday night), rightly or wrongly Kent has appeared to many over the past few seasons as being somewhat distant and austere. The post-performance celebration, however, revealed her human side, and what is more likely closer to the ‘real’ Julie Kent. And seeing her interacting with her children (a boy who looks to be about 11, and a beautiful little blonde girl of about 6), including presenting her daughter with a tiny teddy bear that had been tossed onstage (just as Ferri did), and pretend-teaching her daughter a few steps in front of the standing, cheering audience, proved what those who witnessed her performances in the past or know her personally are already aware: that beyond the performance mask there’s a real person with a gracious spirit and a warm heart.

So ultimately, it wasn’t her audience that honored Julie Kent at her Farewell, it was Julie Kent who honored her audience with the gifts of an exceptional final performance, and of revealing the part of herself largely hidden behind stage roles.

Even though this season still has two weeks to go, Kent’s Farewell signals the end of 75 years of ABT history, and future changes of direction, whether minimal or fundamental, are already underway and inevitable. But regardless of what future direction the company may take, Kent, the company, and those who have watched it for much of its history to date, can together recognize and celebrate this milestone event.

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