Monday, May 25, 2009

ABT Does Balanchine

This was a wonderfully busy ballet weekend!

It started Thursday night when I headed to the gorgeous Metropolitan Opera House (it’s been said that I would love to just live there…) to see American Ballet Theater’s first program of their season: Balanchine-Tchaikovsky Spectacular. It’s so good to see something other than a full-length classical ballet on the agenda for the company. We see New York City Ballet dancers all the time in four ballet bills, but to get a taste of ABT’s stars beyond the times they carry a long evening’s show helps to display the diversity and multiple talents of this fantastic company.

“Allegro Brillante” opened the program and was staged by a former teacher of mine, Darla Hoover. Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky danced the leads powerfully, but something seemed to be off despite their flawless technique. Much has been said about “other companies” dancing Balanchine’s ballets. Like when the Kirov Ballet danced “Rubies” last spring, it begs the question, “Do we want to see Balanchine’s ‘Rubies’? Or do we want to see the Kirov doing Balanchine’s ‘Rubies’?” Of course there’s no one way to dance the genius’ luscious choreography, but somehow the interpretation seemed forced on Thursday. Irina had strangely punctuated fingers that almost zapped water from her nails with each calculated stop. And during simple pirouettes from fourth position she seemed to slip back into the Russian style of bending both knees in preparation. The corps de ballet women danced well but only one, Simone Messmer (I think? I should know the corps better...), stood out.

“Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux” was only slightly better. Xiomara Reyes and Angel Corella have that very obvious something that sparkles when they step onstage. Angel was particularly cocky, shaking his head smartly during quiet moments in his variation as if to say, “Go on, applaud now. I know I’m great.” Good thing he actually is! Both were at their best during the coda, where Xiomara hauled herself at Angel over and over again in the series of fish dives, gaining guts and height progressively.

“Mozartiana” was the best of the night. Maria Riccetto began onstage amongst four petite primas from the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at ABT (one danced Clara in Radio City with me!). Within seconds I fell in love with this ballet and the soft clarity Maria brought to its center. Aaron Scott in the Gigue was playful and technically clean, but Blaine Hoven in his later variation showed crystal clarity in Balanchine’s trusty intricate footwork. Blaine’s musicality in a series of petite allegro that could make any grace flop was spotless. It was as if he drove the tempo, careful not to fall behind.

Finally it was the corps that excelled in “Theme and Variations.” As the curtain rises on the sugary glimmer of pastel tutus one can’t help but be in awe. Balanchine created a true gem for this company with this ballet, and 62 years after it’s premiere it still shines. Yuriko Kajiya danced tentatively after a slight mishap early on, but her performance grew as she went on. Cory Stearns was wonderful throughout, marking the choreography crisply and gallantly.

The evening was merely a sample of the greatness to come with the rest of their Met season. A former Balanchine ballerina told me that this choreographer always wanted dancers who “looked interesting” onstage. ABT certainly has many ballerinas (and oh those men…) of interest coming through the ranks.

(luckily this week I'll get to see them in every performance of "Le Corsaire" from the best seat in the house: onstage!)

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