In the Q&A after the performance, Francia Russell said that we had been a good audience. Unlike Speight Jenkins, of Seattle Opera, who says that to all the girls, there seemed to be a note of surprise in Russell's voice. When an audience member said, "That's because we were inspired," Russell described the dress rehearsal as uninspired.
The tone of the performance was apparent by Noelani Pantastico's performance; she dances the killer 6th variation, choreographed for Patricia Wilde. It seemed like she was trying to not fail at this part, rather than dancing it from within. (Conductor Stuart Dameron was trying to murder her with the tempo, which didn't help. This time Stowell didn't shout out to the conductor that it was too fast, as he did in NY during PNB's City Center debut in 1996. This time it might have helped.) Pantastico is a dancer who did not seem nearly as nervous dancing Odette/Odile or Aurora, the two biggest roles of the classical repertoire.
The NY cast had all of the "big guns" -- Hitchen (1st var), Apple (2nd var), Derieux (3rd var), Barker (4th var), and Tobiason (6th var) -- and they danced brilliantly and, seemingly, without nerves. (Apple was noticed by the NY critics in this ballet. All but Barker have retired or left the Company.) Stowell, as evidenced by his outburst, was more nervous than his dancers. As important as those performances were, and I don't mean to suggest that Russell/Stowell have any less respect for the traditional classic repertoire, I get the impression that the Company on the whole knows that this Centenary Celebration program is the most important they have ever done in their lives until this point. (The exception was Louise Nadeau, an experienced performer.) Here was the first ballet in the program, a make or break moment. Of the Opening Night cast, Le Yin breezed through his variation, but it was Mara Vinson who grabbed the opportunity and shone in Melissa Hayden's role. Vinson has danced all her parts this season with a full-bodied approach. No matter how fast the tempi, she seems unperturbed, and dances full out without seeming rushed. This has been a great season so far for her. In the Centenary programs, she's also cast in Hayden's role in the 2nd pas de trois in Agon in the last performance of the season (Sun, 15 Feb 1pm).
From the Second Tier I couldn't see who was making all of the noise, but I suspect these were Company members and dancers from the school, because it sounded like an ABT audience -- cheering, clapping, whistling, and "woofing" after each variation and pas de deux, which ruins the musical transitions, but supported the dancers and willed them on in this difficult ballet. [Edited to add: In the Q&A after the 7 Feb Sat mat., Francia Russell said that 50 members of the touring Dance Theatre of Harlem were in attendance; that certainly explains the enthusiam and professional courtesy. PNB members went to see DTH's Friday performance.] In the way-too-empty nosebleed section, there was audible sighing from everywhere. When I moved to my regular seat in the Gallery Upper after intermission, the sighs during the performance were more pronounced. There was a moment towards the end of the pas de deux in Agon where Barker goes into arabesque penche position, with Stanton lying on the floor, and after the final pulse of the extension, it sounded like the entire Main Floor made a collective sigh. [Edited to take out "develope into penche", which is not the correct move.] Who'd have thought that Divertimento #15 and Agon were ballets that would cause fifty-five-year-olds to "woof" in appreciation, and that Agon with it's difficult 12-tone score would be received as an exciting, even fun ballet?
Barker, who danced the pas de deux from Agon with Stanton in the NY performances, was even better than six years ago. Regardless of the number of roles that Stowell and visiting choreographers have made for her, it is this role that looks like it was choreographed for her. It fits her style, energy, flexibility, control, and body type like a glove, and her smile seems genuine in it. This is the triumphant role of her career.
I think Gibson's performance of the man in the first pas de trois was in the same lofty universe as Boal's. His characterization is less elegant, but more competitive, and there's steely technique and placement behind the softness of his dancing. He makes and connects shapes beautifully.
I knew there was in for trouble when Nakamura danced a rather academic second pas de trois lead. There was nothing wrong per se with the performance, but it did not bode well for Brahms-Schoenberg. Lallone opened the first movement with sweep and panache, and Nakamura, who had danced softly and beautifully in The Nutcracker, had reverted to a jarring "correctness" and a tense upper body. Lallone so ruled the first movement that the main couple was an afterthought instead of a contrast. (I'm really not a Lallone fan usually, but she was fabulous in this role. She dances Rondo alla Zingarese in other performances. We'll see.)
More trouble came in the second movement. Louise Nadeau was radiant, and she created gorgeous shapes in lifts, but to me, she posed too much. A dance photographer would have been in heaven, because he would have made great snapshots, but it was not great dancing. I am dreading seeing her Agon pas de deux.
In the "tall" cast for the third movement, Barker, with a very different style and emphasis, danced softly and elegantly in Allegra Kent's role. Milov was a lovely partner, but seeing such a big, soft dancer in the male solos was disconcerting.
Carrie Imler was a star in the Rondo alla Zingarese movement, and in the best sense: through the fullness of her dancing and the integration of character and movement. (I'm sitting on my hands wanting to talk about her "amplitude," but that was listed as one of the top reviewer descriptions to avoid ) Casey Herd was a lot of fun as the male lead. His performance as one of the two men in the second pas de trois in Agon had paled against Jordan Pacitti's, his authoritative partner's, but he was a lot more dynamic in the Brahms. While tall, he's a bit compact nonetheless, and he didn't have d'Amboise's sinuousness that is exploited so well in the choreography. But it was a vivid performance that offset Imler's tour-de-force brilliantly.
Among the corps and demi roles standouts were Rebecca Johnston, who never cheats and gave her corps roles in Divertimento No. 15 clarity and integrity, Karel Cruz, who, luckily for me, was paired with Johnston in the Brahms so I didn't have to split my attention, Nicholas Ade, Jordan Pacitti, and Lucien Postlewaite in both the first and fourth movements of the Brahms, Maria Chapman as the middle girl in the second movement of Brahms and one of the four girls in Agon, and Kara Zimmerman, in the first and third movements of the Brahms.
I'm looking forward to seeing a few more performances of this program. I'm hoping that the dancers have calmed down a bit, that Russell and Stowell approve of their efforts so far, and that Divertimento #15 regains some of its bloom. The dancers are certainly up to it.
Edited by hockeyfan228, 07 February 2004 - 10:52 PM.