ABT in Ottawa February 26th - 28th, 20094 performances of Giselle, alternating casts
Posted 03 March 2009 - 07:30 PM
Posted 04 March 2009 - 08:05 AM
Posted 04 March 2009 - 04:22 PM
Thanks to all who have commented, made requests for roundtables, and PM'd. It means a lot to me and inspires me to keep going! I only wish I weren't the only one who was reviewing these performances.
February 27th, Friday evening, 8 PM
Marcelo Gomes is an astounding dancer, really. Not only does he have the perfect body, endowed with the most agreeable eye-pleasing proportions: legs with muscles creating superb contours, pliable and arched, shapely feet, long neck below a ruggedly handsome, expressive face, beautiful arms and hands, masculine chest and slim hips, but he’s got the technique that accentuates his gorgeous features and the acting skills that complete this package of perfection. Every move he makes is so compellingly watchable. Even when he’s just observing the center-stage action from the side, you are drawn to him.
His portrayal of Count Albrecht/Loys was the one to see if you could see only one. With every nuance ideally rendered, he drew us into the story expression by expression as he acted and danced. His countenance and demeanor demonstrated aspects of playfulness, gentlemanliness, courtliness, nobility, dignity, whimsy, concern, tenderness, and true love – all befitting the story at just the right times.
His dancing was unassailable. What a jump! What beats (only a split hair below those of David Hallberg, but that’s only because David’s feet will always win out )! What ballon! What port de bras! What lyricism! What an arabesque! What turns -- attitude, pirouettes, tours,...!!! You get the idea.
Memorable Marcelo Act I moments:
1) As Loys, his tender rescue and protection of Giselle’s feelings during the daisy-plucking incident. All the Counts/Loyses performed this scene very well, but Marcelo’s stood out for its gentleness and warmth. It cemented our belief in his affection for Giselle.
2) His kind-hearted treatment of his friend Wilfred. Interacting with him, he shows the affection that good buddies have for each other, and, with his unique charisma, Count-Marcelo-as-Loys has a devoted ally in his Wilfred (Alexei Agoudine).
3) When confronted by Bathilde, his deceptive actions revealed, he reacts with confidence and acceptance, showing her respect and attending to her words, concurrently looking over to Giselle with the focus he had shown her when they were alone. He covered his bases, but not disingenuously. He really cared for both of them.
4) The fight between the Count and Hilarion. This is also a Memorable Isaac Moment. These two really had at it! The pushing, the shoving, the back and forth struggle! Count Marcelo is hurled to the ground and sent sliding backwards by Hilarion Isaac. Albrecht counters with equal forcefulness. Hilarion will not let up. Another push. Another counter-advance. The physical fervor of these opponents is a highlight of Act I!
Memorable Marcelo Act II moments:
1) As Count Marcelo first appears on stage and moves toward Giselle’s grave, he is the epitome of grief. Placing his flowers on Giselle’s freshly mounded grave, he splays himself over the soil and begins to burrow into it, clawing the earth with his fingers, wanting so to be with her. You can almost see the tears crawling down his cheeks as his face is contorted in anguish and his body heaves with the weight of his sobbing.
2) From the first sign of Wili Giselle, Albrecht senses her essence with clarity. He follows the trail of her spirit as if on a mission. Everywhere he feels her presence, he runs with unbridled longing. Theirs is a union of a love so binding that they communicate mortal soul to immortal soul. This symbiosis was awe-inspiringly in heightened evidence in the Gomes/Herrera partnership.
3) At the end of his ultimate, grueling, Myrta-commanded dance, Count Marcelo collapses, as is choreographed, but then – BUT THEN! – his entire body bounces up, convulsing horizontally, before hitting the ground in complete exhaustion.
An able foil to the Count, Isaac Stappas as Hilarion made the greatest impact of the 3 Hilarions I saw. Always “outspoken” in his dancing manner, he is one scary Hilarion. He really means business. It’s a good thing he was Marcelo’s rival, because the great Gomes can hold his own against anyone. Had David Hallberg been up against Stappas, he would have been driven into the ground, whimpering.
As the tragedy of the deception unfolds, Stappas as Hilarion seems to almost feign being devastated while inwardly proud of being the orchestrator of the whole scenario. He glories in the disclosure, revels in the limelight. When the switch from Albrecht to Hilarion occurs at Giselle's side right after her death, Stappas's Hilarion seems to assume his grieving position as a matter of form -- perfunctorily -- instead of because he really loves Giselle and must be with her body. (This Hilarion interpretation contrasts directly with Gennadi Saveliev's the evening before and the evening after.)
Stappas’ dancing is strong and accomplished, his acting vigorous, abrupt and well-prepared. In Act II, from the bullet-fast chainé turns across the stage as he is unfurled by the unseen power of the Wilis, to his death-dance of exciting high leaps -- his dynamic thrust in the final throes agonizingly fervent -- Stappas shows his determination to avoid his downfall.
Caveat: If I seem exceptionally enthusiastic about Marcelo Gomes, it’s because I am. I first met him when he was 20 and in the corps at ABT. He danced Nutcracker with Anna Liceica for Canadian Ballet Theatre, the company of the ballet school where my daughter trained. He was already a stellar performer and an equally nice young man. Naturally, I follow his career closely. However, I am acquainted with many dancers from many companies, and I don’t praise anyone nor shower them with accolades if they don’t deserve them. If someone’s dancing doesn’t impress me, I don’t even mention that dancer in my review, however much I may like them as a person. My reviews are as objective as anyone else’s and obviously subjective, too, as ballet reviews tend to be for all critics writing them.
Keep this in mind when I review Isabella Boylston’s brilliant performances.
Review of this Friday evening performance will continue.
Posted 04 March 2009 - 05:31 PM
Posted 04 March 2009 - 06:22 PM
Posted 04 March 2009 - 07:28 PM
My own personal favorite so far has been Bathilde Bystrova, evaluating her competition:
Posted 04 March 2009 - 08:08 PM
Thank you so much for giving us your reviews/character interpretations -- all the way from Ottawa! This has been such fun!
FYI, peasant pas de deux was not a debut for either Blaine Hoven or Sarah Lane. Hoven and Lane danced the pas once or twice, together, I recall in a thrown-on situation (a Sat, mat & eve), during ABT's last season at the Met (in July '08). Maybe ABT doesn't count that sort of situation as a debut.... whatever.... Then Daniil Simkin joined ABT!!
Posted 05 March 2009 - 04:29 AM
Hopefully St. Petersburg will enjoy Gomes as Albrecht (Albert)in late March as much as you have. It will be interesting read those reviews as well. If only I had vacation, I would be in St. Petersburg to enjoy it.
Posted 05 March 2009 - 04:09 PM
Posted 05 March 2009 - 06:07 PM
For both these performances I was seated too far away to see facial expressions very well. I did, however, rent binoculars for Saturday evening’s performance to which I scored a last minute ticket up in the amphitheatre, and used them frequently. So, I’m cobbling together the two performances by the same dancers in the roles of Giselle, Count Albrecht, Hilarion, Wilfred and Berthe (with different Bathildes, different Myrtas), with the same conductor, Ormsby Wilkins.
Having seen the first two performances and with a ticket for only one more, I was aching to see Veronika Part, but was willing to forgo the experience until I spoke to Isabella Boylston after Friday evening’s performance. She told me she was dancing the Peasant pas de deux Saturday evening, so that clinched it. I was going to land a ticket if I had to rent a wheelchair and obtain wheelchair seating in order the see the show! Fortunately, Saturday morning there were still a few seats left (by evening the theatre was completely sold out) and I bought a 3rd row seat in the middle of what is essentially the second tier of the theatre (there are 3 tiers above the orchestra). I was happy I did, for Saturday night’s presentation had so many wonderful moments, the best being Isabella’s sparkling debut in the peasant PDD.
Xiomara Reyes is eternally youthful and the spring in her jump is amazing. She won our hearts immediately as she vaulted onto the stage and performed her introductory circle of ballonées. I am not alone in saying that, when given a choice of which dancer to see in a role, Xiomara is not my first, or even my second or third choice. Therefore, it is a pleasant surprise to enjoy her interpretation of a major role when I am watching her. Conditioned to think she will display every emotion with a wide grin, it is refreshing to see that she does indeed have a more extensive vocabulary of expression.
While her dévelopés a la seconde do not stun with ear-scratching reach like those of, say, Svetlana Zakharova (whose Giselle I never want to see), or Maria Riccetto’s, even, I honor their purity. (I’m quite sure today’s rising young ballet stars who crave the athleticism of their current ballet idols would give Xiomara a big thumbs-down.)
Partnered with the reliable Jose Carreno, Reyes confidently carried out all of Giselle’s choreography and pathos as if she’s been doing it forever.….oh, wait.
Still, there were standout moments.
Memorable Reyes moment: Giselle’s famous Act II penché was elegantly developed in a molasses-slow rise of the cantilevered outer leg supported by the slow descent of a well-held upper body. Xiomara was so solid nothing could throw her off this tricky balance. It was one of the gems of her portrayal.
Especially nice to see was the opening Giselle/Loys dance culminating in high, forward-moving jetés, back legs in attitude, done perfectly in unison with lovely abandon. In fact, together the two are a well-suited pair, in height, ethnicity (it does count – ballet is, after all, visual art), perhaps in training? They move as one and relate naturally. It is so easy to picture them as a couple and quite impossible to believe the same of Carreno with either of his Bathildes: Luciana Paris (with whom he dances a sensual Sinatra Suite -- but that's another ballet) or Kristi Boone.
Jose Carreno, he of swash-buckling virility and balletic classicism, was an endearing Count and an actor of experience, who, nevertheless, has a more modest arsenal of communicative gestures and facial expressions than befits the role. He goes through the emotive paces – petal-discarding to assuage Giselle after her ominous plucking, hand to hip to draw the sword that isn’t there (although he provided the nice touch of lingering there, perhaps to cover for his mistake or to press his flesh in rebuke for slipping), forearm-to-forearm grip with the Prince of Courland to acknowledge their relationship – but somehow isn’t all that he could be. He is also showing his age in demanding jumps, landing with a thump followed by a laden leg-lift into plié arabesque rather than displaying the easy elevation of his younger co-Counts who rebound with a light, straight upward throw of the arabesque leg.
I still love watching him. He is an irresistible lover of the sweet and safe variety. Of the three Counts who placed their fingers under Giselle’s chin to tilt it upward, his was the touch I wanted to feel myself. His expression so tender as he gazed into Giselle’s eyes while lifting her head, the look of love in his eyes so affectionate, would make any woman melt. Here’s an instance where his minimalism had intense impact.
Reyes portrayed Giselle securely -- delicately when called for, insanely with fitting intensity in the mad scene, with steely determination fighting for her Count’s life in Act II -- and, being the ballerina she is, this is enough for the average audience. But when you watch ballet all the time, in person and on video, and are privileged to see dazzling moments amongst the regular ones, you kind of want to be surprised at each performance with something that's special from the principal dancers. Often, those moments come from a soloist or a corps de ballet member given a lead role, even a small one. But it’s normal to expect to see the top of the heap dancers do something unforgettable. It didn’t occur with either of the Reyes/Carreno attempts. I don’t want to sell them short, for they are formidable principals both, but this is American Ballet Theater.
A triple-A rating for Carlos Lopez, Count Carreno’s Wilfred: Attentive, attractive, accomplished .
More about Lopez when I discuss his peasant pas de deux.
A few words about Susan Jones’s Berthe: wonderful, skillful miming.
ABT ballet master Jones, diminutive and quite round in Berthe’s bulky costume, was in supreme command of her stage business and a no-nonsense mother to Giselle. Plaudits to her for the watchful heed of her daughter, her village-mother hen manner of keeping Giselle’s friends in check, and her emphatic shooing away of the peccant Count from Giselle’s body.
Gennadi Saveliev, another dancer whom I don’t elect to see when there are other choices (I don’t know why – perhaps it’s just my thirst for someone newer), danced and acted Hilarion to perfection. Here’s a country boy who’s all guts and no glory. His is a love so deep that he was probably relieved to be danced to death in hopes it would reunite him with his beloved Giselle.
Memorable Gennadi moments:
1. Act I: As he rushes to the expired Giselle’s side after the Count has been ousted from it, he not only kneels, removing his cap and pressing it to his chest (as all our Hilarions do), but he grabs Giselle’s leg and holds onto it tightly as his final and very poignant physical contact with the true love he has lost.
2. Act II: His Hilarion tying the cross together methodically and with great care demonstrates that this young man knows his way around knots and constructing things from branches. With each overlay and tightening of the rope, his anguish is palpable. He drives the cross into the soil of Giselle’s grave with finality, stepping back to check its security, and feeling the gravity of the moment.
3. Sensing the Wilis imminent invasion of the clearing, his spinning chainés are more a plaintive act of “take me” rather than the result of an unstoppable force against which he tries to fight.
Luciana Paris’s Bathilde (Thursday evening) was exceedingly striking in appearance and her stride across stage was like a swan skimming the surface of a lake. She performed her role very, very well, and decided to use rage as the manifestation of her anger. It made for great contrast. Carreno’s Count was not one to exhibit fiery temper. Bathilde would have been the matriarch in their union.
Kristi Boone’s Bathilde (Saturday evening) was regal and divine. She was every inch the noblewoman, but a benevolent one, who unclasped her gold necklace from her own neck (after consultation with her father) and fondly reclasped it around Giselle’s. Albrecht, when caught in his lie, acquiesced to her admonitions, but did not really seem to belong with her.
All Myrtas, Moynas, Zulmas, and Peasant pas de deux will be discussed in posts dedicated only to them.
Posted 05 March 2009 - 06:16 PM
Thanks, sz, for the correction. I amended the post.
Posted 06 March 2009 - 04:58 AM
Posted 07 March 2009 - 02:15 AM
Jared Matthews is another of my favorite dancers. I have known him since he was 16 years old and was invited to dance Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake with my children's ballet school. Less than 2 years later he was back to perform Hilarion with the school’s company, Canadian Ballet Theatre. He spoke to me then of learning the part from Victor Barbee as well as Ethan Brown, and he was very excited to perform it, having been inspired by Barbee's coaching. His rival Count Albrecht in that production was the National Ballet of Cuba's Oscar Torrado, his Giselle, Laura Hormigon (also National Ballet of Cuba).
Last Saturday was his debut as Hilarion for American Ballet Theater, and he has changed some in the 6 year interim, but still comes through as the nicest Hilarion I’ve seen. The role was performed with everything done just right, but, alas, there were no memorable moments. Jared proved his mettle as a soloist, but where was the moxie of the character?
An inconsequential prop malfunction was dealt with without missing a beat. At the point when Hilarion emerges from the hunter’s hut with Albrecht’s sword and horn, his stage business is to sling the horn (it’s on a cord) around his body so he can partially withdraw the sword from its sheath and reinsert it, showing the audience definitively what he has discovered. But the horn’s strap refused to drape over Matthew’s shoulder and head and he had to display the sword while still holding the horn. For a Hilarion debut that you want to go just right, this tiny difficulty, unnoticeable by 99% of the audience (or more – the theater seated 2500) can throw the dancer off his game a smidge. I’m hoping Jared just thought “Oh jeez!” and didn’t let it trouble him for even a second.
Jared has occasionally gotten a lukewarm reception in the press (and on BT) since becoming soloist. He is a detail-oriented, hard-working dancer with strong technique and a personable onstage presence. Very good-looking to boot, and with excellent ballet physique, Jared's jumps are lofty, his arabesques eye-catching, his turns high, fast and straight. But even I have to say that he’s still working on developing pizazz. I’d like to see a bit of seasoning – and I don’t mean further brewing in the ABT cauldron. I’m talking about spice! Jared needs us to sit up and take notice of his many talents.
Admittedly, living in Canada, I don’t get to New York often enough to see everything ABT presents. I missed Jared (and everyone) in “Brief Fling”, for example, and I haven’t seen his Espada (Don Q) or Head Wrangler (Rodeo). I wish I could remember more of his Hilarion. I recall funny things, like the way those knee-high boots made all the Hilarions plod in an inelegant, almost lumbering way when they first walked across the stage. (Check out “The Village Idiot”’s blog – link in an early post of mine in this thread – for a hilarious account of boot agony by a Giselle super.) I feel I owe Jared more of a review. Or does he owe us more to review? (Sorry, sweetie, I do love you.)
Maria Bystrova was Bathilde to David Hallberg’s Count Albrecht and Maria Riccetto’s Giselle, and an imposing Bathilde she was. Her presence filled the stage, extending far beyond her regal garments. Her Russian training was substantiated by grand, sweeping gestures, a high tilt of her head, the coordination of her shoulders to all her movements (épaulement), even the iconic Vaganova style in which she held her fingers. The mime sequences were thus formulaic, but just what the doctor ordered for the way in which she portrayed the character. ABT has a valuable treasure of a character actress in her.
Unfortunately, she seems destined to stay primarily a character dancer. She is still given soloist and corps roles to dance, but not often enough. Bystrova is very tall – around 5’10” ?– limiting her pas de deux opportunities, a sorry situation since classical ballet is her forté and she’s so pure in line and execution. I am eager to see her whenever possible in contemporary works where height doesn’t matter. I missed her forays last year – one can only afford so many tickets – but perhaps next season I’ll get to see her in more than the last line of a Petipa corps. I remember how amazing she was as a 15 year old at the Kirov Academy of Ballet, showing the potential for a corps-to-soloist-to-principal trajectory, and feel sad that she’s been in the corps for so long with others leap-frogging over her.
Her Bathilde had an attitude of nose-in-the-air, high-born snobbery that made Count Albrecht look all the more like a privileged young man, barely out of his teens, who had not yet learned to be supercilious. He seemed light years away from attaining her level of haughtiness. All decked out and heavily made up, Bystrova looked about 40 years old (in reality, she and Hallberg are the same age), a veritable Mrs. Robinson to Hallberg’s boyish Count.
She treated Giselle (Maria Riccetto) more like a capricious young girl than someone she could bond with, fiancée-to-fiancée. Instead of purposefully undoing her necklace and kindly reclasping it around Giselle’s neck (as did the other Bathildes), Bystrova’s Bathilde sorted through her many necklaces (to find perhaps her least favorite?) and practically flung the chain over Giselle’s head.
When the revelation and ensuing mad scene occurred, Bathilde looked on as if she weren’t really a part of any of that nasty business, and with a rustle of her petticoats, turned heel, and -- head held high -- rushed away from it all, entourage in tow.
edited to correct misinformation about who danced Albrecht and Giselle to Jared Matthew's first Hilarion. I got my Canadian Ballet Theatre Giselle productions mixed up!
Posted 07 March 2009 - 07:55 PM
Gillian Murphy (February 26th, 2009, 8 pm. Thursday evening)
(Moyna: Melanie Hamrick; Zulma: Kristi Boone)
Simone Messmer (February 27th, 2009, 8 pm Friday evening)
(Moyna: Melanie Hamrick; Zulma: Leann Underwood)
Michelle Wiles (February 28th, 2009, 2 pm Saturday matinée)
(Moyna: Isabella Boylston; Zulma: Zhong-Jing Fang)
Veronika Part (February 28th, 2009, 8 pm Saturday evening)
(Moyna: Simone Messmer; Zulma: Yuriko Kajiya)
With menacing music to set the mood, the curtain opens on a clearing in the middle of a forest. There is a lake in the distance. Huge, dark trees surround the glade. It is close to midnight and an indigo aura is suspended over the woodland. A disturbing mist rises from the hallowed ground. Hilarion is down on one knee fashioning a cross for Giselle’s grave. All of a sudden, a gossamer apparition scurries across the far side of the clearing. Massive strobe light flashes illume the atmosphere. Another wraith, and then another, flutters across the space. Hilarion, after planting the finished cross, runs into the woods. Out of the blue haze, a veiled phantasm bourrées diagonally across the clearing with a fleet-footed swiftness that can only be compared to the blur of a hummingbird’s wings.
Who IS that masked Wili?!!?
Gillian Murphy reenters after doffing her veil, to begin Myrta’s arabesques in promenade to penché, one sequence on each leg. Then, she starts her ritual of claiming the glade for the night. Murphy’s assured arabesque hops, her mime calling for the Wilis to rise from their graves, her grands jetés, entrechats, entrelacés, step piqué turns, were well, if perfunctorily, performed, with authority and a straightforward approach. The only thing that tainted her incredible initial effect was the clunky sound of her pointe shoes in the slow bourrées which followed the opening diagonal. I couldn’t believe it was the same dancer who had soundlessly sped over the same ground just seconds before. (In fact, I had to ask a dancer backstage the next evening if it had, indeed, been Gillian. Doesn’t she wear Gaynor Mindens?)
Part of the noise factor was due to my seat being in the first row, just an orchestra pit away from the stage, and the softness of the music. When the Wilis came onstage and began their dance, the clatter of their feet also belied their diaphanous appearance.
Gillian Murphy’s Myrta qualities can be described as somewhat remote, insular, and arctic cold. Although the character might warrant such a portrayal, Murphy did not leave me with the impression that here was an outstanding Myrta. (I had to wait until Veronika Part’s Myrta to feel that way.) Murphy's jetés in attitude, croisé each side, seemed a little jerky to me but they had great height and maybe that's why -- perhaps the atmospheric winds up there pushed her around.
Melanie Hamrick’s Moyna was beautifully danced, with lilting sautés and delicate, expressive arms. Her piqué to arabesque was sharp and precise every time. Kristi Boone, with her longer limbs, provided an expansive contrast. Lovely, floating arms and sustained hold on her renversés, those attitude turns where you leave your head behind, bending it towards the audience as you turn.
The corps de ballet was, for the most part, a cohesive unit. However, in the Wilis’ famed crossing (as well as in the Act I village girls’ always exciting long rotating line, the Count at one end, Giselle at the other) there was one head toward the back of the pack bobbing out of sync with the others, always a fraction of a second behind.
When it came time to dance the men to death, Murphy’s Myrta hardened even more, carrying her stiffness into her back. She proved an immovable force, but was not all that interesting to watch, much is the pity. Her major dancing work is done and she must now wow us with her acting. There wasn’t anything distinctive in it, no unique touch.
So, I only have one memorable Myrta moment to share with you, the Act I opening bourrées. They were so spectacular that I expected something to match them in Act II.
I have an orchestra moment, though. Two of them, in fact, both occurring in the same performance, the first one, on Thursday.
1) As the first violinist guides his bow to draw out the plaintive strains which accompany Count Albrecht’s steps toward the grave, his very first tone is off and he has to slide up to the correct note. The result is truly a mournful cry!
2) Later on, and I no longer remember where in the ballet, a brass instrument blatantly honks out a sour note. Poor guy, but so funny!
Next to come: Simone Messmer
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