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Lady of the Camellias


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#1 Colleen Boresta

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 01:31 AM

This is the second season American Ballet Theatre has danced Lady of the Camellias, but the June 4th matinee was my first time to see this John Neumeier work. Lady of the Camellias is based on Alexandre Dumas fils’ novel La Dame aux Camellias. This book is also the source for Verdi’s opera La Traviata, Frederick Ashton’s one-act ballet Marguerite and Armand and the famous Greta Garbo movie Camille.

Lady of the Camellias is the story of Marguerite Gautier, the most famous French courtesan of her day (the 1840’s). She falls in love with the wealthy young Armand Duval. As well, Armand falls desperately in love with Marguerite. At the beginning of each of the three acts of Lady of the Camellias, Marguerite has already died and her possessions are being sold at auction. The rest of the act concern Armand’s flash-backs of his time with Marguerite.

Going back to the original novel as his source, Neumeier interweaves the heartbreaking tale of 18th century courtesan Manon Lescaut and her doomed relationship with Des Grieux with the romance of Marguerite and Armand. From the time Marguerite sees the ballet Manon Lescaut, images of Manon’s tragic life constantly haunt her.

The best thing about Lady of the Camellias is the passionate performances of Diana Vishneva as Marguerite and Marcelo Gomes as Armand. Both dancers clearly portray the intensity of the love affair between the courtesan and the young aristocrat.

All the dancers in Lady of the Camellias acquit themselves well, but it was hard for me to immerse myself in Neumeier’s ballet. Lady of the Camellias is set to the music of Chopin. Many choreographers have used Chopin’s scores for their ballets, most famously Jerome Robbins and Frederick Ashton. In their ballets Robbins and Ashton use a variety of Chopin’s compositions. In Neumeier’s Lady of the Camellias, however, the same Chopin piece is repeated throughout the entire ballet. There are no musical highs or lows, just monotone funeral dirge music for over two hours. It was stultifying. I had major problems staying awake.

Neumeier’s choreography for Lady of the Camellias consists almost entirely of lifts. Many of the lifts are gorgeous, but after a while they all look the same.

It is a shame that so much major talented is wasted on John Neumeier’s Lady of the Camellias.

#2 abatt

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 07:58 AM

There are many boring interludes in this ballet, but the pdds between the leading dancers are, in my opinion, breathtaking. I thought Vishneva and Gomes were thrilling and enthralling. Those two bring out the best in one another, and can make mediocre choreography look better than it is. They were passionate and danced with abandon in their scenes together. :clapping:
They are compelling dramatic dancers, so I can put up with the boring segments of the ballet as I wait for their pdds.


We got some unexpected drama when Hammoudi badly botched a lift of Messmer and nearly dropped her on the floor.

Part and Tamm were very good in the secondary leading roles.

#3 Colleen Boresta

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 09:04 AM

I agree that Vishneva and Gomes were especially wonderful, but I just couldn't deal with the music. I've sat through boring parts of ballets before, but for me Lady of the Camellias was very hard to sit through. If it's ever on my subscription again, I'm definitely switching it. This is a terrible thing to say but I was really glad when Marguerite died because I knew the ballet would be over soon. Many people in the audience, however, seemed to really enjoy this ballet. I'm sure it was because of the high quality of the dancers.

#4 FauxPas

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 10:41 AM

I have no problem myself with Chopin but Neumeier chose really funereal pieces one after another. Chopin has a wide spectrum of compositions that can express joy and gaiety and dreamy ecstasy but they were few and far between in this ballet. Also the choreography is repetitive and very, very padded.

I decided on Saturday night to check out the Dvorovenko/Stearns cast which I skipped last year. It seems that there are dancers who I end up skipping season after season while I concentrate on the superstar Russians. So I make myself attend a home team performance at least once a season. I was surprised how much I liked Irina Dvorovenko's Giselle last Saturday, so I decided to see her as Marguerite Gautier.

Again I repeat myself but the ballet is poorly structured and overlong. The expository first act could use pruning (I don't know how that would impact the Chopin piano concertos which might have to be dismembered) but I would say, drop a mazurka or two with the corps doing generic ballroom moves. Then play it straight into the second act with the first intermission after the big bedroom pas de deux which would make for a better act finale. Then start Act II with M. Duval at the auction flashing back to when he visited Marguerite at the country house. Then we don't have to see Marguerite dress and rearrange her hair onstage and do an awkward transition right after rolling on the floor in consummated love. The eliminated intermission would cut about 25 minutes. More pruning could take out another 15 or 20 minutes of repetitive filler. We would get home about 40 minutes sooner. Act I is boy gets girl, Act II is boy loses girl, then girl dies.

Irina is really a very, very good actress - not as fragile as Diana or Julie but quite accomplished and detailed. There is something rather calculated about her stage personality that is good and bad. She has everything worked out for excellently detailed effect but little sense of living in the moment spontaneously. On the other hand in the Act III scene where Marguerite sees Armand in the Champs Elysees and has to watch him woo Olympe from a park bench, Irina was crying real tears under that lovely brown hat and veil. Her firm pointed chin and heart-shaped face suggest a Scarlett O'Hara survivor/minx rather than a doomed beauty. Irina's strong footwork and supple back brought maximum detail and variety out of Neumeier's rather limited and repetitive choreography - she really made the part look choreographically more interesting than it was.

Neumeier who set the ballet on the company is a very good theatrical director - lots of good acting from everyone including Corey Stearns. Corey's evident youth (he read younger than Irina) works for the story and the character. Armand is supposed to be slightly younger but more importantly much less experienced than Marguerite. Bolle and Gomes come off like polished, mature matinee idols and Corey's callowness was a better fit. However, Bolle and Gomes are also two of the best partners in the ballet business. All the pas de deux's are full of Cranko and MacMillan derived acrobatic lifts - Irina was constantly being passed over Corey's shoulders and lifted over his head down into various catches. Corey just managed to get Irina into a nice finishing position (she was so graceful that I am sure if he dropped her she would have landed in a gorgeous pose). However, you could see the effort in Corey's partnering and there were some moments where you prayed that his other arm would grasp her in time. His solos were actually very well danced with beautiful line and nice elevation. This was the best acting I have ever seen from Corey.

Stella Abrera was really fine as Manon who had a certain sinister sensuality mixed with a ghostly doomed foreboding quality - maybe better all around than Murphy (very strong) or Part (who was gorgeous but undercharacterized). Blaine Hoven looks much better this season trimmed down without all the bulky muscle and a better haircut. He danced very well. The role of Des Grieux requires little acting.

The others in the cast were Gennadi Saveliev (danced well but a bland stiff actor) as Gaston Rieux and Luciana Paris (saucy and good) as Prudence. Melanie Hamrick was spot-on as Olympe - the hot pretty new girl on the block who is superseding the fading heroine in the demi-monde. Hamrick is gorgeous and posed a real threat. Carlos Lopez was very touching as the bumbling Viscount, the only time I have seen him this season.

Nimrod Pfeffer replaced Soheil Nasseri tickling the ivories. They had a third pianist Emily Wong on hand for Act III. Returnee from last season Koji Attwood (sometime poster here) played from the pit in Acts I and II.

If the weather is bad and I am really bored I may check out Visheva and Gomes on Tuesday but even they may not redeem my boredom with this ballet.

#5 atm711

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 10:41 AM

I saw this ballet last season with Vishneva and Gomes---and I had a very different reaction to the first comment. My first encounter with the ballet was on a tape made years ago with Marcia Haydee and I found her to be too melodramatic, and she was too plain looking for such a part. I thought I would never venture to see it performed live----however, I will go to see anything with Vishneva and Gomes. I particularly love the second act of this ballet---the Chopin is not orchestrated---just a solo piano for the entire Act---what a reverie, I wished the Act would never end. After seeing this performance I bought the POB dvd with Letestu and Bullion and they were an interesting contrast to Vishneva and Gomes. It had a different dynamic---V&G are fairly close in age, but L&B are separated by many years (15?)---so it was the lovesick young man and the older woman. I was smitten by both interpretations.

See it---let the beauty of the performers (and the Chopin score) wash over you.

#6 abatt

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 11:06 AM

I just noticed that Blaine Hoven is replacing David Hallberg tonight. Hoven also replaces Hallberg in Lady of the Cam. on Wed evening. I guess they have to be really careful not to have any more injuries of male principals this season. They are in short supply this season.

#7 Batsuchan

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 06:50 PM

Wow, I guess "Lady of the Camellias" is one of those ballets that you either love or hate. I saw the Saturday matinee performance with Vishneva/Gomes, and I thought it was fantastic! But I also enjoyed Kent/Bolle when I saw them last year.

One friend, who sat next to me, said it was the best ballet she's seen so far (which admittedly, are not many, but it does mean she liked it better than their "Giselle"). Another friend, who flew in for the weekend, was so grateful I insisted she see Vishneva/Gomes in "Lady of the Camellias," and she enjoyed it SO MUCH that she canceled her dinner plans and immediately went to buy a ticket for the evening performance!

As for the music, I admit that I love Chopin music, and I adore minor keys (the darker and stranger the better)! So I thought the recurring 'funeral dirge' that Colleen Boresta refers to--The Largo from Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 3 in B Minor--was used very effectively. It is used in its full length for the Act II pas de deux, which marks perhaps the happiest point of their relationship. It is basically the "love theme" for Margeurite and Armand, much like Romeo and Juliet have a recognizable love theme, and so do Giselle and Albrecht. So I thought it was highly effective to have the theme played at the beginning, somewhat foreshadowing what would come, and also at the end, reminding us of the happier times that have been lost.

I was reasonably familiar with many of the Chopin pieces before I saw them used in the ballet, so I often found myself thinking, "well that's a clever use of that section of that tune" as I watched. For example, in the Romance-Larghetto (2nd movement) of Chopin's Piano concerto No. 1, which is played when Armand is reading Marguerite's diary near the end of the ballet, there is a kind of dissonant, ghostly section, so it seemed entirely appropriate that a dying Manon and Des Grieux would appear during that passage.

And Chopin's Ballade No.1 in G minor, which is used in the Act III pas de deux, is one of my favorite pieces of all time. I saw Vladimir Vasiliev dance to it (with a young ballerina) at the 2010 YAGP stars gala, and my favorite skater has used it as an exhibition number, but only "Lady of the Camellias" was able to unleash all the dark passion alongside heartbreaking tenderness that I feel from the music.

As for the dancing--others have already commented on how wonderful Vishneva and Gomes were together. Actually, I was amazed that Visheva/Gomes could dance this ballet full-out on Saturday afternoon after pulling off that extraordinary 'Giselle' on Thursday. Vishneva, especially, must have been exhausted after the way she danced that "Giselle." And yet they seamlessly switched gears. All those difficult partering sections were carried off effortlessly, and I really wondered how they found the time to practice "Lady of the Camellias" when they still had another "Giselle" to do. And only one day in between! Well, I guess that's why they are called professionals!

I honestly can't wait to see Vishneva/Gomes again tomorrow! I convinced about 10 of my friends to go, so hopefully they will end up on the 'love it' rather than the 'hate it' side! :sweatingbullets:

#8 spinning2night

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 07:44 PM

I just noticed that Blaine Hoven is replacing David Hallberg tonight. Hoven also replaces Hallberg in Lady of the Cam. on Wed evening. I guess they have to be really careful not to have any more injuries of male principals this season. They are in short supply this season.

not only that, but "Bright Stream" is later this week and they can't afford any injuries for that

#9 puppytreats

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 07:54 PM

This ballet is heartbreaking. I cannot stop crying. I have now seen it three times (twice live, once at NYPL) and the details noticed on repeated viewings only makes it more painful. I was moved by the movie and the opera, but the ballet is spellbinding. I am terrified to read the book. I don't know if someone will have to carry me out of the final performance I plan to see later in the week.

No one remarked about the tribute to J. Kent on Friday. It was lovely, sweet, charming, and uplifting. I think it saved me from crumbling over the weekend.

#10 Colleen Boresta

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 03:34 AM

It's good to see that there are many responses to Lady of the Camellias. That's what makes Ballet Talk so great. You can have opinions different from other ballet goers, and everyone respects the others' views. Puppytreats, I just have one quick question. Did Mr. Puppytreats see Lady? If so, I'd love to know how he felt about the Neumeier ballet.

#11 Colleen Boresta

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 03:39 AM

I just wanted to quickly add that I have no problem with Chopin's music. I love his music to Les Slyphides, Dances at a Gathering, The Concert, A Month in the Country, etc., etc. I just didn't like Neumeier's choice of Chopin music, and the fact that the music, like the choreography, was so repetitious.

#12 abatt

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 05:10 AM

I honestly can't wait to see Vishneva/Gomes again tomorrow! I convinced about 10 of my friends to go, so hopefully they will end up on the 'love it' rather than the 'hate it' side! :sweatingbullets:



I'm also going again tonight for Vishneva - Gomes. Last year their final performance of Lady of the Cams was even more explosive than their earlier ones. I'm hoping for the same thing to happen tonight, especially since this is Vishneva's final show at ABT for the season. :angry2:

I saw the Kent/Bolle cast last night and found it disappointing in comparison to Vishneva -Gomes. There is little chemistry between Kent and Bolle, and both of their techniques are fading. Kent doesn't have great extensions anymore, and her upper body flexibility isn't what it used to be. These factors tended to diminish the overall quality of her dancing in this ballet.

#13 puppytreats

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 06:30 AM

It's good to see that there are many responses to Lady of the Camellias. That's what makes Ballet Talk so great. You can have opinions different from other ballet goers, and everyone respects the others' views. Puppytreats, I just have one quick question. Did Mr. Puppytreats see Lady? If so, I'd love to know how he felt about the Neumeier ballet.


Colleen, Thanks for asking. Mr. PT had a ticket but Little Puppy (Siberian variety) had surgery so Mr. PT stayed home :< Since coming home from Lady, I have burdened him with all of my tears about Armand and Marguerite and Manon and Des Grieux and Giselle and Albrecht and Odette and Siegried (is ballet only for the broken-hearted?), but he does not seem deterred. With Roberto Bolle returning to Europe, I don't know if I can convince him to let me spend much more money on tickets for other shows, though. (He indulged me this week, because he has his inspirations, too.) I may be confined to tapes from the library and on Netflix.

#14 Batsuchan

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 11:10 AM

I'm also going again tonight for Vishneva - Gomes. Last year their final performance of Lady of the Cams was even more explosive than their earlier ones. I'm hoping for the same thing to happen tonight, especially since this is Vishneva's final show at ABT for the season. :angry2:


I'm right there with you, abatt, hoping for the same thing! I too was at that explosive final performance last year!

And I also am disappointed that this is Vishneva's final performance of the ABT season, but at least she'll be back with the Mariinsky. (And at least I can still look forward to Semionova/Hallberg in Swan Lake!)

#15 abatt

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 07:17 PM

Vishneva and Gomes were on fire tonight. I thought it was an incredible, brilliant performance. Engrossing and thrilling. This is the most significant partnership at ABT since Ferri-Bocca. Tonight was apparently Carlos Lopez's final performance with the company. At the curtain call, many of the dancers brought him before the curtain and tearfully applauded him. Lopez was also in tears, and Gomes gave him a big hug. Anyone know if he is joining another company?

I don't expect to see this ballet back at ABT for a long time. There were many, many empty seats at every performance, and the critics savaged the choreography in the reviews. The performances of Gomes and Vishneva will remain in my memory for a long time.


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