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The Dream-Firebird Bill Spring 2012 Met Season


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#1 abatt

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 06:59 AM

I went to the opening night of the Dream /Firebird last night. Cornejo was brilliant as Puck. His jumps are so high, and his spins are so fast and precise that it takes your breath away. He plays the character as endearing and comical. Cory Stearns had some lovely lines, but his dancing looked lethargic, especially the spins. He was not adept at the quick changes in direction in the Scherzo. Xiomara is a very sweet Titania, but her small stature robs her of commanding authority. The star crossed lovers were played to perfection by Stella, Maria Ricetto, Jared and Sascha.

I did not stay for the Firebird, because I will be seeing it again over the weekend.

The house was pretty well sold.

#2 dufay

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 09:12 AM

Generally agree with above- Cornego was amazing in both artistry and physicality. Firebird paled by comparison and would have been better first. I have liked much/loved other Ratmansky, but not sure I would want to see this again.

#3 abatt

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Posted 23 June 2012 - 06:02 AM

I saw last night's Dream, and it was truly a dream cast. Julie Kent (Titania) was positively radiant and danced exquisitely. Gomes had it all- wonderful characterization, excellent mastery of the choreography. While Simkin may not be a wonderful Cornejo in the Puck role, he was very, very good. He did not show the shapes of the choreography as well as Cornejo. Unlike Thursday, last night's attendance was respectable but moderate. I didn't stay for Firebird.

#4 Drew

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Posted 24 June 2012 - 12:46 PM

I am back from a rather exhausting short weekend in New York--but also very full and exciting dance-wise as I was able to attend Friday and Sat (matinee and evening) performances of The Dream and Firebird. I thought this weekend showed ABT at its best. No matter the casts (and obviously different casts had different strengths and weaknesses), each performance was altogether enthralling: two exciting, dramatic, and highly theatrical works, dynamically performed by everyone on stage. And I thought programming the two works together was a fantastic idea -- however shocking the shift from Ashton to Ratmansky: we have two very different ballets exploring the liminal world between the natural and supernatural that ballet does so well--or, if you prefer, two fairy tale works that enchant as pure stories and resonate allegorically. The program might have turned out to be too much of a muchness, but I thought it worked very well.

As you may infer from the above, I loved the Ratmansky. Flawed? Well, yes..but still remarkable. (The Dream is flawless if ever a ballet was. One imagines Ashton and Mendelssohn sitting down together and devising the whole thing measure by measure, so completely does the dance, as it were, arise from inside the music.)

What I do think ballet historians of the future will have to mull over is how/why a choreographer whose vision is so profoundly Russian and (I think) even Soviet-inflected as Ratmansky came to bring so much of that vision to life at American Ballet Theater. And how/why it seems to work so well. Could one wish he would somehow integrate his Russian/Soviet obsessions with elements of American culture? Certainly I could. But since his Firebird has been entered into the "controversial" category--provoking a wide range of responses including boredom--I would like to say outright that I found it thrilling.

In the theater, costumes and scenery that appear rather campy in photos turn out to be part of a painterly phantasmagoria as important to the ballet's total effect as the choreography. Ivan enters not so much an enchanted garden as a petrified forest--albeit one blooming with flaming red cones and strewn w. green apples. Subtle it's not. (One reason it recalls, to me, what little Soviet ballet I've seen). The flock of firebirds was effective--but not so dreamy and bizarre as the flock of enchanted maidens who make up one peculiarly massed formation after another, the maidens leaning on each other floppily, pushing up against each other, forming asymmetrical pictures that seem to come from another, more painterly era of ballet--then bursting out into dance sequences that build on awkward unbalanced turned-in movements and yet grow unexpectedly energetic and vivid. The dancing is not pretty by any means...and yet becomes something more flowing and exciting than the odd, broken movements it is built on have any right to be. To my eyes, Ratmansky here turns awkwardness into its own kind of grace.

When freed from their enchantment, the maidens and young men -- freed as if from the hold of autocratic Czars and/or Stalinist thugs -- dance in very simple, clear patterns; it's almost a little parade-like, a more flowing version of the simple unison movements at the close of Bright Stream, but effective against the bright sonic backdrop of Stravinsky's finale. One critic complained of the ultra Russian ideal expressed by the women's long silvery-blond locks at the end, finding it problematically mono-colored in an American context. I would say it's hardly less so in a Russian context, but very true to the fantastical fairy tale element of the work.

Finally, a word and more for Herman Cornejo. As much as he is admired, I am not sure he is admired enough. He was the best of the three Ivans I saw in Firebird, dancing with beautiful silky flow, lively expression, and the utmost classical purity. (As Ivan the purity of his dancing seems the very embodiment of a pure heart.) Several people have commented on the oddity of the opening of this Firebird: the hero has a 'busy' solo to the low evocative music that opens the score. It has seemed unmusical to most--but I thought that Cornejo found exactly the musical line in the solo, not step by step, but in the larger arc of the steps in relation to long phrases within the music. That must be what Ratmansky heard and Cornejo shows. And he can do it because his own dancing is not step by step but a model of dancerly art. Even Gomez was not so musically effective at this point in the ballet.

Cornejo was also especially good at bringing out some of the folk elements in the choreography as if they were part of the hero's arsenal against Katschei, striking his heel into the ground as they faced off, as if to show that mother Russia could defeat all evil. The step is there in the choreography but w. Gomez for example it looked less like a folk movement and more like a physical challenge as he angrily dug his heel into the ground. (I should say I quite enjoyed Gomez in the role, and his charming personality infused the ballet with great warmth and even some additional humor, but I would like to pay special tribute to Cornejo here.)

Sat evening I saw Cornejo's Puck. I don't ever expect to see the role danced that beautifully again. What I find particularly remarkable in the performance is that although Cornejo's Puck soars effortlessly in flight over the stage--that is when he isn't skimming over it or whirling about in a spiral of light--he still brings a kind of weight, even gravitas (!), to his movement. That is, as several people have noted, he shows you the full three dimensional shape of the choreography. This is not a cute or elfin Puck, but Puck as elemental creature and servant of Oberon. By contrast Simkin's (very enjoyable) and altogether weightless Puck seems a little thin. Like others, too, I also quite enjoyed Salstein's performance in the role, but Cornejo seems to me a very special class of dancer. After having missed so much of the middle part of his career, I feel very lucky to have had the chance to see him give two such wonderful performances on Saturday.

[No sooner had I written this than I discovered that Tobi Tobias recently posted her own tribute to Cornejo in a review of Romeo and Juliet on her blog Seeing Things.]

And please ABT: more programs like this one. That is, mixed repertory, combining twentieth-century classics with occasional new works. Controversy? I don't think it's a bad thing in the life of a company.

#5 nanushka

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Posted 24 June 2012 - 01:54 PM

Thank you, Drew, for the beautiful descriptions of the Ratmansky Firebird above, which convey so well what I saw as well. I was ready for a disappointing experience, based on many of the reviews here and elsewhere. But despite some flaws, I found it to be a really wonderful complete work, very imaginative and funny and -- yes -- musical, even if perhaps not so perfectly in tune with the music as Ashton was with Mendelssohn's.

#6 aurora

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Posted 24 June 2012 - 02:08 PM

Thank you, Drew, for the beautiful descriptions of the Ratmansky Firebird above, which convey so well what I saw as well. I was ready for a disappointing experience, based on many of the reviews here and elsewhere. But despite some flaws, I found it to be a really wonderful complete work, very imaginative and funny and -- yes -- musical, even if perhaps not so perfectly in tune with the music as Ashton was with Mendelssohn's.


I've already expressed that I enjoyed the Ratmansky Firebird but I saw it again this weekend and felt the same way on second viewing (was it me or did he change it and do more with the Apples than when it was programmed with Apollo? Or did I just notice more this time?) But I wanted to second Nanushka's comment's about Drew's post. I thought it was a really nice summation of how I felt about the piece generally.

#7 cobweb

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Posted 24 June 2012 - 02:18 PM

I saw the double bill on Thursday night and Saturday matinee. I also saw Firebird on a mixed bill with Apollo a week ago, so this was the third time I saw Firebird, and I have liked it more each time. I really had to get the Balanchine version out of my mind, and that's still difficult, but I'm warming to it... although I could do without the Elvis suit.
Thanks to Drew for elaborating your praise of Herman Cornejo. I am totally in agreement, but I wouldn't have been able to express it as elegantly and precisely as you did. All I knew was that I left those performances more in awe of him than ever, and not just because he's a spectacular dancer. He's so much more than that, and it's been marvelous to see him mature over the past 10 years. Last night I re-watched the DVD that ABT did of The Dream, released in 2002, and not only did Cornejo deliver a more technically astounding performance on Thursday than he did in 2002, it had more weight, more gravitas, as Drew said.

#8 abatt

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Posted 25 June 2012 - 05:21 AM

I didn't think there was more involvement with the apples. I thought the Firebird had more to do than when this was first presented, although I can't say specifically what the changes were. I thought Herman was a much better Ivan than Gomes as far as the solo work was concerned. Herman has a more pliant back, and he gave shapes to his solos that I never realized were there when Gomes performed it. However, Gomes was a much better partner for Osipova than Cornejo. I still found most of Firebird interminable and unmusical on subsequent viewings this weekend.

Murphy and Hallberg were terrific on Sat. afternoon in the Dream. Salstein was clearly not at the same level of ability as Simkin or Cornejo as Puck.

#9 Drew

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Posted 25 June 2012 - 10:42 AM

I also thought Gomez was a better partner for Osipova than Cornejo in Firebird (not that surprising since she had never performed the role w. Cornejo before and presumably they also had not rehearsed together nearly as often since she was replacing Copeland). However, Gomez in any case is certainly the finest partner at ABT...one of the best I have ever seen...and it really adds a luster to all his performances--which is to say of course also to the ballerinas' performances. I thought, for example, that his remarkable grace as a partner made the intertwining movements and unexpected lifts and drops of the final pas de deux in The Dream (with Kent) look utterly fluid and effortless; Hallberg and Murphy were beautiful in the pas de deux and very otherworldly--the lines of their pas de deux were also better harmonized than those of Gomez and Kent--but Hallberg is not the partnering artist Gomez is. It was a tiny difference in the two performances but to my eyes it made a difference in the pure flow of the pas de deux. 'Partnering' almost is an inadequate word for it when it's done this well.


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