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ABT 2013 Swan Lake at the Met

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Here are my thoughts on Hee Seo's debut in 'Swan Lake'.

American Ballet Theatres production of Swan Lake is staged by artistic director Kevin McKenzie after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. This adaptation of Swan Lake has several major weaknesses. There are two von Rothbarts, one handsome, the other monstrous. The ballet begins with the two von Rothbarts turning Odette into a swan. Seeing Odette as a young girl at the start of the ballet takes away much of the magic of the Swan Queens entrance in Act II. Seeing the ugly von Rothbart cuddling a stuffed toy swan (after Odettes transformation) is embarrassing to watch.

Other problems with ABTs production of Swan Lake include the attractive von Rothbart getting his own solo in Act III. This solo makes no dramatic sense and just makes me wish it would end so the Black Swan pas de deux can start. The most serious defect in ABTs Swan Lake is that so much of Act IV has been eliminated. Without a more complete final act, much of Odettes sorrow and Siegfrieds desolation at his betrayal of Odette are lost.

Due to the incredible performances of ABTs dancers, the July 19th matinee of Swan Lake is well worth seeing. As I mentioned earlier, Hee Seo made her debut as Odette/Odile at this performance. Hee Seo is a more natural Odette, with beautifully undulating swan arms and a splendidly flexible upper body. Her Odile is a work in progress but Hee Seo has made a very good start on the character of von Rothbarts evil daughter. Technically Hee Seos dancing is very secure except for her Black Swan pas de deux fouettes where she traveled quite a bit. This is only a minor flaw, however, in an otherwise glorious performance.

For her first Swan Lake Hee Seo is fortunate to have Marcelo Gomes as her Prince Siegfried. No ABT dancer inhabits a role quite as thoroughly as Gomes. His dancing is also sensational, especially his soaring leaps with the softest of landings. Most importantly he is a wonderfully attentive partner for Hee Seo. Their chemistry is absolutely mesmerizing.

As the handsome von Rothbart, Sascha Radetsky is seductively evil. Devon Teuscher and Christine Shevchenko seem off in the Act I pas de trois, but Blaine Hoven stands out for his great elevations and very good ballon. The female corps dancers in the white acts (Acts II and IV) dance in splendid synchronization with the music and each other. As the two big swans, Karen Uphoff and Nicola Currys lyrical phrasing is exquisite.

In spite of the weaknesses, it was a wonderful afternoon at the ballet. I see a great future for Hee Seo as Odette/Odile.

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Here are my thoughts on the two shows I've seen so far.

6/17 - Semionova & Hallberg

...

Personally, I did not care for Semionova's fouettes even though she pulled off a jaw-dropping series of triple pirouettes-they did not fit the music at all, and she traveled around the stage quite a bit.

I am sure ballet dancers need to listen to and follow the music. But, there are some conductors who don't like or cannot conduct for ballet. Once a conductor told me that conductors who don't like to watch the principle dancers feet cannot conduct for ballet. Is it true that the conductors and principle dancers need to cooperate in ballet performances?

helpsmilie.gifinnocent.gif

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Bingham, Lippert was the only one among recent Apprentices who danced at the JKO School year-end performance this past May; all other just-promoted apprentices danced in the April/May 2012 JKO School show. So Lippert is truly blessed to be the only one of the 'JKO Class of 2013' (not 2012) to be an apprentice with ABT. Hannah Marshall (daughter of Cheryl Yeager) and Catherine Hurlin I would have expected, along with Lippert, who was terrific in the ABT2 Jerusalem piece at the JKO last month.

Daughter of Carla Stallings!

Really? No wonder that Carolyn is so lovely & talented.

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Here are my thoughts on the two shows I've seen so far.

6/17 - Semionova & Hallberg

...

Personally, I did not care for Semionova's fouettes even though she pulled off a jaw-dropping series of triple pirouettes-they did not fit the music at all, and she traveled around the stage quite a bit.

I am sure ballet dancers need to listen to and follow the music. But, there are some conductors who don't like or cannot conduct for ballet. Once a conductor told me that conductors who don't like to watch the principle dancers feet cannot conduct for ballet. Is it true that the conductors and principle dancers need to cooperate in ballet performances?

helpsmilie.gifinnocent.gif

It was true in "The Red Shoes," when the new composer/conductor, Julian Craster, tells the principal dancer, Victoria Page (and I may be paraphrasing here), "Vicki, dance whatever tempo you like. I'll follow you."

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Here are my thoughts on the two shows I've seen so far.

6/17 - Semionova & Hallberg

...

Personally, I did not care for Semionova's fouettes even though she pulled off a jaw-dropping series of triple pirouettes-they did not fit the music at all, and she traveled around the stage quite a bit.

helpsmilie.gifinnocent.gif

I really miss the times when ballerinas would pull perfect single fouettes on the beat all the way to the iconic 32 and working leg looking in a perfect straight horizontal position a la seconde. I just saw a video of Osipova, and realized that due to her efforts on super speed and multiple pirouettes, her working leg ended up pointing completely toward the floor, with her knee totally bent.

Examples.

"Old school" at 03;19...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=611ewQH_2HA

vs.

"New fouettes" at 08:13

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXh3Wl08mW4

Plus...I really like when the ballerinas finish their fouettes in full pointe-(as Charin does it in the above Black Swan, and Valdes still does)-, rather than braking harshly on flat foot due to the previous high speed of the multiple pirouettes...

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I really miss the times when ballerinas would pull perfect single fouettes on the beat all the way to the iconic 32 and working leg looking in a perfect straight horizontal position a la seconde.

I agree -- those fouettes in the first video you posted are gorgeous. One really realizes what we're missing out on when one sees that.

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That first video is impressive. Not to mention the hops on point in arabesque and penche. Wow!!

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I really miss the times when ballerinas would pull perfect single fouettes on the beat all the way to the iconic 32 and working leg looking in a perfect straight horizontal position a la seconde.

I agree -- those fouettes in the first video you posted are gorgeous. One really realizes what we're missing out on when one sees that.

This is a very good point made clear in the videos. I think that what's happened is now that ballerinas are doing multiple turns, audiences have come to focus on the spinning itself, the number of revolutions, with the fan, without the fan (in Don Q, not SL), rather than on the extension of the leg a la seconde, which is now hardly noticed. I wish I had thought to pay attention to that in the two Swan Lakes I saw earlier in the week, with Semionova and Part. Well, there's always next year.

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Maria Kochetkova


***** A Gem *****

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This is a very good point made clear in the videos. I think that what's happened is now that ballerinas are doing multiple turns, audiences have come to focus on the spinning itself, the number of revolutions, with the fan, without the fan (in Don Q, not SL), rather than on the extension of the leg a la seconde, which is now hardly noticed. I wish I had thought to pay attention to that in the two Swan Lakes I saw earlier in the week, with Semionova and Part. Well, there's always next year.

Definitely. The three things I really care when watching fouettes are 1: placement of the working leg. 2: Absence of traveling and 3: Syncopation with the 32 counts.

Sadly, all three points are highly diminished nowadays...

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I really miss the times when ballerinas would pull perfect single fouettes on the beat all the way to the iconic 32 and working leg looking in a perfect straight horizontal position a la seconde.

I agree -- those fouettes in the first video you posted are gorgeous. One really realizes what we're missing out on when one sees that.

The fouette discussion brings up my similar feelings about men's jetes. I miss the big, old fashioned jete that describes a clear, traveling arc. The trick jumps are fun, but rarely beautiful and as with multiple fouttes, frequently not musical. (Sorry for going off topic of the already off topic discussion.)

Maria Kochetkova
***** A Gem *****

Buddy: I hope you'll expand your comment about Kochetkova when you have time. Her fans here in San Francisco are anxious to hear about her performance.

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Peggy, I was so Enchanted by her performance and it was such a nice evening that I went to the stage door to congratulate her, something I seldom do. After about a half hour she came out. She was as polite and lovely as could be possible. Although you could see that she wanted to leave after about ten minutes she stayed on until absolutely everyone who wanted their picture taken with her or an autograph was totally satisfied. I was once again so Enchanted that I still haven't been able to really focus on her performance which was one of the finest that I've ever seen. I have to catch a plane, but I'll try to comment at another time. I will say that she has a manner totally her own and it is spellbinding in its refinement and expression.

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I attended last night. First let me say that Herman was BRILLIANT. His technical level is so high - the highest of any male principal in the company. He was flying in the highest jumps and most perfect turns I've seen since Angel Corella's performances in his prime. He pulled out all the stops for us. Acting was good too. There were one or two minor partnering issues, but nothing horrible. He has waited a long time get this part at ABT, and he made the most of every moment. Thrilling.

I wasn't quite as enthusiastic as Buddy about Kochetkova. I have an admitted bias for long limbed dancers as Odette, so Kochetkova does not fit that image. (Obviously they needed a tiny woman for Herman.) She performed well, but somehow I wasn't terribly moved by her Act II. She seemed to relax later on in the ballet, so her Act IV was much more dramatic and moving than her Act II. She definitely has strong technique, but I felt that a little more attention to using her back and arms would have added a lot to the performance. I thought as Odile she did a fine job with the technical dimensions, but I never felt that she was a temptress - more like a high school girl at the prom. (Her Odile costume was ill fitting. Too large. I bet she is the smallest dancer to ever wear these costumes at ABT.) Jared Mathews did a much better job as Purple Rothbart than I expected, compared to prior years. Again, Joe Gorak was wonderful as Benno. The audience was packed to the rafters.

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I attended Friday, and agree with everything abatt said about Cornejo. A wonderful performance - his bearing, the way he held the stage and his brilliant technique which was performed with an ease and eloquence befitting nobility.

Maria Kochetkova is a beautiful and accomplished dancer. There were very few glitches (there was the 2nd act diagonal of turns when she traveled so far she was barely on stage to finish), and lots to admire. She and Cornejo are well matched in size and proportions so their pas de deux work had many, many lovely moments.

She was not, however, transcendent. I should perhaps admit to where I'm coming from. I've been watching ballet for over 40 years, and at this point am not a fan of most full length story ballets. I usually stay away, but bought a ticket to see Alina Cojocaru do SL. To me she is a dancer of such musicality and imagination that she invariably reveals things to me that I didn't knew were there, or could be there. Kochetkova's performance was good and enjoyable, but there were no revelations. That said I look forward to seeing her doing rep. with the San Francisco Ballet when they come to NY.

A few comments about some other dancers. Simone Messner was a delight in the pas de trois. Everything is there - jumps, turns etc. but the nice thing is that it is all done with a naturalness and joy that is a pleasure to behold. So many dancers do these variations with affectations or a "style" that looks grafted on.

Gorak danced well and carried the role of Benno quite believably. I imagine he will be promoted soon, and perhaps will be a principal in the future. He appears to not be stuck the way IMO Joseph Phillips unfortunately is.

Jared Matthews was terrific as the Purple Rothbart, no he is not Gomes - sometimes even Gomes isn't Gomes, but he danced very well, with no technical issues and made the role his own. I just have to add that in the section with the princesses, I couldn't take my eyes off of Sarah Lane. She looked gorgeous and glamorous - her creamy port de bras so beautiful. She'd be the princess I'd advise any prince to choose!

Last thing - music. There are a couple of sections of corps dance when the music suddenly slowed. Why? Is it to make sure the all dance together? If so why can't they dance together to music that isn't distorted. Also in the Pas de Trois - the three dancers stayed together but were behind the music. I'm not talking rubato - just behind the music. They stayed together, so I have to conclude they were coached to do it that way. It wouldn't be fair to say that in this company music isn't a priority, but I can safely say that in this ballet music definitely takes a back seat at ABT.

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Definitely. The three things I really care when watching fouettes are 1: placement of the working leg. 2: Absence of traveling and 3: Syncopation with the 32 counts.

Sadly, all three points are highly diminished nowadays...

Is the working leg in second in fouettes classical style, though? It's beautiful, controlled, and accomplished, but the leg is still high.

I tend to look for consistent placement. I find that many dancers whip their legs to the side in the beginning of the fouettes, regardless of the height, but gradually end the whip and start the pirouette more and more in the front of them.

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I attended Friday, and agree with everything abatt said about Cornejo. A wonderful performance - his bearing, the way he held the stage and his brilliant technique which was performed with an ease and eloquence befitting nobility.

Maria Kochetkova is a beautiful and accomplished dancer. There were very few glitches (there was the 2nd act diagonal of turns when she traveled so far she was barely on stage to finish), and lots to admire. She and Cornejo are well matched in size and proportions so their pas de deux work had many, many lovely moments.

She was not, however, transcendent. I should perhaps admit to where I'm coming from. I've been watching ballet for over 40 years, and at this point am not a fan of most full length story ballets. I usually stay away, but bought a ticket to see Alina Cojocaru do SL. To me she is a dancer of such musicality and imagination that she invariably reveals things to me that I didn't knew were there, or could be there. Kochetkova's performance was good and enjoyable, but there were no revelations. That said I look forward to seeing her doing rep. with the San Francisco Ballet when they come to NY.

I'm enjoying reading all the comments on the Friday evening performance.

I have to think that Cojocaru has a great deal more experience, not only with Swan Lake, but with this version of Swan Lake. I'm pretty sure that the last time Kochetkova performed Swan Lake was in Tomasson's version, 3 years ago (?), which is fairly traditional, but there are going to be differences in the choreography throughout. So what you are getting is a dancer who is game, thrown into the fire, as it were. I've learned to like the fact that Kochetkova forces you take her on her own terms - mostly because of her obvious short stature. She knew the Bolshoi or the ENB were not looking to nurture a "short" dancer in principal roles. But, Helgi Tomasson told Chris Wheeldon, "Keep your eye out for a short dancer", and the rest is history (for San Francisco). And lest people think she's the only gem at SFB, there are a number of these 'unique' dancers (male and female) in the company.

And now that Mathilde Froustey is apparently coming to SFB from POB, you get to see once again the interesting selections made for SFB. People who don't quite fit in at their home company, but just might have the ability to do big things in their own unique way, if allowed to do so. Is SFB getting 'the leftovers'? Possibly, but Tomasson is particular in his choice of 'leftovers', and they've all developed into interesting dance personalities under him.

The ABT model is simply different from the SFB model. ABT performs a whole lot of story ballets which are star vehicles for their (hopefully) world-class performers. SFB is much more flexible in its repertoire (especially given its comparative budget size), and has managed to create a really well balanced team of principals. There is an organic quality to the team which is lovely to behold. I don't think ABT can match that quality. What you can hopefully see at an ABT performance is principals with a big WOW factor, and great costumes and sets. But there's none of the "team" feel to the company you get with NYCB and SFB (or PNB, MCB), in my opinion.

Curtain call photo for those of us who couldn't be there:

https://twitter.com/leenahassan/status/348303026844471296/photo/1

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If Kochetkova is a "left-over," I'll take left-overs any day. Some of my favorite all-time dancers never fit a constrained mold.

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Definitely. The three things I really care when watching fouettes are 1: placement of the working leg. 2: Absence of traveling and 3: Syncopation with the 32 counts.

Sadly, all three points are highly diminished nowadays...

Is the working leg in second in fouettes classical style, though? It's beautiful, controlled, and accomplished, but the leg is still high.

Well...it could be that those were the fouettes I got to know, before getting exposed to the Rusian fouettes...

There were some other ballerinas that would lower the working leg slightly, but still, one could see the full development of the ronde de jambe that make the step really beautiful.

Here's a perfect example, the equally divine Aurora Bosh @ 11:48

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQhtwUMdoxc

vs..."something" @ 2:40...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDfFAljt4JM

Edited to do the "light switch trick"...

Edited to declare that it worked!!! yahoo.gif

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This was typed quickly on my iPhone, so please excuse any errors:

The June 22 matinee performance of Swan Lake was one of the best and most memorable that I have ever seen. I went into the theatre with reservations that I had had since I bought my ticket, wondering how Julie Kent, at this stage in her career, would be able to carry the entire ballet, especially the role of Odile. But after Julie lept out on stage as Odette the swan (note: at this moment a baby began wailing, which actually induced a light chuckle in the audience) I was transfixed. Whatever she lacked in technical flair, she made up with her exceptional musicality, port de bras, and dramatics. I have never seen such beautiful swan-like shapes on any Odette before. And she moved like the music was running through her veins. Every flap of her wings was so impeccably linked to the chords of the music- it was absolutely astonishing. We movements were for the most part absolutely effortless and breath taking. Julie's and Marcelo's white swan pas de deux was the epitome of white swan pas (and the first time in maybe 20 performances that the scene had closed and I am in tears). There was no evidence of Julie's technical decline in the pas. Her back was supple, her extensions were high, her turns were effortless. At the end of the pas, Julie's battus between the piroettes were so fast, it was more like her leg was quivering than "beating" - so gorgeous. I noticed that the music was played slower than it had been played in the other performances I saw this year. But it was worth it to see her luxuriate every note of the music.

The emotional connection between Marcelo and Julie was tangible in every move. It was crystal clear why ABT's artistic cast these two together- dare I say their bond seems even more genuine that Marcelo's with Diana Vishneva? Marcelo seemed to be motivated by Julie to give the best performance that I've seen of his this entire season. Like a few others on Ballet Talk, I felt that something might have been a little off during his Romeo performance a few weeks ago. But today, he was as solid as ever. His solo in the first act was gorgeous and every balance, turn and transition were so precise and controlled.

The black swan pas de deux was impressive as well. Unlike other ballerinas who seem to prioritize technical tricks over musicality or interpretation, Julie's focus was on her acting while executing the steps beautifully. She did not sacrifice her swan character to throw in an extra turn. Every port de bra was gorgeous and again her musical timing was magical. Marcelo seemed so comfortable supporting her pirouettes and was able to help her spins rapidly. One of the loveliest moments was when he would help her turn and she would bring her arms up to a high fifth and at the end of the turn swing her working leg around through second into an arabesque/penche. What I appreciated most from this pas de deux was how Julie made each step part of the seduction instead of a trick. Marcelo's solo was perfect and again he seemed energized by his partner. His balances were long and controlled and he landed every pristine double tour in a beautiful fifth position.[/size]

The last portion of the pas was a little strange with some choreographic alterations. After Julie's nearly 32 fouettes and Marcelo's amazingly fast set of a la second turns, Julie chose to do a 2nd round of pique turns in a circle instead of the backward arabesque hops. I'm not sure why because it didn't seem like the piqué turns were any easier for her than the arabesques. At the end of the pas instead of just bringing her front arm to Siegfried and then bending back, Julie practically gave Marcelo a kiss before snapping her arm and head back. WOW! What a moment of seductress mastery. It gave me the chills.

The 4th act was beautiful, although short. Both of their suicide leaps were passionate, and Julie's was much more daring and care-free than I have seen in the past.

I really can't express how much I loved the two of them in this performance. It was really a special performance, and I will make sure to see them dance together as soon as I can.

Some notes on the supporting cast:

I did not really enjoy James Whiteside as Von Rothbart. He seemed to make it a caricature role and his technique is not really anything to write home about. Everything he did Jared Matthews did 10 times better the night before. Not really jumping on the JW bandwagon.

Pas de trois: Jared Matthews is good in this role, but is better as Von R. Stella Abrera is absolutely divine and was much better than Simone Messmer, whom I really enjoy. Stella's entracha sixes and battus are stunning. She is a true classicist and a beauty on stage. I want more Stella! Someone really really needs to give Melanie Hamrick some coaching before they let her turn on stage again. She has the most terrified expression on her face with her eye-brows up. It's very distracting and not attractive.

Karen Uphoff and Nicola Curry are good at Big Swans (more Karen than Nicola), but they do not look good dancing together. It looks like they had two completely different training styles.

Jessica Saund stood out in the Spanish dance in a bad way. She looked bored or sad in the dance. I couldn't figure it out. Devon Teuscher had much more gusto.

Blain Hoven was good in Neapolitan but Grant DeLong seemed ill prepared for the role with more turns unfinished than finished.

Final note: Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes are splendid in Swan Lake. Go see them, you will not be disappointed!

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I attended this afternoon's performance w. Kent and Gomes. What Kent lacks in flexibility and technique due to age, she more than made up for in dramatic presence and detailed characterization. She certainly changes the choreography in a number of ways to suit her current level of ability. She was at her best in conveying the tragedy of Odette's situation. Great mime, excellent acting. I'm not sure how many more seasons she will continue to do SL in the future, but I'm glad I decided to see this performance. Gomes is of course the best partner at ABT- maybe one of the best anywhere. He partnered her perfectly. His Act I solo was beautifully done, with a fully stretched line. He is not an especially great spinner or jumper compared to some of the other ABT men (like Cornejo), but his Act III was very well done. Kent did her fouettes (singles) in Act III well, but with some traveling. She was deliciously evil as Odile. I thought Purple Rothbart suited James Whiteside well. He was a bit tentative at the start of the ballet when he partners Julie. The matinee on Sat is always a gamble because of the number of kids. Well, it happened- Just as Julie took the stage in Act II a kid starting screaming so that 3,800 people could hear. Kent clearly heard it too, but she soldiered on and ignored the disturbance as best she could. It was a very gratifying performance from the leads. Onwards to Sylvia.

There are a few people who have breathtaking port de bras in Swan Lake. In this regard, Lopatkina is my gold standard. (I've never seen her do SL live, but I have seen her on DVD). Kent came pretty darn close to the Lopatkina port de bras gold standard today.

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Onxmyxtoes, I think Kent did the pique turns instead of the arabesques because it is easier for her. If you noticed, there were also a number of instances in the second act where she altered the choreography to avoid doing arabesques. It didn't bother me that she made these changes. These are the types of changes she needs to make in order to continue doing the role.

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Gomez danced so much better with Kent than with Seo - Kent is just a joy to watch - Seo executes and lacks emotional connection - Kent truly dances and inspires her partner. Will not miss the two of them dancing again!

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I attended Friday, and agree with everything abatt said about Cornejo. A wonderful performance - his bearing, the way he held the stage and his brilliant technique which was performed with an ease and eloquence befitting nobility.

Maria Kochetkova is a beautiful and accomplished dancer. There were very few glitches (there was the 2nd act diagonal of turns when she traveled so far she was barely on stage to finish), and lots to admire. She and Cornejo are well matched in size and proportions so their pas de deux work had many, many lovely moments.

She was not, however, transcendent. I should perhaps admit to where I'm coming from. I've been watching ballet for over 40 years, and at this point am not a fan of most full length story ballets. I usually stay away, but bought a ticket to see Alina Cojocaru do SL. To me she is a dancer of such musicality and imagination that she invariably reveals things to me that I didn't knew were there, or could be there. Kochetkova's performance was good and enjoyable, but there were no revelations. That said I look forward to seeing her doing rep. with the San Francisco Ballet when they come to NY.

I agree 100%. Cornejo was marvelous, and Kochetkova was beautiful, but she could have been better. IMO this was not a world class SL and the performance as a whole was not transcendent. I can understand why they engaged her to partner Cornejo but she really was not on the same level as Cojocaru and frankly, I would have preferred to see Sara Lane. I love story ballets and SL is my favorite but ABT's partnering choices and staging make transcendent Swan Lakes a rarity at this company..

Of the 3 SLs I saw this year Boylston/Simkin was my favorite, which is quite surprising.

I love Part, and she was wonderful but as fondoffouettes noted, her Odette was somewhat animalistic and so Act 2 took on a very different feeling. Stearns has improved greatly & his partnering was solid but he was still an emotional blank and really just looks to me like a shallow uncomprehending young man in the presence of Part's passionate Odette . For me acts 3 and 4 worked best because Part really took control - her Odile dazzled her hapless Siegfried and in act 4 her sorrow was all encompassing. I guess what I'm saying is that it was ok for Stearns to be a confused puppy in acts 3 & 4 - but that will never work for me in act 2.

I didn't hold out high hopes for the Boylson/Simkin cast but I loved them. She had technique to spare and beautiful line. In fact her plastique reminded me a little of the Mariinsky's Skorik (in a good way!) and I found her to be very emotionally expressive.She has room for improvement and I'm sure her interpretation & stylistic choices will grow over the years - but this was certainly a beautiful start. I also loved Simkin, he was a boyish prince, but with elegant and poetic demeanor and he partnered Boylston very well. There were 1 or 2 small glitches but nothing drastic. In the 3rd act Boylston really threw herself into some of the supported pirouettes with a lot of force and he had a hard time handling her but everything else was fine, and as far as I could see they didn't change any of the choreography to simplify the lifts.

A few more observations - Matthews was a great Von Rothbart - he has also grown tremendously this season. Sella was great in the PDT - I haven't seen entrechats that beautifully delineated since E. Cornejo! The corps looked great, I noticed how well they were dancing from the beginning of the 1st act and all thru the lakeside acts.

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