Well, ABT certainly knows how to put on a show. I'll have to rate this as a Guilty Pleasure, for sure. Lotsa tricks, lotsa oompah music. But I'm on the verge of overdosing. I won't be able to listen to a waltz for another week and I'm glad I can go to Dream as an antidote. If I see another double revoltade to the knee I think I might throw myself off a balcony somewhere. All ABT needs is dancing bears, popcorn vendors and a high-wire act (although, come to think of it, the death-defying Bocca comes pretty close).
Anyway, about the dancing:
A pleasant surprise, the corps has looked much tighter and more together than in recent memory. Although is it really important to be tight and together when you're being a dancing flower or a pirate playing pattycake with cutlasses? I suppose so, actually.
Although I think Ananiashvili is one of the greatest dance artists onstage today, she seemed to have a teeny bit of an off night (for her!). In general, her acting was clear and strong, and she danced magnificently (she really does have the fastest pique turns in the West [or East, for that matter, I'm sure -- would our Euro/Russian contingent care to venture an opinion?]), for the most part. In the Pas de Deux a Trois (hereinafter referred to as the pddat), she tried some sort of tricky pirouette into arabesque into soutenu combination that didn't look quite right, but her fouettes were dead on, fast, solid, and marching deliberately down the stage. There were moments, however, where her she seemed a bit strained, as in her big, clear jumps in the Jardin Animee, where she seemed to be pushing for the last bit of elevation; I'm not used to seeing Ananiashvili looking like she's straining for anything. As I'd just seen her dance a heavenly Fille, I'm just chalking this up to a great artist having a very slightly off night. Not that I was disappointed, but it wasn't quite the best I've seen from her.
Once again, there were moments when I was convinced that Bocca was making up his solos as he went along! Bocca was never a very polished dancer, and he's becoming less so as time goes by, but I admire his spunk and fearlessness, and he's clearly made his solos harder and flashier than I remember from years past -- he had to, as I'll explain below. It seems it's become de rigeur in Corsaire to finish every double tour, not just to the knee, but to the knee with a dramatic back-bend, as in the man's solo from Diana and Acteon. Bocca's a very athletic, rough-and-ready dancer (I'd hate to see him dance Theme). But the audience loved it when he'd back way, way up into a corner (the setup), hurl himself down the diagonal with some ever-faster jete coupes (the windup), putting the audience into a momentary thrill of anticipation (what WILL he do now -- half the time I don't think he knew until his feet left the ground), and then the, well, the double whatever landing in some outre pose just inches from the orchestra pit (the pitch-- strikeout!). OK, I'll confess, I loved it, too. Now if only he'd occasionally remember that it's just as important to straighten the trailing leg as the leading one...
He partnered Ananiashvili with his usual nonchalant strength, although there was one lift (I forget where) where it seemed like he almost lost it.
What a revelation Riccetto was! She's got typical raven-haired Italian good looks, and thin to the point of seeming frail, but she's anything but! She made easy work of all the technical challenges in the pas d'esclave with Saveliev (more on him below!), especially the diagonal with the pique turns going into fouettes. What struck me more than her strength though (Gillian Murphy eats fouettes for breakfast, and leaves me utterly cold) was her great sense of her role. Gulnare is weaker than Medora, a real scaredy cat in the pas d'Esclave, with all her attempts to "escape" offstage carefully blocked by Saveliev. Part of the fun of the first act is the contrast between Gulare's fearfulness and submission, and Medora's spunkiness and authority, even as a slave (which Ananiashvili communicated perfectly -- her Medora was in charge of things from the minute she set foot onstage). I loved the clarity of the moment when Ethan Brown's Pasha mimed to Saveliev "Take off her veil, I want to see her face!" and you could see Riccetto's reaction, dancing the rest of the pas with those fearful, hand-over-face gestures. Yes, the steps were all there with other Gulnares, but it's never seemed so clear to me before (Gillian Murphy doesn't do weak and fearful very well. Must be the magic force-field in her Gaynor Mindens.). Riccetto has a beautiful clarity and tremendous musicality in her phrasing, or as much musicality as one can show when dancing to beer-garden music. What a wonderful Giselle she could be!
OK, I was disappointed not to be seeing Malakhov. I agree wholehearedly with the praise heaped on Malakhov elsewhere on this board recently. He's one of the finest men at ABT if not the world, and he's under-used (but I can't see him as a trickster in Corsaire). I liked Saveliev's broad, arrogant acting; he's even more full of himself than Malakhov's Lankendam. When Saveliev did those assembles into grand plie, bouncing up into a soutenu, I thought "Nice, but Malakhov's much cleaner and has more turnout." Which is certainly true, but then Saveliev let loose in a solo which seemed to incorporate every trick in the book, particularly those corkscrewing jumps with legs flashing in all directions, kind of like Pele making an upside-down kick while spinning around a few times in the air, finishing, of course, in a dramatic pose on one knee. So he brought the house down, and, as this was the first male solo of the evening, set a pretty high technical bar for the other men to aim for (and quite deliberately, I'm sure). In general, if Saveliev could embellish a jump or turn with some little flashy fillip, he did. I had never thought of him as such a flashy dancer (and he isn't as clean a flashy dancer as say, Carreno, who manages to be flashy without being flashy, if you get what I mean), but I'll know better in the future.
The more I see Carreno, the more I like him, and he's certainly made Ali his own! I used to think of him as a hunk who looked great without a shirt (which he is), but not much more. I know better now. I like the way he throws in some tricks of his own in the pddat (the multiple pirouttes with the changing leg positions and speeds, swinging in a big battement/jump into a balance at the end, or his infamous ever-slower-piroutte to a sousous pose), but never at the expense of his grace, line and overall classical deportment. I remember the same when I saw him dance Lankendam in Washington this spring.
I've always liked Herman Cornejo. He's one of the best Bluebirds I've ever seen, with his bouyant jump, soft landing, and overall bravura technique. He was all that and more as Birbanto, and managed to bring down the house a few times himself with some spectacular turning combinations. I liked the way he threw himself into the character, but never lost his own beautiful classical purity, even in the most circusy of tricks. It's easy to make Birbanto a bit vulgar (heck, it's easy to make ALL of the roles in Corsaire vulgar), and perhaps he even should be (that's the fate of second-banana-gone-bad guys in ballet, after all), but I loved Cornejo's purity. He's the most enjoyabel Birbanto I've seen.
Odalisques (Reyes, Abrera, Wiles):
I liked all three here -- Reyes in the spunky solo with lots of cute releve/passes, Abrera in the grander second solo with the beautiful poses in attitude, and Wiles in the tricky final solo with the diagonal with all the pirouttes. She "only" did triples, except for a final one that was more of a "triple-and-a-half" than a quadruple (but who's counting?), but I liked Wiles strength and expansiveness.
I suppose one could rail against ABT's presentation of male dancing as little more than circus tricks, but what would be the point? You don't go to Corsaire expecting to see Monotones. The fact is people love it, and the Met was pretty nearly full Wednesday night. Anything that gets people to the ballet is just fine with me, and I'd rather people see lots of bravura dancing than some Godawful modern crossover thing.
Corsaire, June 19th
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