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MRR

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  1. Oh, I see! I saw Houston Ballet do it back in early 2008 and didn't remember that the ballerina fell, so I assumed the fall was unintentional. Thanks for letting me know.
  2. This review is of the Saturday, July 16th matinee performance of four works: Circus Polka, Apollo, Serenade, and The Magic Flute. Whenever balletomanes envision going into the ballet, it is typically inside are very large and glamorous theater, or an opera house, in which said balletomanes (hopefully) enjoy their time viewing a performance. Although a far cry from the Royal Ballet's unprecedented performances at the 02 in June, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center makes for an unusual facility for a world class ballet company. A literal "midsummer night's dream" of sorts, attendees walk through an enternity of greenery to finally reach the theater, which is sort of indoors and outdoors at the same time. There are no doors to the theater, but there is a roof which prevents any dramatic rainstorms like the one in the film The Company to affect a performance to a major degree. The nature of the venue isn't necessarily my ideal setting for watching a performance, but NYCB's quadruple bill last weekend didn't have much to complain about. Circus Polka began and featured a ringmaster (Ask la Cour) with 48 SAB girls--some dressed in blue (the oldest of the three groups of girls), some in green, and some in pink (the youngest). The choreography was cute--each colored group formed a circle, with two groups dancing in one direction and the other group in the opposite direction, and at the end a dancer in pink would join hands with a green and a blue in one big circle. The work lasted maybe five minutes, and the curtain calls were met with standing ovations from the parents. The performance truly began with Balanchine's "Apollo," one of Balanchine's iconic works that has eluded me up until now. Set to the music of Stravinsky (which he created especially for the ballet), the ballet depicts Apollo's maturation from boy to man in the midst of encountering three muses: Terpsichore, the muse of dance, Calliope, the muse of poetry, and Polyhymnia, the muse of mime. The ballet begins with Apollo's variation as a boy, and as the work develops the three muses dance with Apollo, then each dances her own variation. Subsequently Polyhymnia and Calliope dance together and Terpsichore and Apollo have a pas de deux, before the finale's ensemble of all four characters. A signature Balanchine work, Apollo is a hauntingly beautiful ballet that always achieves its subtlety even when faced with moments of drama. Apollo's change from boy to man resonates through his life on his own and with his relationships with the three muses. The choreography for the three muses contrasts their similarities--at the beginning, each muse does a penchee facing a different area of the stage to form a triangle, one of many examples of them being in unison--with their differences--each muse's way of picking up her instrument from Apollo is distinctly different (in this cast, anyway)--Terpsichore is entitled to it; Polyhymnia is humbled to recieve it; Calliope is indifferent to it. Apollo's maturity is best found in a step he does in a lunge where his one his hand is behind him, and his extended hand goes from a fist to a stretched hand, a movement seemingly indicative of his newfound power. Nothing compares, however, to the final moments of the ballet, where Apollo begins to slowly walk across the stage, with each muse following him. The muses gradually reach him, each extending into an arabesque of a different height while holding onto him. The final music of the poignant Stravinsky score quiets as the lights dim and the curtain falls. With no one else to compare to in the role, it is very difficult for me to evaluate how Chase Finlay danced, but I admit to being surprised at the amount of praise given for his debut. Finlay is a jack of all trades but an ace at none, and his dancing is a paradox in motion. He can be quite expansive--the simplest of steps, stretching his arms out up in front of him--are actually quite affective, but he seems to fade away whenever on stage with a ballerina--in this case: Maria Kowroski. Kowroski (Terpsichore) makes Finlay look short, as does Teresa Reichlen (Calliope), but not just in a height sense. On his own, Finlay dances with a fair amount of grandeur and musicality, impressive feats for a danseur in the corps, but during pas de deuxs (or pas de quatres) his dancing would vanish. Many Balanchine pas de deuxs require the man to be invisible, but Apollo, a rare Balanchine ballet in that it is focused on the man, is not such. He developed some sense of growing from boy to man, but it was as if he grew through his own intuition, his own experiences in solitude, and not through his relations with the three muses. He is a physically strong dancer but seemed to tire fairly early in the ballet, and his jump, whilst not terrible, could probably be outdone by Natalia Osipova. He has a nice lift on his supportive leg but can't find stability down into the ground with his plie. His partnering faired without incident, but Kowroski simply seemed too tall for him. The partnering had its occasional rough spots, but any shaky moments were covered well and forgiveable. His weakness was that the connection of Apollo maturing because of Terpsichore went missing because all you saw in the pas de deux was Kowroski. Finlay's line is clean, and it is a long line because he is tall, but yet the impacts created from the shapes of his legs, feet, and torso please but don't inspire. With all of this said, it was not a bad performance, and perhaps I am being harsh because it is a difficult ballet and one which I've never seen. Finlay is a talented dancer whose performance in this ballet suggests that a recent promotion to soloist is deserving. He did replace Sebastien Marcovici for this performance, and he wasn't scheduled to dance the role at Saratoga in any show that week, so perhaps the preparation for this show was meager compared to this performances in NYC. Although not a terribly long ballet, the role of Apollo requires a dancer of great technical and dramatic ability who can not only partner the muses but draw a story from them. At such an early stage in his career, Finlay can develop into a fine Apollo, but based on what I saw in this performance he was cast in this role prematurely. The three women faired better and predictably so considering their rank and experience. Maria Kowroski, Sara Mearns (Polyhymnia), and Teresa Reichlen are all statuesque, technically able, emotionally mature performers who fit in Balanchine repertory without defining themselves as a "Balanchine ballerina." Kowroski perhaps comes the closest with her 5'9'' frame, luxuriant extensions, pliable feet, and reserved aura. As Terpsichore, she was neither luscious nor dramatically detailed, but that was fine. For other ballets it might not be--her Diamonds I saw failed because of those reasons--but for this role, Kowroski fit the muse of dance with definite, quiet class. The fact that she upstaged Finlay was not her own fault, but rather Finlay's inability to confidently partner her and take it to the next level by drawing out what he could from Terpsichore to come of age. Kowroski's extensions--her "legs that extend to tomorrow," as a critic put it--are absolutely breathtaking and are so suited for Balanchine. Her penchees go to 6:05 and not 6:00. Her developees a la seconde stretch and breathe, and best of all, she has support on her standing leg which makes the impact of her working leg all the more poetic. Terpsichore has a section in the ballet where she is flirtatious in her relationship with Apollo, and this was a place where Kowroski's subtle expressions worked against her. She grasped the surface of this change (albeit a brief one) in her character but never lived it. Her sudden quick footwork in that section was a delight, but not the lack of change through her face. However, this minor foible didn't mare what was a subtle, mature performance from Kowroski. Her dancing had the ability to hold your attention even when you were curious to look elsewhere. Teresa Reichlen is a diverse dancer, capable of a Rubies tall girl with tangible bite and a seductive Siren in the Prodigal Son. Her Calliope revealed a quieter side to her dancing which at times became too quiet. Like Kowroski, Reichlen has tremendously long limbs which extend to the sky, but at times she struggles to find the full extension and reach of the leg from the get go. A big dancer (meaning by the way she moves), Reichlen was impressive in dancing in a role that didn't cater to that. Promoted to principal in 2009 (and deservedly so), she tackled the fliratious nature of her own role better than Kowroski with hers, and Reichlen's newfound fluidity was a revelation through the first part of the ballet. It was during the finale where she was barely recognizable on stage--her emotion non-existant and her dancing workmanlike. Such weaknesses in a performance are rarities for this expansive, commanding performer. Sara Mearns has, simply put, one of the oddest dancer bodies I have ever seen. It's difficult to explain, but what stands out is how broad-shouldered she is. Like Reichlen, Mearns is a versatile artist and can be both luscious and daring. As Polyhymnia, she had to be the latter but not at all the former. A strong presence on stage, Mearns oddly didn't have a ton of range in her performance here. In her later performance in Serenade she really built a powerful arc of her dancing, but for this ballet her relatively monochrome presence didn't serve the most committed, intriguing interpretation that she was capable of. Polyhymnia, being the muse of mime, is naturally the most communicative with her emotions of the three muses, and while her presence was engaging it lacked color. Not a ballerina who gives the impression of being capable of fast footwork, she surprisingly succeeds in this department, and this was pivotal as her role demands it. Mearns debuted this role last month (as did Reichlen with Calliope), and both women are at good starting points with their roles with sizeable room to develop. Serenade followed after the intermission and it was fascinating to see these two works back-to-back. Apollo, created in 1927, is the oldest surviving Balanchine ballet, but Serenade bears the distinction of being his first work created in America. Tchaikovsky's "Serenade for Strings" is brilliant but nonetheless quite un-Tchaikovsky--it's a rich, almost frenetic score which bounds in every direction. It's subtle and quietly cheerful in places, but the majority of the score is full-toned with endless speed, drama, and passion. Balanchine put the final touch on the score by switching the third and fourth movements; thus the work ends on a dark, far more poignant note than it would have if the more festive fourth movement concluded the ballet. Serenade is a mysterious, almost incomprehensible work, but therein lies its beauty. While it starts with iconic clarity: the 17 corps women in sixth position with their palm stretched outward, almost as if there was some greater force pulling them, the dramatic conclusion of the principal woman held aloft with hair down and arms curving toward the sky cannot be analyzed through words. Balanchine affirmed that the ballet is really about the dancing and not about some hidden plot or motif, but one can't help but try to draw one, particularly with the cast responsible for it Saturday. The only other company I've seen dance Serenade is Houston Ballet. While Houston Ballet's Serenade was a polished, professionally produced work of dancing, New York City Ballet, spearheaded by Janie Taylor and Sara Mearns, made Serenade a far more haunting work of art. Sara Mearns and Janie Taylor have been labeled the two most mysterious ballerinas of New York City Ballet, and never is that quality more suited for a ballet than Serenade. They are a world away from the technical spitfires of Ashley Bouder, Megan Fairchild, and Tiler Peck, and they even set themselves apart from the more mature crop of women. None of the other principal women have developed the art of meshing their extroverted and introverted qualities of artistry quite in the manner that Mearns and Taylor did in this ballet. Mearns and Taylor were comparable in that their roles in the ballet were that of passionate but tormented women trapped in an unexplainable predicament. Taylor, the first of the three principal woman to appear on stage, bursts out and dances in a frenzy--her inbalanced emotion continued even when motionless. Taylor was never happy, never shallow in her feelings, but always in the moment and in the music. The moment she arrives "late for class," when all the women repeat that iconic opening pose and she finds her place only when the women begin to move on, she is filled with trepidation but a certainty that she will find her place and begin. The moment while she stands in sixth position, arm stretched out, while the other women continue, is a rare moment of calm for Taylor in a ballet of which she drives the drama. Taylor's performance wasn't error-free, she had a fall center stage, but it was a completely forgiveable mistake--in fact, it was a welcome one. Her fall, occurring during an ensemble section with the corps, oddly made sense in her performance. Mr. B respected falls--he always loved dancers who dared. While daring isn't the first adjective that comes to mind with Taylor's dancing, what can be said is that she is immensely engrossed in her work. In Serenade, Taylor was such an unsettled character throughout the ballet you almost believed that her falling would happen. Taylor's defiant moment of pulling her hair out of the bun seemed natural. She had developed the rebellious, ambitious yet vulnerable sides of her character so much that once again, it was believable she would break the dance and make her stand to be different. Mearns was much more sure-footed here. She, too, evoked a mysterious, passionate aura that intensified as the ballet progressed. Her arabesque is unspeakably beautiful--the leg goes well above 90 degrees at its peak but it is never controted. Additionally, the leg, arm, and the back reach, reach, reach to eternity, and her arabesque comes across as dancing even though it is merely a position. Her womanly presence on stage was befitting of the ballet, and she truly seemed to live in the transformation of her character in the final movement with her hair down as well. She, unlike Taylor, doesn't have the moment on stage to create the change in her character by literally going from bunhead to woman, but nevertheless it was seen all the same. The arc of her character built as the ballet went, and she and Taylor both on the same stage made for a chilling rendition of one of Mr. B's finest ballets. Heading into the final movement, both Mearns and Taylor seemed controlled by the men who they were fearful of (the way they would barely look at them) yet who they also felt protected by (the way they tightly hugged them). Once passionate and searing, Mearns and Taylor became colder, quieter, in the final movement seemingly as a response to the music. One doesn't know how Taylor and Mearns arrived at making this ballet so dark, but the thing is that certain is that they both drew heavily from the music, particularly Taylor. Both women are not the types to dance to the music, but more through it. They don't hit notes sharply but seem to allow the music to be the the foundation of their dramatic auras. The music is rich, grand, even frantic and at times pleasant before ending in a somber, elegiac manner. Both women formulated their dancing based on the tones of the score, not so much the specific notes, a sharp but interesting contrast with what Megan Fairchild deliver as the other principal woman. Indeed, the score is not lightweight in spite of a few places (many of which occur when Fairchild is dancing and not Mearns and Taylor), and both ballerinas extended on the dramatic foundation the music presented. Intensely full-toned, musical performers, Mearns and Taylor are both first rate dancers with the right ballet. Perhaps they don't have the star quality or the virtuoso technical ability of some, but their musicality reigns supreme. Drawing the tones of the music into a performer's body is the sign of a deeply mature performer, which both women showcased here. Megan Fairchild was the weakest of the three women, and yet she has never looked better. A yawntastic pas de deux girl in Rubies and yawntastic in other works I've seen her in, Fairchild danced with spark and vitality in this ballet which provided a sharp contrast to Mearns's and Taylor's more haunting interpretations. Fairchild is the type to hit notes, but once again, the contrast was there and it worked. Her role is much more independent of the other principal women then Mearns's and Taylor's are with each other and the corps de ballet, so her differences in character and musicality were fitting. Unlike in Rubies and other works, Fairchild danced Saturday afternoon. She didn't just execute steps. She approached the ballet with calm, personable luminance. As mentioned earlier, many of Fairchild's phrases are in the lighter parts of the score; thus the differences between her and Mearns/Taylor were welcome. However, at times the rich parts of the score couldn't be found through Taylor's body; her movement quality, however easy to watch, didn't change throughout the ballet. Unlike Mearns, her hair down in the final movement seemed the consequence of a task and not of a dramatic arc. The score's elegiac undetones didn't transport to her body in the way it did to Mearns and Taylor. Yet it was still a surprisingly elegant showing from a sometimes bland ballerina. The corps had moments of imprecision--the inclinations of the head were all different at the beginning; the turns of the wrists were similarly varied in speed. Yet when the dancers danced they were quite together, but what was more valuable is that many of the women danced with soul. To have a Serenade that has imperfections but possesses true, tangible soul, is very much an ideal recipe for this ballet, and audiences got it Saturday. The criticism I have of this performance of Serenade is no fault of Mr. B., no fault of the dancers even. It was actually the venue. A dramatically riveting work (especially with this cast), the theater is what really makes this ballet come alive. A setting with birds, sun, and trees detracts from the mood of a ballet which needs a setting in which the stage is the only thing you see. However, the casual setting of the SPAC would work nicely for the final work of the afternoon. The Magic Flute (done by Martins) is an uncharacteristically fluffy ballet for NYCB. Basically the story goes like this: guy loves girl, but girl's parents don't approve of guy and want her with this Dr. Coppelius reincarnation. Then this mysterious old woman (think Fairy Godmother in Ashton's Cinderella) tells guy he will be with girl if he finds this magical object that will drop from the sky. It is--you guessed it--a magic flute which causes everyone to dance uncontrollably when used. The townspeople become angry at his use of the flute, but a mysterious old woman reveals herself to be a goddess and she informs everyone guy and girl are destined to be together. While the ballet possesses a cheesy plot, Tiler Peck and Joaquin De Luz were completely believable as the ballet's ruthlessly determined lovers. I saw Tiler Peck dance Swanhilda two years ago at Saratoga whilst a soloist. Since that time, Peck has been promoted to principal and has truly become a principal dancer. Peck isn't the model of a tutu ballerina--she isn't blessed with long limbs, high-arched feet or a luxurious body line, but what Peck is developing is the mastery of illusion. She has her technical weaknesses, and yet she constantly draws your eyes away from them. Considering her extensions and feet are her weaknesses, qualities in a dancer I'm a sucker for, this is no shallow feat. In one case, her weakness becomes her strength. Peck simply doesn't have the Sylvie Guillem feet with the massive curvature in the arch and ankle that can bend to "wing" the foot. Yet Peck takes advantage of this, as her inflexible feet give her the ability to stabilized over them during difficult hops en pointe, pirouettes, whatever it may be. Her pointe work has a strength to it that is appealing--it never looks difficult, strained, or choppy. She manipulates her feet to give the audience the sensation that her work en pointe is just as easy as if it were on flat. Peck has lovely pirouettes--on occasion they can be a tad shaky--but she has a nice lift on the supporting leg which again stems from that stabilization of the standing foot. She did these absolutely exquisite pirouettes in the pas de deux where she did two pirouttes in back attitude and the third in front attitude, with De Luz catching her only on the third turn. She was so "on her leg" that De Luz barely had to catch her--in fact, it looked as though he wasn't holding onto her at all. Yet Peck's ability to dance, truly dance, doesn't end with the steps. She has developed a strong sense of comedic timing in these last two years which can develop further but is impressive nonetheless. She is a brash girl in the Magic Flute, very much like Swanhilda. At one point she strikes a pose en pointe, only to duck away when the old man attempts to grab her, causing him to fall. Another time caused her to step back and push forward De Luz, so the old man would kiss De Luz's hand instead. These comedic moments were not merely funny for the sake of being funny, but also for what she brought to them. She was truly a girl in love willing to do anything for it. Her reaction to being with the old man was priceless. Her mother's orders for her to dance with the old man had her walking out of the house in not so much an angry manner but one of complete disbelief. Perhaps at times she was a bit too subtle with the comedy, but she is well on her way to becoming a real force in this department on stage. Add this to her assured technique and she is a dancer with her best years to come. De Luz, formerly of ABT, almost seems misfit at City Ballet because he is not tall, regal, elegant, but rather a technical spitfire with a spark all his own. His pirouettes turn like a top and balance at the end--he did four or five pirouettes to a triple attitude that went back to passe, and he held that passe for a couple seconds to ecstatic applause. De Luz had strong showing in this performance, but some have said he is past his prime and I can certainly see that, even though I never saw him dance at ABT. His jumps don't have the elevation of some, and his back leg in his coupe jetes droopes considerably. He also doesn't have those immaculate David Hallberg legs and feet, but then who does? Yet he is a rarity among the City Ballet men in that he has an exciting technical vocabulary coupled with a surprising ability to partner. An infectious persona on stage, he assures the audience it's not all about the tricks. He is so short that Peck, one of the shorter principal woman, actually looks tall when paired with him, but he and Peck danced beautifully together. They had great chemistry and showcased a pas de deux with playful aplomb. Overall, I have seen NYCB performances at Saratoga and a few others in NYC and this was one of the best NYCB performances I've seen. Bravo NYCB!
  3. I doubt that ABT would do Jewels. If they do - Abrera in Emeralds, Cojocaru in Diamonds, Rubies not sure I doubt ABT would either, but I feel it would be very interesting work for the company to have in its rep. In addition to the dancers you mentioned, I would like to see Murphy in Rubies and Part in Diamonds.
  4. I would also love for ABT to do Jewels--it would make for a fascinating contrast of NYCB and ABT doing the work. ABT does other Balanchine works and has the dancers to perform the ballet. While I realize the ballet is performed quite often across the plaza, the work has become part of more and more companies' repertories, and I fail to see why ABT shouldn't follow suit.
  5. Some additional suggestions (and I must say I like all of them listed in this thread so far) Ashton's Scenes de Ballet, Symphonic Variations, and La Valse. Tudor's Lilac Garden. Macmillan's Gloria and Song of the Earth. My Song of the Earth dream cast would be Vishneva/Hallberg/Gomes (Gomes as the Messenger of Death). I'd also be interested in seeing Semionova dance this. Bayadere with Semionova/Hallberg/Vishneva or Semionova/Gomes/Vishneva. I realize Gamzatti plays second fiddle to Nikiya in terms of stage time, but I think Vishneva would be splendid in the role. Guillem actually did Gamzatti vs. Asylmuratova's Nikiya back in the day, so its not like a star dancer hasn't done it before. To go along with Vishneva and Gomes in Manon, I'd like to see Radetsky do Lescaut and Abrera his mistress. Swan Lake with Osipova/Hallberg. Romeo and Juliet with Seo/Bolle. With ABT inviting so many guest artists in a season, I feel NY audiences would take to the Royal Ballet's Marianela Nunez. I'd like her to dance Sleeping Beauty with Hallberg and Swan Lake with Gomes. She is a wonderful dancer, and I'd love to see how her dancing would respond to having better partners than her current one at the Royal, Thiago Soares, whose dancing falls well short of hers. I'd also like to see Corella dancing regularly with the company again.
  6. Macmillan's Mayerling with Gomes as the Crown Prince Rudolf, Vishneva as Mary Vetsera, and Part as Marie Larish. Jiri Kylian's Petite Mort. Ashton's Rhapsody with Osipova/Simkin and Reyes/Cornejo. I would also like to see Vishneva/Gomes do Manon and Onegin.
  7. I saw him a few seasons ago in "The Nutcracker", and he was ready to be a Principal then, in my opinion. Don't get me wrong, I've seen some great performances of Connor Walsh, but I find him to be an extremely inconsistent dancer. It's not so much that certain roles suit him better than others as it is his technique can just come and go as it pleases. I've seen him put in some great performances--Swan Lake (his best performance that I've seen), Carmina Burana before he was made principal, Diamonds, and the most recent Nutcracker. But he was downright awful in Stanton Welch's "Tutu" last fall, hardly impressionable in "Rubies," and has been less than stellar in previous "Nutcracker" runs. However, with ABT's limited roster of male soloists he could be a good pick. Although he is neither a brilliant actor nor a spectacular technician, he is an efficient, attractive dancer when on call and can carry a full-length ballet. In terms of whether he would be a soloist or principal, I would instantly say soloist but then I forget that Stearns is a principal, who I don't necessarily think is a better (or much better) dancer than Walsh. The advantage Stearns has had is his height, but Connor isn't a shrimp and could be partnered with some current principal women. A dancer from Houston who ABT would be smarter to invest in IMO is Joe Walsh (not related to Connor), currently a soloist who has been with the Company since 2007. He is a polished, elegant performer who can also do lightning fast petite allegro and has such an interesting quality of moving. I've seen him dance very nicely in both classical and contemporary works, and I really feel he has more long-term potential than Connor.
  8. I'm probably in the minority, but I think the Lilac Fairy might suit Hee Seo. No, she is not an especially grand dancer, but she is a warm one, and I like Lilac Fairys who have that sunny delicacy to their dancing (Marianela Nunez of the Royal is a great example).
  9. Thank you to Colleen Boresta and Bingham for the compliments. Re: Part's Odette/Odile--I seem to be in the middle. I have seen her twice in Swan Lake, once with Hallberg (the performance last season that has been mentioned already) and Bolle (two years ago). I certainly wouldn't go as far as to say she is miscast in SL, although I'm not gaga over her Odette/Odile either. Swan Lake is one of those ballets where I tend to have a bias in favor of taller ballerinas, and Part obviously satisfies that. Just by the way she stands on stage with all of the other corps women, she looks like the swan queen and I love that. And certainly her body isn't the only the reason she would be good in Swan Lake: the ballet gives her ample opportunity to show off her extension, feet, pors de bras, "Russian back"--in other words, her strengths. The performance with Hallberg, although heavily praised on this forum, stangely left me cold. I enjoy both dancers and am a sucker for exquisite lines--which both have and then some--but the performance didn't do much for me, particularly the Black Swan pas. Her SL with Bolle I preferred. Bolle is a stronger partner than Hallberg, and because Part wasn't replacing someone she had more time to build a partnership and for me it showed. I preferred her Odette to her Odile, but I thought she put in a lovely performance which greatly upstaged Bolle who had a plethora of technical issues that evening. I wonder if Hallberg's shoulder problems have to do with him having really flexible shoulders? Perhaps it might have to do with him having a flexible back as well, as neither physical attribute comes to his aid when it comes to lifts. He is not someone like Gomes who is so physically strong and seems to have every part of his upper body stabilized and secure during a difficult overhead lift. IIRC, in the SL with Part during those turning overhead lifts in Act II, he barely lifted her the first time and didn't get her up at all during the second lift. I wonder how much this problem can improve, but I would certainly be surprised if Part and Hallberg were paired up in a major ballet again.
  10. Here is another video of Li doing the La Esmeralda pas de deux with Janie Parker, whom he frequently partnered at Houston Ballet back in the day. I know Janie personally and she once referred to her years with Li as being "glorious." Both were wonderful dancers.
  11. Mind you, I’m only 18, so I haven’t seen an abundance of Swan Lakes that I know several members of this board have, but the Saturday evening performance with Polina Semionova and Marcelo Gomes was undoubtedly the most sensational, dramatically moving performance of Swan Lake I have ever seen. Although I was sad that David Hallberg sprained his ankle and couldn't dance, I couldn't help but think that this partnership of Semionova and Gomes should have been cast as such from the beginning. I was very excited to see Polina--and had heard great things--but I intentionally didn't watch videos of her on Youtube or anywhere because I wanted to be as surprised as possible. However, given the epic quality of her performance, I doubt watching her dancing on video would have made a difference in preparing me for what I would see. A luscious, exquisitely exotic dancer, Polina Semionova is the finest interpreter of Odette/Odile I have ever seen live. She is a dancer unlike anyone I have watched before--luxuriant, passionate, dynamic, sensual--she has all of these different qualities that mesh together to form an intensely interesting dancer. Her performance was rare in that her interpretations of both Swans were impactful and riveting. During the reality television series done on English National Ballet, Agony and Ecstasy, Semionova was supposed to do Swan Lake with that company but her Visa failed to come in time, and instead ENB principal Daria Klimentova danced Odette/Odile. The choreographer of the Company's production, Derek Deane, referred to Semionova as a much more physically expressive performer than Klimentova, and this is exactly what stands out to me about Semionova's dancing. She expresses her emotion, her dance, through her entire body--her back, her arms, her legs, her feet, her eyes. Unlike Julie Kent's arabesques in the matinee which hit the position and stopped, Polina's arabesques were everlasting--they grew and expanded as though the movement stretched to the sky. Unlike other dancers who have high extensions, namely Alina Somova, Semionova's dancing isn't defined by them. I love high extensions (when tastefully done), but at the time of the curtain call that was the last thing I remembered about her performance. Her control is breathtaking, which was sublimely demonstrated in Act II during her variation and (especially) during the pas de deux. The pas de deux left me breathless. The tentative, somber chemistry between her and Gomes was instantly tangible. A dancer can always develop a role, no matter accomplished at it he or she may be, and Semionova can develop her sense of fragility and vulnerability as Odette even more. However, this was such a rich interpretation that I can't complain. As Odile, Semionova used her bold sensuality to the fullest extent. I really felt she had the characterization of Odile just right: brash, bitchy but always alluring, and I will forever be amazed how she and Marcelo developed such fiery chemistry on merely a day’s notice. As aforementioned her arabesque balance was mightily impressive. While she didn’t hold it as long as I’ve seen the Royal’s Tamara Rojo do, she didn’t waver in the slightest. Her variation featured triple pirouettes to single attitude turns—she looked capable of doing triple pirouette to double attitude—and it was danced exquisitely, although at times she was late with the music and appeared to be slightly pacing herself for the fouettes. Her fouettes featured a series of eight doubles followed by singles with the occasional double thrown in. I don’t much care for the Russian technique of fouettes in which the leg goes straight from passé to a la seconde, but she made them look better than most. The best moment of the Black Swan pas came at the end of the coda, when Marcelo kneeled down and thrust his arms open, indicating his overwhelming love for her. She went up to him and paused for a moment as if to say, “You’re sure you love me, right?!” before extending her arm in the backward cambre. It was an electrifying conclusion to an electrifying pas de deux and the audience responded in kind. Polina Semionova’s performance would have left most Prince Siegfrieds in the dust, but the statuesque, ardent Marcelo Gomes put forth an indelible performance of his own. Supremely gifted as a partner, one would never know Marcelo and Polina seldom dance together, nor would anyone suspect that he had only a day or two to prepare for dancing on stage with her. Gomes began Act I as a noble prince, ebullient at the sight of his crossbow yet timid when approaching the prospects of finding his first love. Much could be praised about Gomes from the beginning—although 6’2’’ his jump landings are quieter than a pin dropping. His pirouettes (tonight at least) may not have had the sheer number of revolutions that Carreno’s did, but the opposition and balance of his standing leg was just as apparent, more apparent actually considering his height. His fluidity for such a tall dancer is remarkable, and yet he can always call upon that strength, that passion to perform. Any solo he does no matter how brief draws your attention. I suppose I might have been a wee bit disappointed that he didn’t do the most revolutions of pirouettes I’ve seen him do, and he has a technical flaw in cheating the entances to his double tours. Yet he is a performer who is unpredictable in the best way, and the energy he drew from Semionova no doubt elevated his performance to a different league and vice versa. Although his command of the stage is largely unparalleled, he knows to take a back seat when necessary. During the black swan pas de deux most of whom I saw was Polina--exactly as it should have been. He shows his off ballerina so well, but when it comes time for his variation he eats up the stage. A backbone of the Company, audiences are lucky to see this exceptional artist perform. They would be even luckier if ABT commissioned Sir Kenneth Macmillan’s Mayerling (or if the Royal hired him to guest), but that’s a discussion for another day. Sascha Radetsky started his purple Rothbart variation wonderfully but seemed to run out of gas at the end: he hopped during a triple pirouette and hopped again to get his leg to arabesque, and he seemed to be a bit late during the ending phrase also. His placement wavered in the sous-sus prior to the arabesque, and he took a long time to find his balance, but once he did he held a decently sustained position. He doesn’t have the technical mastery of Hallberg or Gomes, but he still danced very well and really got into the character of this seductive, vicious individual. Act I pas de trois was Stella Abrera, Marie Riccetto, and Daniil Simkin. While Simkin was spectacular in the air, his partnering was awkward, in particular the partnered pirouettes—the two ladies were consistently leaning toward their standing legs instead of being directly straight over them. His variation was commendable, and his presence is no doubt exciting, but his lack of pas de deux training shows even in the most basic of maneuvers. Oddly, the consummate turner Simkin normally is didn’t show Saturday: he hopped on two of his pirouettes. With another dancer you would hardly notice, but it is a disappointment when Simkin’s virtuoso technique fails him in any way. Once you see what he is capable of, it is human nature to expect his highest standard every time. Maria Riccetto was lovely and delicate, but Stella Abrera was the standout performer in the pas de trois with nice entrechat sixes, sharp musicality and expansive dancing. Many say she deserves to be promoted to principal, and while I have not seen her in much (only this and The Brahms-Haydn Variations) I have been very impressed. With some of the principal women getting closer and closer to retirement she could have that chance. I don’t love this production, but I agree with Waelsung that the production’s weaknesses didn’t matter last night. The tour de force performances of Semionova and Gomes were too special for me to complain about it. It was just one of the performances you wish would never end.
  12. Yes, I saw the matinee as well and will comment on it first. The cast was Julie Kent as Odette/Odile, Carreno as Prince, Jared Matthews as Purple Von Rothbard, Isaac Stappas as Green Ron Rothbard, and Blaine Hoven, Misty Copeland, and Simone Messmer in the pas de trois. It's rare to have a ballerina over 40 still tackling a ballet as technically and dramatically demanding as Swan Lake, but Julie Kent continues to ambitiously do so in spite of waning technical ability. I was surprised to find out that her Odile exceeded the quality of her Odette, but the support from the audience and great partnering from Carreno seemed to light a spark in her, a depth of emotion missing in Act II as Odette. In regards to the comments of Kent falling off of pointe during her balances on Thursday--her opening arabesque as Odette on Saturday was shaky, her second one was decent, but the third one she controlled beautifully. As Odette, Kent didn't get much beyond the surface of the character except in the pas de deux, where her sorrow and despair were quite palpable, and in other subtle moments throughout the ballet. What ultimately caused Kent's Odette to fail was the lack of flexibility in her back. Back flexibility is one of the first things to go for older dancers, and Odette is one of those roles where such a weakness impacts the dancer's interpretation immensely. Kent's use of her upper body was largely one-dimensional--her arms almost seemed to move independently of her back, and it was a challenge for her to be effective in explaining her predicament of being a woman trapped in a swan's body by day. Her variation wasn't too shabby, but she simplified the opening by taking out the double rombe de jambe transition into the devlopees a la seconde, and her double step-over turns were never fully rotated (I was amazed she could find her balance en pointe and start the bourees in a circle without issue). However, the subleties of Kent's Odette were surprising and prevented her performance from being forgettable. Her gesture to Siegried when he attempts to kill Rothbard with his bow was strong, deliberate and clear, and her transformation back into a Swan at the act's conclusion was one of the most chilling I've seen. As Odile, Kent struggled at times technically--she only did 26 fouettes and traveled a great distance, first downstage, then toward stage right. She didn't hold a long balance in arabesque during the pas de deux and her dancing was on the whole safe, but the Black Swan pas de deux was her shining moment of the ballet. She wasn't a particularly evil Odile, but an Odile who Siegried could feasibly fall for and believe as Odette, and an Odile who could also showcase to the audience through little moments--her haughty laugh when she kneels down on the floor when faced away from Siegried, for instance--where she was obviously a different character than the vulnerable Odette. Although not an ambitious Black Swan PDD by any means, it was a clean and at times inspired one. Her lack of back flexibility wasn't nearly as noticeable as Odile, and the supportive audience really seemed to draw life into her interpretation. It was as though she turned back the clock a couple of years in the midst of one act. Speaking of turning back the clock, Jose Manuel Carreno sure didn't dance like he was 43. There were relatively obvious signs of pacing himself--he isn't a great actor and seemed to focus his performance onto his variations and pas de deuxs--but it was a commendable effort and a great way to leave the MET stage, especially in such an unexpected manner. As always, Carreno showcased beautiful pirouettes. A big key to the consistency of his pirouettes is his standing leg. His standing leg has such a sensation of opposition--it is so lifted and yet looks like it could drill a hole into the stage. Add that to his strongly placed arms and an engaged center and he can just turn all day. His double tours to the knee were both beautiful and supremely musical--first in Act I, then in his solo in the Black Swan pas de deux (both immediately following pirouettes). His other jumps were largely strong--his double cabrioles especially beautiful--and I agree with the sentiment that he has a couple more years in him. His partnering was lovely--his supported pirouettes gave Kent, a relatively weak turner, the illusion that she could turn like Gillian Murphy. This is not to say the performance was perfect--his extension in his arabesques and attitudes was dire, and he struggled (although succeeded) in doing the turning overhead lifts with Kent in the White Swan pas. Like Kent, he seemed to gain strength as the performance went, and the Black Swan pas was the pinnacle of his performance. In spite of not being as spectacular as Gomes would be in the evening, Carreno's final performance at the MET did justice to his great career. Jared Matthews as the Purple Von Rothbard was relatively strong albeit uneven. His arabesque balance was sustained only for a short while and I'd like to see his use of turnout from the tops of the legs improve. The menacing, seductive stage presence required for the role was grasped by Matthews but never fully explored. Certainly when you compare him to Marcelo's Rothbard who has strength and amplitude of movement, consummate musicality, and a brooding persona, Matthews just doesn't compare. However, this is not to say that it was a bad performance or that he is a bad dancer, but there is much work to be done before I can call him great. Act I pas de trois featured a lovely performance from Misty Copeland and efficient but pallid ones from Blaine Hoven and Simone Messmer. Copeland is a real spitfire--a dynamic dancer but also an elegant one. She has nice command over facial expressions--she appears happy without having a cheesy grin plastered on her face throughout her entire time on stage. Her technique and musicality were lovely, although some of her fifth positions weren't crossed all the way (same with Messmer). Messmer demonstrated some nice entrechat sixes but she seemed to tire toward the end of the pas de trois and her overall performance left me cold. Hoven was clean but couldn't match the excitement in his variation to that of Simkin in the evening or the dynamo of the Royal Ballet I saw in March, Valentino Zucchetti. Hoven also seemed to have difficulty doing partnered pirouttes with the two women--Copeland's weight was always back during the supported pirouettes done in the pas de trois (the issue was solved during the coda), and his last pirouette with Messmer was a double that ended awkwardly. Overall a decent effort from all three, but only Copeland was engaging. Overall, a good performance, but one that just could not compare to the evening.
  13. I just got back from the evening SL show with Semionova and Gomes and just wanted to say that the two of them (Semionova especially) were glorious and were one of the best Swan Lake partnerships that I have ever seen. I will post a more detailed review later.
  14. I don't think Hee Seo is especially suited, technically or artistically, to the more bravura roles. However, she is sublime in lyrical roles, and I would recommend everyone to see her in Giselle next summer. Her Juliet is absolutely exquisite.
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