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ABT at Kennedy Center - Mixed Bill, 2/3-5/2004

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I'll look forward to reading your review, Jeannie.

I did go, but I found it a very disappointing evening. Not the usual opening night problem -- it looked well-rehearsed. But I have to say I think that Raymonda is the worst thing I've ever seen the company do. There was no frame. It's just a selection of dances one after the other without a ballerina to pull it together. (The production may go over better with other dancers.)

I thought Corella was going to set the stage in the entree -- his walk to the ballerina and the way he presented her was beautiful, every movement musical. That was the high point; nothing after lived up to that. I kept thinking, as I often have in the past few years, that the solos have been rehearsed in separate studios (perhaps in different cities) and the cast only meets afterwards. I also feel, as I often do, that I was watching a skating competition: "And now, for his free skate, Mr. Corella will deliver six double tours en l'lair" The individual steps were danced as well as anyone could dance them, but they weren't part of anything. It was just a module plugged into the rest of the modules.

For the record, Veronika Part danced in the grand pas classique, with Michele Wiles, in a double solo (presumably they're Henriette and Clemence). Part's arms were lovely, the legs not very strong. Wiles danced beautifully -- but again, it came off as an excerpt. In the men's double variation, David Hallberg (tall and blond) was paired with a short dark-haired boy who had a very hard time with the steps. Hallberg was magnificent; give him a chance and he could hold the stage all by himself and create a world.

As Raymonda, Murphy looked overcoached -- every finger was set, as the Danes would say, but again, nothing was integrated into a whole and the dancing was static. She doesn't yet have a ballerina's authority -- and in a company where La Van Hamel was the Raymonda queen for years (not forgetting Cynthia Gregory and Natalia Makarova) she looked so small. Sticking out your chin doesn't make you look authoritative, just snotty.

As for the male corps and soloists (with the exception of Hallberg) -- do they take a classical class these days? They looked to me like San Francisco Ballet did before Tomasson took over and turned the SFB corps into classical dancers. The male dancing in Raymonda was below this company's own standard--both compared to when they were just building up to full-evening ballet status in the 1970s, and they tried as hard as was humanly possible to be classical, or even five years ago. I had noticed a change in the men last year in Romeo and Juliet, but in this, it was much more obvious -- no tautness in the dancing or the line, can't land in fifth. The variance among body types makes it look as though they're being selected for the Duato rather than Petipa repertory. The wrist flicks are still there, but now they're done in a studied, "refined" way, which makes it worse. Especially coming after the Kirov, the lack of polish was hard to watch. It's as though the dancers are using bad grammar but speaking with the best Oxford accent that can be managed if you were born in Mississippi.

The audience loved the Duato; I loathed it. The dancers did everything that was asked of them and looked like amoebas in body stockings. They look terrific in it, the way they used to look terrific in Tetley.

I have two objections to the Duato works I've seen (aside from his extensive "quoting" of other works). One is that they make the dancers look anonymous. I often am surprised, during the curtain calls, to realize that I've been watching a particular dancer. And second, watching it is like watching marshmallows melt to muzak. The music for "Without Words" (like dance usually has words?), by Schubert, is far from muzak, but it might as well BE muzak the way it's used.

I actually thought of you during it, Jeannie, because of something you wrote a couple of years ago here, of what opera house ballet meant, and to me, this was an example of something that doesn't belong in an opera house at opera house prices. I'll hold off on the Beatles until tomorow.

I'm sorry to be so negative about a company with so many wonderful dancers and whose performances I've enjoyed so many times in the past. I have high hopes for this weekend's Bayadere, where the women's corps gets a chance to shine.

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Ouch...the postings and now the review in the Washington Post today don't make it look like things went very well on Tuesday night. (I guess ABT hasn't been very lucky with its press coverage this week, with this review and the piece in the New York Times about the company's financials).

For those of you who have seen the Washington performances of the "Raymonda" snippet: did it look like the flaws are fixable? I mean, does this spell a possible disaster come Spring Season with the full production? (I certainly hope not...it seems like the kind of production that ABT should excel at considering what they are known for doing at the MET and otherwise). From the reviews and postings I can't tell if it was under-rehearsed or just plain bad...

Hopefully "La Bayadere" will go better over the weekend. Looks like some excellent casts are lined up for that, if nothing else.

Edited by art076
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It didn't look under-rehearsed. I'd go for "just plain bad." And I think Kaufman hit it -- they look more at home in the Duato-Harrison parts of the program. In Raymonda -- and last year in "Romeo and Juliet" -- they looked like contemporary dancers dancing ballet steps. They're using ballet the same way some modern dancers are using ballet -- as a means to an end. Bigger, faster, stronger. More turns, higher leaps. The casting didn't help -- the men in the "character" segment had cleaner lines than those in the "classical" ones.

Wednesday night (with Paloma Herrera and Marcelo Gomes) was a bit better -- Herrera wasn't as polished as Murphy but she looked as though she were enjoying the role and had internalized it. There were some arm positions that were, shall we say, nonstandard -- but that's throughout. They do Paul Taylor scoop arms every now and again, just throw their hands in the air. Gomes is such a warm performer, and so ardent a partner, that he set the stage. His dancing is big and clear and so musical that even when he and the orchestra lost each other during the coda it didn't matter. He still LOOKED musical. The flow of movement from the back, up the arm and out the fingers is glorious. But even Gomes could use some polish.

The production is a cut and paste Raymonda, a bit from here, a bit from there. I was told by a friend who'd seen the production at City Center that there had been changes. There's now a double variation for two women and another for two men that, he said, had not been in the New York production. To me, these dancers, in their original form, are one of the glories of the classical repertory, and their structure, as well as the steps, are integral parts of that glory. Why not set it has come down to us? (That's a rhetorical question.)

The George Harrison ballet is, to me, an embarrassment. It looks like an end of school show, recital stuff -- maybe at a cheerleading school. The dancers are wonderful They run and roll on the floor and jump up and down and wiggle their shoulders with all the energy one could want. It's nice to see the women with their hair down -- they look more individualized than when they're in contemporary bunhead mode.

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Sorry that I'm just getting around to posting my thoughts on the opening night. It's been a hectic week.

My sojourn in DC has yielded many balletic surprises in companies that I have not seen in a while. Some surprises are good -- the huge improvements at Washington Ballet -- and some are, uh, not-so-good. ABT falls into the second category.

An ABT opening night at the Kennedy Center used to be a first-class event. We could always count on a mixed bill program that included three or more high-quality works, e.g., Sylphides/Firebird/an Agnes de Mille premiere a few years ago. Boy, has ABT sunk down to a new low here...almost (not quite) as bad as the days when Washington Ballet offered "Evening of Dutch Contemporary Works."

As always, ABT presents a cadre of magnificent soloists. Let's not blame them. They have to wade through the crap that they are given.

RAYMONDA DIVERTISSEMENTS (Holmes, after Petipa; Glazounov)

Get me back to Russia, buistro-buistro!!!! ABT's ragged and (mostly) dispirited corps make me long to return to the land where I can see a decent 'Raymonda' csardas and Gnd Pas Classique adagio. Good grief, these kids were all over the place, stylistically.

Anna-Marie Holmes is a very knowledgeable and respected guardian of the Konstantin Sergueyev/Petipa oeuvre, so I was shocked to see what she cobbled together here. Why on earth 'double' the Act III female solo 'bridesmaid' variation by having it 'mirror-danced' by two girls, when this ballet is replete with gems of Petipa female variations that are rarely seen in the west, e.g., the three 'dream girl' variations from Act I/sc ii? Was the intention to give two solo-level girls a chance to shine...then why not give each girl her own solo? What's worse, why on earth cast a 'mirror-effect' dance with two girls who could not be more different in body type -- the trim & energetic Michele Wiles, dancing next to an out-of-shape & lethargic dancer...so out-of-shape that it broke my heart to see her stuffed like a sausage into a too-small tutu. [That casting, IMO, bordered on cruelty against the larger lady.]

I would strongly recommend that the full-length 'Raymonda' that is being staged for ABT adhere exactly to the Kirov Sergeyev version, which is absolutely perfect & magical...especially the Act I/sc ii Dream Scene, with its retinue of 'side boys & girls' in long medieval costumes framing classical-tutu girls in the middle. No mirroring of solos, please! But DO keep the Raymonda-walks-into-the-tapestry stuff with Jean de Brienne, which would be the grandest tribute to Dudinskaya/Sergueyev.

Back to the dancing...

The Csardas was led by two Vaganova-style-trained dancers Maria Bystrova & Gennadi Saveliev, who should know better...at least they had the facial expressions & tilts of the head right! The Csardas corps: horrendous...even though their ranks include a pleiade of truly talented young dancers & multiple competition laureates, such as Zhong-Jing Fang (Shaghai IBC '02), Renata Pavam (Jackson '98), & Sarawanee Tanatanit (Lausanne). I prefer to remember them in happier times, thank you.

The grand adagio for the lead pair plus eight couples featured a couple of the guys grimacing in pain as they attemped to heave-ho their hefty ballerinas onto shoulders (one poor lad gave up in midstream and plopped down his princess). I do not mean to imply that all of the couples were this bad...but, in this adagio for nine synchronized couples, if ONE pair is off, it wrecks the entire mood & majesty of the piece.

Gillian Murphy was as uncharming a Raymonda as I've ever seen - technically precise but total ice, made all the more obvious when paired with one of the warmest, cuddliest male dancers on earth, Angel Corella. He showed what a good actor he is by not running off stage whenever Murphy looked at him.

The costumes for the classical & csardas corps are hideous, particularly unflattering to the larger women (red velour over-dresses in csardas).

ugh...well that was the high point of the night...there followed:

WITHOUT WORDS (Duato/Schubert)

Imagine a 'Liebeslieder Walzer' danced in flesh-toned unitards for the women & beige loincloths for the men. Remove all makeup. The girls all wear dark hair in buns. Couples dance together to some of the most romantic, waltzy music that's ever been written...except that instead of waltzing, they are contorting themselves, quickly changing pointed feet into flexed feet. That sort of thing. Once one COULD discern the dancers -- and I was sitting in the front row of the orchestra -- one saw trememdous talent & gymnastic ability (like the gumby-doll Xiomara Reyes...or the surprisingly sexy pairing of Paloma Herrera & the amazing Danny Tidwell). Frustrating. I really wanted to feel the romantic perfume of music - see it in the dance. All I got was smoke.

Just when we though that we had reached rock bottom, here comes...

WITHIN YOU WITHOUT YOU ('gang of four'/Harrison)

As the always-charismatic Angel Corella jerked & wiggled his way through the initial solo of this work, I could not help but ask myself the question: "Is this the Modern Choreography Round of the Varna International Ballet Competition?" I don't think I've ever experienced a more pathetic batch of choreography on a professional stage for a 30-minute stretch of time. The dancers are all magnificent creatures -- among the best in the business -- yet they have to present themselves in the most embarrassingly banal choreography. Sure, I 'woo-hooed' and 'yippee-yeahed' along with the audience during the final front-of-the-scrim promenade of leaps by all dancers, each showing off his or her best move from competition days! We had to cheer for the dancers who are professional enough to try their best, even with this silliness. It makes me long to see Abrera, Wiles & Stiefel in quality work, soon.

p.s. We did get to see Veronika Part bee-bopping in designer jeans. So the Lilac Fairy has come to this?

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Thanks, Jeannie. I'd second a vote for the Sergeyev Raymonda! Not that I've seen it, but a good friend of mine came back from St. Petersburg years ago saying "it was a cascade of beautiful classical dancing. He's kept enough of the story to make sense, and yet kept it in the background."

I wondered why they chose this program too -- it wasn't a crowd pleaser. (Although the house was much better last night; the side backs were nearly full.)

Anyone else go? Please don't be reluctant to disagree.

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Sorry, even personal loyalty to some of the company couldn't get me to drive or train in for this mess.

Let's hope they pull Raymonda into some semblance of shape before the spring season or they will be a laughingstock and the funding will go even lower.....


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Truly sorry to hear about the Raymonda disaster, as that was one program I had circled in my brochure as a 'wanna see'.

Just a thought about the Harrison piece. I've seen it twice--first at the Met and then (reluctantly) at City Center. I swear to you that it didn't even look like the same work the second time, and yet the casting was similar, the costumes and music identical. The difference was the theater.

I left the Met after the first time very disappointed. After the second viewing, about 5 months later, if I wasn't in love with the work, I will say that I enjoyed it and found myself emotionally moved by it.

I believe the difference lies with the setting. It is just lost in the Met Opera House, and my guess is that is also the case at the Kennedy Center Opera House. On the smaller City Center stage, in a smaller theater where those of us who are cheapskates aren't miles from the stage and breathing through oxygen masks, there is a sense of intimacy--even, dare I say it? charm, and a definite feeling of engagement that was just not present at the Met.

I'm glad I saw it the second time, and did so at my daughter's urging. She had seen it at City Center when it premiered in fall 02. I now have a positive memory of it. I am baffled as to why it has now shown up in every ABT season, and do not plan to see it at the Met this spring. Do I think it is a Work of High Art? Nah. Was it an enjoyable experience in the smaller theater? Yup.

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Glad you liked it. I agree that setting can make a difference, and maybe if this had been Lisner Auditorium it would have looked more at home. But I think the Kennedy Center, compared to the Met, is much smaller and more intimate. And I think wherever it was the choreography would still be bottom of the barrel. But if people like it, that's fine! The dancers certainly gave it everything they had.

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Hey, hey, 'Mme. Hermine' & 'rkoretzky'!! Good to hear from you.

I really, REALLY do hope that Anna-Marie will be staging something very close to the 'Soviet Kirov' version, which is a masterpiece! Hopefully, the corps will be drilled like crazy in Vaganova Stylistics between now & then, too. One can hope... Before then, they have 'Bayadere' here in DC, beginning tomorrow. I'll keep fingers and toes crossed. Going to the opener, tomorrow...Michele Wiles as Gamzatti should be interesting, not to mention Paloma's Nikiya and Sexy Carreno as Solor. Wheeee!!!

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Abderakhman's getup has to be seen to be believed.

You mean this?

At the Works and Process session at the Guggenheim, Kevin McKenzie explained that most of the story will be enacted at the side of the stage while the dancing is going on. I have no idea how this is going to work. :o It sounds like an attempt to mount their own version of Raymonda Variations, except since ABT is ABT, it's a full-length version. :dry: Hoping for the best, though.

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Ooops...it appears as if this Raymonda has already been staged in Finland. Doesn't seem to be anywhere close to the Soviet Kirov version...story on the sidelines & dancing in the middle? Nope - not Kirov. We'll keep open minds, though.

As for the wild costumes - It could be worse. Kevin might take a cue from Janet Jackson & have Raymonda bare a breast.

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Well, after all these knowledgeable people talking about the ABT, I feel a bit stupid making my review but here goes...

ABT - Mixed Bill

Opera House, Kennedy Center

Thursday February 5th, 2004

I also saw the open rehearsal on Tuesday afternoon and in the cast was different.

There was a buzz going round the crowd about the provocative review by the Washington Post writer Sarah Kaufman. From the sounds of the audience around me during intermissions and at the end, they did not wholly agree with Ms Kaufman's scathing review.

Raymonda Divertissements (Staged by Anna-Marie Holmes, after Petipa. Music by A Glazounov)

I found the choreography to be less than inspiring. The bright spot was Xiomara Reyes, she sparkled and danced as if she were in the most glorious ballet. Ethan Stiefel, on the other hand, looked stiff, and when dancing with Reyes he leaned way away from his partner (as if he really didn't like her). In the open rehearsal Marcelo Gomes danced Jean de Brienne and did a lovely job.

In the Grand Pas Hongrois, Sascha Radetsky danced beautifully he demonstrated how I would think a real Hungarian csarda would dance - elegant, cocky, fluid and strong. But his partner Sasha Dmochowski tried a bit too hard and her movements were too quick, making her arms and especially her head movements rough.

Without Words (Choreography N Duato. Music by F Schubert).

This piece was very enjoyable, a beautiful combination of modern and classical movement. Even the costumes (flesh colored) were designed to not detract from the dancers' bodies. The piece opens with 3 dancers, but it features relationships between 4 different couples dancing to music that originally were songs. The couples sometimes break up or combine to form different groupings with different dynamics.

When I saw the open rehearsal Ethan Stiefel danced in the final couple and was wonderful. Last night Maxim Beloserkovsky danced that part and I may have appreciated him more if I had not seen the open rehearsal. Irina Dvorovenko danced with Maxim and though she danced well, her part looked almost too rehearsed, she didn't really look like her movements were in response to him.

Overall a very nice piece combining modern and classical movements to create an intriguing series of relationships.

The dance was also very well received by the audience.

Within You, Without You: A Tribute to George Harrison

The costumes for this, at least, were mostly just jeans. Nice colors! I did not get to see this in rehearsal.

"Something" (choreography by S Welch)

Angel Corella - Wow! He did a super job with the sometimes frenetic choreography. And, I am sure people will think I'm crazy....something in the way he moves...reminded me of Baryshnikov.

"I Dig Love" (choreography by N Weir)

I did not care for the choreography of this piece, it did not gel. It seemed too disjointed. That said, Marcelo Gomes was extremely good. Gillian Murphy and Herman Cornejo did the best they could with the choreography, but were not as effective as Marcelo.

"While My Gutiar Gently Weeps" (Choreography A Reinking)

Again I did not care much for the choreography, a little too dramatic and emphatic. But again Sascha Radetsky was so fluid. And again his partner, this time Sarawanee Tanatanit, looked a little forced and too quick. It made me wonder what it is of his style and form that is so fluid and supple, that it contrasts his partner so that in two totally different dances, with totally different styles, the effect was the same. Is this a bad thing for a dancer in a company of this size to have a negative effect on the dancing of his partner by being apparently so much better?

"Isn't it a Pity?" (Choreography S Welch)

Dark set at first, slowly becoming brighter. Enjoyable but not very exciting or particularly interesting.

"Within You, Without You" (choreography N Weir)

I wondered how someone would choreograph this song, and Natalie Weir did an interesting job, but what made it work was Marcelo's dancing. I could see how someone else might run into trouble and have it look just a mess. But Marcelo made the choreography his own and he really became the song. What a wonderful dancer, everything about him, his presence, his form and his movement is a joy to watch. For me this was the highlight of the whole dance (and this is not one of my favorite GH songs!).

"My Sweet Lord" (choreography D Parsons)

Just a parade of dancers doing their thing. Not bad, not great. Fun but innocuous.

Overall an enjoyable evening and, perhaps because I sat up in the 2nd tier and did not pay a whole lot of money for my ticket, I did not feel cheated. But one of the advantages for me is that, especially with more modern choreography, the balconies are a better vantage point to see the patterns.

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OK, my $0.02:


I thought Steifel and Reyes were a very good couple, and that he was a most gallant partner. Haven't seen (or, OK, don't ever remember seeing) the Sergeyev version, so I can't make comparisons in that regard.

There were some rough spots, most noticeably in the men's pas de quatre.

I did not think the Hungarian costumes were any more unflattering than others of their type.

Without Words

Overall, I thought the dancing and the costumes were exquisite, and I am not necessarily a fan of contemporary works. I described the costumes to one of my friends as "Vera Wang-type unitards". Beautiful.

Within You/Without You

Just not my cup of tea at all. Even if it had been "good", I doubt that it would have been appealing to me.

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Thank you, corrival and koshka. Corrival, please never think you're "un-knowledgeable" -- you know what you saw and whether or not you liked it or thought it was good! And koshka, thank you for your 2 cents :) (I agree -- I think WIWO is one of those pieces that you either like, or you don't!)

Corrival, I'm glad to learn that people were talking about the Post review. The opening night was a different cast, and also, some of the problems could have been corrected with rehearsal and coaching.

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