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ABT's "The Merry Widow" - 5/26 Matinee Performance

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This is not a serious ballet, (what is the ballet equivalent of operetta?)but ABT's "The Merry Widow" is certainly a beautiful production. The costumes and scenery are breathtaking, Lehar's music is wonderful, and the dancing is first-rate. Saturday's matinee performance of "The Merry Widow" was especially memorable (IMO anyway). Irina Dvorovenko (replacing Alessandra Ferri) was dazzling, both in her dancing and her acting. Dvorovenko was scheduled to dance the part of the Baron's young wife, a role I feel she would be wrong for. Dvorovenko is too much a star to play any other part but that of Hannah Glawari (the Merry Widow herself).

Julio Bocca was a very passionate Count Danilo. He was also quite funny, especially in his first act "drunk" scene. Ximora Reyes and Maxim Belotserkovsky were very good as the young Baroness and her lover. I've been a big fan of Belotserkovsky's for a few years, but this was first time I saw Reyes dance. I was very very impressed with her performance. She appeared to be to be very delicate, but her balletic technique was very strong.

All in all it was a very entertaining afternoon at the ballet.

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I also had a good time at this performance. As Colleen Boresta writes, The Merry Widow isn't a serious ballet, but I don't (in theory) mind ABT having some lightweight spectacles in their repertory. And I think Merry Widow, especially when performed as engagingly as it was Sat. afternoon, is certainly better than, say, Snow Maiden...My problem is that lightweight spectacles seem, in recent years, to dominate ABT's repertory. When that's a big proportion of what they are dancing, it starts to seem a waste of talent.

(When I saw that Mckenzie had acquired Onegin I was really dismayed -- 'tragedy' it may be, but still, in my opinion, another lightweight ballet. I did think that at least it would be an excellent vehicle for Ferri, who has a limited range of principle ballerina roles she can dance, but now it turns out that Ferri probably won't be appearing in it!

Still, Sat. afternoon's Merry Widow was very enjoyable. The principles were excellent, and the ballet does offer up some real dancing. I thought the big Act II pas de deux for the French lovers (Reyes and Belotserkovsky) was especially fetching, and, in addition to dancing very well, both Bocca and Dvorovenko brought a lot of charisma to their parts plus -- considering that they were not scheduled to dance this together -- handled all the tricky partnering quite nicely.

[ 05-30-2001: Message edited by: Drew ]

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I caught the Saturday evening performance. I left with mixed feelings. I enjoyed the show, the spectical of the scenery and the costumes, and the dancing certainly was amazing. But the whole production left me wanting something.

I felt there was at times too much happening on stage. The corps members had so much individual stage business happening at any one time it detracted from the principals, taking my attention away from the real focus of the story.

Julie Kent is a treat to watch, her dancing effortless and amazing. But I did not feel she was a very "merry" Widow. Rather, she gave the Widow almost a scheming aire. It was an interesting take on the character but not appropriate I felt for a light hearted peice like this.

Jose Carreno was technically impressive as Danilo. Was he right for the part of a drunken suitor? I did not get the impression comedic parts were his strong point.

To me the real treat of the evening was the solo by Herman Cornejo as the Leading Pontevedrian Dancer. Not only was his dancing brilliant to see, but he seemed to be having the time of his life throughout. I heard several muted calls and one very loud shout of "bravo" afterward. It was well deserved.

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Drew -- why is Onegin a lightweight ballet? (Just curious.) I saw Onegin tonight and I absolutely loved the choreography. Cranko really is one of the best narrative ballet choreographers of this century, IMO.

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I 100% agree with Terry. I saw Onegin 2 nights in a row and did not consider it lightweight in the least (not those pas de desux's-- they're dangerous!). It quite simply is one of the best ballets I have ever seen, period, IMO. Each act is so complete: dramatically engaging and compelling, yet the dancing never stops. And the story even continues in front of the curtain as the scenary is being changed. To put in a nutshell, I think it's a masterpiece and a work of genius. I know several folks in the audience that were just blown away by it. I met one woman that saw the first night and found herself at the box office the next morning @ 10am to go last night. Julie Kent and Robert Hill were sublime.

There's so much I loved about this production that I'll have to write more later. I've been humming the music all weekend and can't get certain images out of mind from the ballet.

It truly was a treat and it's about time that ABT did it!

I'd also like to say something for the story ballets. Sometimes people seem to get lost in just the technical aspects and seem to not give the story ballets as much respect. I think that dance is such an amazing medium that can include breathtaking abstract ballets and compelling three-act story ballets. When either is done well, that is a great night at the ballet.

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I hope Drew will answer this, but I thought I'd put in a word first. We've discussed "Onegin" and the controversy over whether it's a great or a lightweight ballet quite a bit, so there may be some material in the Archives or in other threads -- if you're interested, try a search in Aesthetic Issues or Recent Performances.

Those who hold the view that "Onegin" is not a masterpiece are not against story ballets, per se, but story ballets with a weak structure or choreography, or that concern themselves only with superficial aspects of the story; the difference between a good movie, or TV movie, and a great play.

Personally, I think "Onegin" is quite a cut above "Merry Widow," which, to me, is nothing more than tinsel. Operettas aren't slight; there's a wit to them, and a sophistication that this work misses completely and its choreography is so repetitive and the characters so buffoon-like it sets my teeth on edge :)

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I haven't seen ABT's production of Onegin, but I'm not surprized people admire the ballet more than I. Many people love this ballet and the first time I saw it I did too. But after seeing it several times with the Stuttgart, I came to feel that the quality of the movement and, if you will, the "translation" of the drama into balletic terms was trivial, and the dancing just taken abstractly (as choreography) dull. At this point, I don't remember a large number of specifics, but I do remember the acrobatic pas de deux that seemed very muddy and inarticulate to me...By muddy and inarticulate, I mean, for example, that it scarcely made any difference whether I was seeing Makarova (as I did once) or Haydee (as I did several times): the movement just blurred into so many dynamically unvaried tosses and throws. Of course, this was just my reaction.

I should add that, as I haven't seen the ballet recently, I strongly suspect that if I saw a great performance I would enjoy it...but I doubt I would get much from sitting through it repeatedly. (I wouldn't want to sit through Merry Widow repeatedly either!!) I wasn't part of "Ballet Alert's" earlier discussions of this ballet, but I 'm not surprised that there is quite a bit of disagreement about it.

I would reiterate one comment Alexandra made. I am not oppposed to story ballets -- I have admired Neumeier's Dame aux Camelias, to say nothing of Ashton's Month in the Country. (And I was fascinated about a year ago by the Lavrosky Romeo and Juliet.) Etc. etc. But I'm one of those who is not persuaded by Cranko as a great choreographer -- I don't think he puts together ballet steps in an interesting way.

[ 06-04-2001: Message edited by: Drew ]

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I agree with Drew, basically. Onegin can be extraordinarily powerful with great dancing--I can never forget Makarova in the final scene. But when I saw it recently, after a period of about 20 years, it did seem a bit classic comic booky, like one of those overpadded, very long, beautifully decorated ballets (the sets are stupendous and very effective)which have an even longer opera struggling to get out.

The whole idea of the isolated, drab country versus the sophisticated city just didn't come through. Onegin was just strutting around in black--an early Goth, it looked like. And the choreography, as choreogrpahy wasn't all that interesting, just tossing and spinning. I think it was a shame it couldn't have concentrated on the final scene, which is very moving.

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I'd second both Drew's and Cargill's comments. "Onegin" has always fascinated me because it seems so dependent on its cast. I began by mildly liking it and not understanding what all the fuss (about it being a BAD ballet) was about; I thought that criticism harsh. Then, like Drew, I saw some absolutely dreadful performances by the Stuttgart in the period right after Haydee and Keil had retired and they had a serious ballerina problem. With no help from the dancers it was so skeletal as a ballet I understood the negative reviews I'd been reading.

Then I saw it in Copenhagen with Arne Villumsen and Heidi Ryom in Copenhagen in the very last days when that company could turn straw into gold by its commitment, musicality, attention to detail, ability to create a character out of nothing, etc etc etc and it's a performance I'll treasure. Villumsen did a lot more than walk around and glower -- and in that tiny theater, the absurdity of his playing cards at the birthday party was an insult as acute as a slap in the face. Was there a lot there that the Danes found? Or did their century of being without a choreographer and sense of theater give them the skills to transform it? (I often think of them as a band of very poor migrants, going from empty shack to empty shack, having nothing but an exorbitant flair for decor and a few shreds of cloth, and making those shacks not only habitable but hospitable.)

I was interested, with ABT, how Graffin would do as Onegin. I think he might be interesting.

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As a very young dancer I also saw Haydee in Onegin, and she carried the ballet through the strength of her personality and acting abilities. I remember being impressed by the way she used her hands, so simply and expressively.

I would have to agree with Alexandra that the ballet is greatly dependent upon its cast.

I suppose lightweight spectacles bring in the audiences, but I don't think that in the end they are terribly good at developing either dancers or audiences.

[ 06-04-2001: Message edited by: Sonora ]

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