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ABT at Kennedy Center, January 9-14


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You all are whetting my appetite for the Met season! And it would only be carping to say I find Hallberg and Gomes better actors than Carreno, or the former soloist Erica Cornejo the best Cowgirl—an embarrassment of riches at ABT now. I'm glad people are noticing Abrera and Kajiya because they are my favorites as well. How will they be cast in Sleeping Beauty... I think Kajiya would be lovely as Princess Florine.

Regarding your comment about Gomes and Hallberg--i have to agree. It's one of the things I find so outstanding about Hallberg. He is so young, and has such lovely lines--he really could have coasted on physical talent for a while. But his committment to his characters is total, and he brings out the most in those around him (cough, Paloma, cough).

I'd love to meet up with some of the other Ballet Talk people when the Met season comes round. Last year I was so new on here I didn't want to speak up so much yet. But I'm really looking forward to this season. Especially the Sleeping Beauty. I used to be a super in their old production, back in the early 90s :)

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To the Hallberg-Gomes acting contingent- do you not think Jose is a good actor?

To ZB1, welcome- you have some very astute comments and I look forward to your opinions on Othello. I was not aware of the student ticket situation but was aware that last year the Kennedy Center stopped selling standing room tickets unless the performance was sold out. Significant numbers of teens (mostly female) used the standing room tickets- and, what was so nice, unlike the Nazis at the Met who literally rope standees in, the Kennedy Center ushers would allow those standing to sit in available seats. New policies seem most counter-productive to me. If there are seats available, give them to schools or universities. But, fill the seats. Expose as many as possible to this wonderful art form.

I agree with ZB1 that ABT's shades a few years agon was dreadful and that ABT has shown a remarkable improvement since then. Maybe, as with Kaufman's review, they will start getting the credit they deserve.

As for Friday night's Othello, OK, Hallberg is a pretty good actor (but Gomes better and stronger). As for Gillian Murphy, I agree with the earlier posters that her strength is in more modern works, but, as she proved tonight, she is becoming a better actress, albeit slowly. Her Juliet this year will, of course, be the real test. (By the way, Xiomara is a wonderful Juliet). Max was very good, but I preferred Sascha. Marian Butler as Emilia was fine but Stella Abrera was far superior in all respects, and especially her chemistry with Iago, which, in Stella's case, was probably easier with Sascha being her real-life hubby. Love that second act. Also, Mathews fine as Cassio but one of the world's great male dancers, Herman Cornejo, was, of course, far better.

As for the production itself, does anyone know what is with the cracked throne and other set pieces? Did it crack in transit or was it intentional, and if so, what the heck does it mean? Costumes just OK. Music and choreography work extraordinarily well together. I ask the more knowledgable: has there been a better full-length ballet since MacMillan?

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Carreno indeed has prodigious technique and presence, but over the last four years I've attended a string of performances where he lacked chemistry with his partners. His Siegfried and Apollo looked cold and impassive compared to my vivid memories of him on the night of Susan Jaffe's farewell performance of Giselle. Of course, that was a special night, and one other poster wrote the only flaw in it was that Albrecht loved Giselle too much—he wouldn't have betrayed her.

Even aside from flat partnerships, I've never seen him as a dance actor who disappears inside his roles. Of course he does inhabit them appropriately and often thrillingly. I think he is a true premier danseur, so I am happy to watch Carreno be Carreno. I don't know if that distinction makes sense, though it is clear in my own mind, and actually not intended as a disparagement of his obvious talents. :)

And of course I have not yet seen Hallberg in Othello yet, so who knows. My opinion of him is based on attending somewhat dramatically bland performances by him in Raymonda and Swan Lake several years ago, and then hitting the jackpot with a series of striking, nuanced and varied performances by him. Playing Death in The Green Table seemed to unlock something in him. His Afternoon of a Faun with Abrera was exquisite, sensual and mysterious, so much so that some posters left the mixed bill afterwards rather than have it clouded in their minds. I was very fascinated by the way he used his physical gifts to enhance his interpretations. As Death, he made a perfect fifth position something terrifying, slamming into it in those boots. As the faun, the way he stared at his own perfectly-turned out developpe was the ultimate expression of narcissism. I saw him do a Siegfried where he involved the entire company in his portrayal. His interactions with Freddie Franklin's Tutor created an incredible amount of character development. A company dancer in the best sense. Also a good debut as Romeo with Herrera, who looks very lively with him. And many other enjoyable occasions...

I suppose I just have that happy feeling of being there at some of the milestones in his career, whereas Jose was certainly fully-formed by the time I got to see him.

Gomes I also watch with interest, particularly in juicier character roles, since he seems to enjoy them the most. Once you've seen his Von Rothbart, you really don't want anyone else. In my opinion, something about him just seems to connect with his partners and the audience when he is onstage. He has a stronger pull, and some dramatic alchemy occurs. The only thing that worries me is that sometimes he looks a tiny bit bored in the straightforward classical roles, even though he always brings out the best in his ballerina. I can imagine him mentally raising his eyebrows at Prince Charming, thinking "This guy would be more fun if he weren't a cardboard fantasy-figure... where's the evil?" But that's my overactive imagination. At least he seems to have a restlessness that says dance actor to me.

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Dear Paolo.....about those Nazis at the Met....do you mean the ushers??? ....because they are under strict orders from ABT and Met management to keep standees out of seats they did not pay for. In the early 90's, standees were allowed to sit in the last two rows. But the standees were not satisfied with that. They sat in seats further down, that belonged to other patrons. So the patrons srceamed, the ushers caught hell, big time, and now we have the present system. Which is lousy.

I agree that if the performance is not sold out, they should not sell standing room. Rush tickets are available at some performances, for students.

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Heh. Off-topic, but ABT has kept the standees roped off at the Met since I was a student in the mid-80s. Part of the problem is that the Met puts its standing room in the orchestra. At the State Theater, the standing room is in the fourth ring. The theater can afford to turn a blind eye towards sitting in a free seat, and always has as long as I have been going. It's true that it devalues a $160 ticket when the person next to you paid $20. The other side of the coin is my experiences watching ABT as a dance student carried over for two decades now. (They didn't have student rush back then, and the requirements to get it are quite arbitrary.) Whatever their age, the standees are a loyal core audience.

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The ushers at the Met can get overly enthusiastic, though. Several years ago, one of the ushers tried to toss me out of my seat at a Paris Opera Ballet performance, EVEN THOUGH I HAD I HAD A TICKET. :) (It was a last minute thing, and I wasn't dressed my best, so they thought I had snuck over from standing room).

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Heh. Off-topic, but ABT has kept the standees roped off at the Met since I was a student in the mid-80s. Part of the problem is that the Met puts its standing room in the orchestra.

I'd like to second this--When I worked as a super in the early 90s the ushers at the MET were really nasty about keeping us in standing room for the 2nd acts (if you werent in them). It seemed rather unnecessary

There are actually standing room sections in multiple places as the met, not only orchestra, but I think your point about that is valid

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Saw Othello again tonight, this time from the first row. I must retract my earlier comment about Carreno being ABT's best actor- he's very good but Marcelo really is in another league. He was remarkable. His intensity is just riveting - like his incredilbly nuanced and strong von Rothbart in the third act of Swan Lake (thankfully recorded for all time on DVD).

Reyes was interesting as Desdemona today. Certainly not Julie, but a strong performance nonetheless. Rasta Thomas was fine, but I much prefer Gomes in this. Why did they need to bring in Thomas? Who did it last decade when Desmond Richardson was not doing it? Didn't Jose do it?

Why can't Herman Cornejo be given the lead in a full-length ballet?

Still not full tonight- for a truly A cast and on a Saturday night- simply amazing. That second act is a marvel. If it was a little girls' ballet, it would have been full.

Doesn't the Met have standing room in more than just the orchestra? A few years ago a friendly usher at the Met let me sit several times during one season (with my SRO ticket).

Just one more ABT peformance in DC. So sad. What do you think they will do in DC next year? Sleeping Beauty would seem logical.

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.....about those Nazis at the Met....do you mean the ushers??? ....because they are under strict orders from ABT and Met management to keep standees out of seats they did not pay for.

Yes, I mean the ushers. While I am sure they are under strict orders from the Met, I am not so sure ABT has such orders. And, actually roping them in? Please. We are not cattle. If ABT felt that way and had that control of a house, then standees would not have been able to sit at the Kennedy Center, which they were always able to do when the house was not full. The Met is the landlord; ABT is a tenant. The Met makes the rules, I would think.

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Rasta Thomas was fine, but I much prefer Gomes in this. Why did they need to bring in Thomas?

Doesn't the Met have standing room in more than just the orchestra? A few years ago a friendly usher at the Met let me sit several times during one season (with my SRO ticket).

. . . .

Just one more ABT peformance in DC. So sad. What do you think they will do in DC next year?

Interesting comment about Rasta Thomas. Some eyebrows went up when it was announced that he would be in two performances of Othello - one in DC and one at the Met. You have to wonder what the reasoning was. He has been dancing with Lubovitch's company for a year or two; so, maybe some lobbying came from that direction.

Yes, there is standing room in other Met sections. I stood in Grand Tier one time, and at the first intermission a woman came by and gave me her 'extra' ticket. I was so grateful that I was almost moved to tears, particularly because I could never afford to sit in Grand Tier. So I took my seat, happy as ever, and then it became quickly apparent that the gentleman next to me suffered from either Tourets or severe restless legs syndrome. Every few seconds, he would thrash his legs around, nearly kicking me and the seat in front. At the next intermission, I got up and gave my 'extra' ticket to someone else, and went back to my standing spot.

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Saw Othello again tonight, this time from the first row. I must retract my earlier comment about Carreno being ABT's best actor- he's very good but Marcelo really is in another league. He was remarkable. His intensity is just riveting - like his incredilbly nuanced and strong von Rothbart in the third act of Swan Lake (thankfully recorded for all time on DVD).
Yeah, Gomes has to be seen to be appreciated, doesn't he? I can't think of a dancer with nearly his range. He is one with whatever he's dancing, modern or classical, lighthearted, romantic or villainous. I love Carreno, too, but when Jaffe left, so, it seems, did a part of him.
Rasta Thomas was fine, but I much prefer Gomes in this. Why did they need to bring in Thomas? Who did it last decade when Desmond Richardson was not doing it? Didn't Jose do it?
Richardson (partnering the much-missed Sandra Brown) alternated with Keith Roberts, who was Julie's Othello.
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Can we talk about Sarah Kaufman's Washington Post “Othello” review?

Of course, the odds of two successive glowing ABT reviews from her would be astronomical.

Yes, she is accurate that the biggest fault of Othello is the lack of character development. But, I am bothered by the fact that about 70% of Ms. Kaufman's review is devoted to that lack of character development, and not other important elements of the ballet, like the exceptional corps work and overall choreography. Rather, Ms. Kaufman uses significance space to point out examples of ballets that did have character development and were the better for it. Fine material for a dance magazine article, but she's supposed to be reviewing Othello.

She makes a good point, but does she have to beat us over the head with it? That standing ovation tonight did not reflect the audience's concern with character development; it reflected a deep admiration for the extraordinary artistry on display. So, maybe it was not perfect- but it was something special.

Comparing ABT to a bad karaoke singer? Would Ms. K compare the Kirov, Royal, Bolshoi, or Paris Opera Ballet in such a manner? I suggest not.

Ms. K's review does contain these nuggets:

As for the marvelous Marcelo, her entire comment about him is: "Marcelo Gomes was a stern and hot-headed Othello, though he seemed incidental to the drama until it was halfway through." Tell me what you thought of his dancing, characterization, and chemistry, not that you got that Othello was stern and hard-headed.

As for one of the world's greatest and most under-appreciated dancers, Herman Cornejo, she said: "The ever-youthful Herman Cornejo was a believably pure Cassio." Is that good, or just mediocre, or what?

And Sascha's Iago was "a villain through and through." What the heck does that mean? Is that good?

Ms. K indicates we have no insight into why Othello is so “gobsmacked [great word] by his wife, Desdemona.” Well, how about she is stunningly beautiful and adores him? Some men are like that. And, maybe Iago is jealous that Othello is a general, is his boss, and has a gorgeous wife, even though he is darker. Enough potential motivation for me, but not for Ms. Kaufman.

The review has an overall negative feel when she actually says she thought all the dancers were pretty good, (it seems) and she liked the sets/ projections and the music, at least some of the time. There was so much good in this ballet that to condemn it for lack of character development is unfair.

Lubovitch obviously pared Othello down, arguably too much. But, this is a modern ballet not a classical ballet, which happens to have a classic theme and styling. Who says Lubovitch has to fully develop the characters? He can do what he wants, and he chose to pare it down. And, despite the lack of character development, it is a thoroughly enjoyable and important contribution to ballet. As I have overheard so many times these last few days in DC, it is a refreshing change from the pure classics. It is full-length, with the type of costumes expected of a classical ballet, but with choreography that is far more modern than classical- nicely combining the old and new. These are not your typical passes de deux (or however you pluralize that) and pas de trois. For example, the second act was a thrilling series of dances by the corps, the principals, in varying combinations, the corps again, etc. It was a great scene when the corps were flat on their backs, their legs raising up and down simulating the sea. Very sexy and not your typical ballet. Maybe it could have been better. But, it was very, very good with superb performances.

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I am about to depart for ABT’s last DC “Othello” (with Hallberg and Murphy), so I am afraid that I cannot contribute my own thoughts until tonight. But I saw the ballet again last night (Saturday night), with the opening night cast again – I must have been a bit confused when buying tickets down at the box office, but overall, I am very happy that I ended up seeing the same cast again. I am excited about Hallberg, Murphy and co. but I cannot imagine that they will be better than the amazing cast of Gomes, Kent, Radetsky, Abrera, and Cornejo.

This is the sort of ballet that – for me, at least – gets better upon a second (and maybe third) viewing. The first time that I saw it, I was impressed by it (well, mainly by the dancing and acting) but did not really like it. Saturday night (with the same cast) I was able to sit back and let the ballet and the music sink in – and I ended up enjoying it as well as being tremendously moved by it. The audience reaction – which I measure by applause and intermission conversation – was overall significantly warmer and more positive on Saturday than on Thursday.

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Thanks to all of these great Othello reviews, I'll be seeing at least 3 out of the 4 performances at The Met.

I was just wondering - if, in fact, there are some deficiencies in the production as some critics have claimed, can't they be addressed? The choreographer and the composer are still alive and active, and the production is quite brief; so if the artistic team was convinced that some revision would be beneficial, why wouldn't they do it?

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I was able to see all three casts of "Othello" during this run. A side thanks to the powers that be at the Kennedy Center for those $20.07 tickets. I was able to obtain some in the side orchestra which were wonderful because we had row R where there is an aisle between that row and the rest of the rows so there were no worries about the tall guy coming in and blocking the view.

I was trepiditious about seeing this ballet because I had seen it in New York years ago and my fading memory of it did not leave me leaping to go again. However, after seeing the Gomes/Kent/Cornejo/Radetsky/Abrerra cast on opening night, I was surprised to find myself looking forward to going again and seeing the other casts.

Gomes' evolution as a dancer is apparent to me everytime I see him. He just gets better & better with each viewing. I thought I would never see him in a role more compelling than his elegantly evil von Rothbart. But now, just as I can find no satisfaction in any other von Rothbart, I found the other two Othellos pale in comparison. I don't want to anger the Hallberg & Thomas admirers on this board, because I too am a fan of both, but Katie bar the door and send in Gomes! A friend remarked that Iago has the best choreography so Othello must have the presence to be compelling enough to carry the role and Gomes was definitely the alpha male Othello conveying not only murderous rage and revenge but also the tender side of his feelings for his wife.

Which brings me to Kent's Desdemona. She was the only one who made me cry. That was quite a feat given the the lack of development in her character's choreography. I think the Lubovich choreography looked better on Kent & Gomes than it did on the other two casts. They looked more comfortable and confident in it. She is the only principal dancer left at ABT that danced this role a decade ago. Julie's long beautiful leg and arm extentions in the swirling lifts and turns brought an extra elegance and poingnancy to the ppd's.

Herman Cornejo, who is one of the very best dancers at ABT, seemed a bit reined in by the choreography. I wanted to see his flying elegance and precision but whether it was the steps or the characterization, it did not come through in his Cassio. It seemed as though Lubovich did not want Cassio upstaging either Othello or Iago and so set his role at a lower temperature. Not to mention he was woven in and out of the court scene with the commedia dancers. Now there's a thankless role. Even though the dancers executed well, god bless 'em, I found them as annoying as the court jester in "Swan Lake." I blame the choreographer not the dancers.

Radetsky was fascinating as Iago. The first night he was just a tad over the top but by Saturday night he had made the adjustments needed to merit a top notch performance. And Stella Abrerra, who looks as delicate as fine china, held her own in the rough and tumble role as his unfortunate wife.

Even though there were many good things to be said about the other two casts, this cast was the touchstone for me for this ballet. Because of that, I chose not to attend my beloved ABT's last performance today. I want to savor last night's flavor a little bit longer and I look forward to the reviews of what I miss this afternoon.

p.s. Thanks, Paulo for answering my question on the last time "Dark Elegies" was performed in DC - much appreciated.

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I'm thrilled Gomes has found another signature role, and will be lining up to see it!

On Cornejo in starring roles: picking up the nuances of partnering is an area I need to improve in. However, as far as I can tell, Cornejo isn't the greatest at it, in a way that's not just a function of his height. I think ABT appreciates him and is eager to offer him opportunities, but this poses a problem...

Parenthetically, sensing a lukewarm reception of Rasta Thomas here, I'm really hoping former ABTer Danny Tidwell doesn't follow the same peripatetic path. I saw that Complexions Ballet, where he was dancing recently, was on at the Joyce, and thought I might get a ticket partly in order to see him. He's no longer on the roster (though many will be interested to know Monique Meunier is), and a look at his website shows he's started a magazine (with Thomas gracing the first cover) and is appearing in a show in L.A. More power to him, but I wonder how he will develop artistically going it alone. And then I'm selfish, and if dancers are in major companies I know I will be able to see them.

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I attended the mixed bill performances on Tuesday and Wednesday nights and Othello on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Sorry about the long (and late) post -- it's been a busy week at work and I was sick for part of it.

BAYADERE

The corps were the stars here. Marakova did a fantastic job coaching them, and I hope her relationship with the company continues. They definitely have improved in Bayadere since the last visit a few years ago. Beautiful line, epaulment, head positions, port de bras, etc. There were, of course, a few bobbles in the balances, and the lead Shade looked a little unsteady at first on Wednesday night, but overall these were very satisfying performances.

The Three Soloist Shades -- Except for the fact that Copeland looked underrehearsed (and was filling in for Pavam, probably at the last minute), I thought the other five Shades looked very good in their solos, although on both nights the three Shades looked a little out-of-sync when dancing together. I haven't seen much of Lane, but she looks very promising. As others have mentioned, Abrera and Kajiya both handled the second solo beautifully. Riccetto did a very good job with the difficult third solo. As for Part, I understand that she has her detractors, but I'm a big fan. There was some slight technical unsteadiness, as Natalia mentioned, but she is a gorgeous dancer. Especially when she was dancing with Copeland and Abrera, you could see the differences in their American and Russian training, and there was no contest. Just a soft, beautiful upper body.

Herrera -- Herrera had an off night, and I think Sarah Kaufman was actually pretty generous in her Washington Post review. While Herrera's pirouettes and turns were fine, she seemed to have problems with almost everything else, especially balances. The scarf section was uncomfortable to watch.

Dvorovenko -- A much better job than Herrera, and no inappropriate vamping, which she has a tendency to do sometimes. I haven't seen much of Dvorovenko lately, so I don't know if she does this a lot, but I did notice that she has a tendency to slightly distort her line to go for the higher extension, the higher lift, the faster turn. It looks gymnastic and unattractive. Overall, she is a beautiful dancer, and it wasn't especially obvious, but I wish she wouldn't feel the need to do this.

Carreno -- Beautiful line, jumps, and turns. Two good performances.

(On the subject of Carreno's acting ability, I agree that this is not one of his strengths. I was very disappointed in a performance of Romeo at the Met in July, where he looked underwhelming opposite Ferri. At best, he does that universal "despair" look, and not much else.)

DARK ELEGIES

I feel like a complete loser admitting this, but I didn't care for Dark Elegies. I'm pretty sure that I understand what the ballet is about and why it was innovative, but I could just not warm to it. As someone else mentioned, it seemed cold to me, too. By the third performance in 30 hours (the rehearsal and two performances), I was bored and restless, something that pretty much never happens to me at the ballet.

I understand that it was innovative to create a ballet that expresses emotion through movement instead of facial expression ("expressionism", correct?), and that depicting a community in mourning over its children has the risk of becoming maudlin if not handled well. However, this ballet strikes me as representative of some 20th-century artists' belief that technique should predominate over human emotion, or that technique is sufficient to depict human emotion. While I can appreciate the ballet on an intellectual level, it just didn't touch me. I may be completely off base here, and I have enjoyed other works by Tudor, but I was glad when this was over on Wednesday night.

I do think the ballet was danced well. Wiles was well-cast in the first solo on Tuesday. What I normally consider to be Wiles's weaknesses (limited dramatic range and a rigid upper body) actually turned to strengths here. On Wednesday, Kristi Boone fudged through some of the steps that could have been more crisp. Kent was very good in the duet on Tuesday.

RODEO

I'm going to go against prevailing opinion and say that I preferred Butler over Reyes as the Cowgirl. To me, there are two possible interpretations of this ballet. In the first, the Cowgirl wants a guy, has multiple humorous misfires in her attempt to get a guy (she's still too much of a tomboy), realizes that she has to be a "girl" to get a guy, and finally has the two top guys competing with each other over her. This is the way Reyes played it, and it was funny and enjoyable, but not the way I like to see it performed.

The interpretation that I prefer, which I thought Butler did beautifully, is to view the Cowgirl as a woman who wants it all and is trying to figure out how to be successful in both the male and female worlds. She wants to be a cowgirl, but also to get the guy. In the beginning, her attempts are failures as she tries to figure out how to bridge the two worlds. She's hurt and confused. This is where I want to see the pathos, the feminine side. In the two instances where the Cowgirl collapses to the ground, Butler was heartbreaking, where Reyes was just funny in her exasperation. When the girls come in, it's clear that the Cowgirl doesn't want to be like the other girls, but to get the guys that they also want. She finally figures it out, and ends up getting to be both a cowgirl and having a guy, the top guy. She's the only woman who has the tomboy tendencies to use to her advantage. She's spunky, persistent, and can ham it up and dance, and she doesn't get sick to her stomach when she dances the way the prissy girls do. Rather than being manipulated into being a "girl," she manipulates the situation to her advantage; to make this interpretation credible, I think we have to see fairly early on in the ballet that the Cowgirl want to be both a tomboy and a girl.

I may very well be rationalizing this so that I don't have to view this ballet as sexist. However, I suspect this ballet was groundbreaking in the 1930s. Surely it would have been pretty radical for a woman to be successful in both the male and female worlds. And I suspect the prevailing view was that if a woman wanted to be a tomboy and successful in the male world, she couldn't also expect to get a guy. I don't know much about De Mille other than the basics, but I assume Rodeo has semi-autobiographical elements. De Mille was a groundbreaker, highly successful in a male-dominated field, at a time when that wasn't supposed to happen.

Anyway, this is a very long way of saying that I thought Butler did a better job of capturing the nuances and complexity of the role, of showing the character's feminine and tomboy tendencies and the conflict that caused. (I also have to say that I really regret not seeing Erica Cornejo in this role when I had the chance.)

I slightly preferred Radetsky over Salstein as the Champion Roper, although I can't really say why. They both did a terrific job.

(On the subject of Reyes's acting ability, I think she can be a very good actress in highly dramatic roles that require her to stay deeply in character. I really like her Juliet, almost as much as Ferri's and Kent's. Although I didn't see her in Othello, I'm guessing that she did a very good Desdemona. It's when she doesn't have to act or is not performing a tragic role that she tends to default into that treacly, cutsey, slightly goofy personna. I try to be selective about the roles that I see her in.)

OTHELLO

I liked this more than I thought I would. It'll never be on the level of the classics, but it was interesting to see something new and modern that told the essence of a complicated story well. (I generally don't agree with Kaufman's review.) The sets were innovative and the costumes OK. The problem for me was the choreography. It tends to be that throw-the-woman-around kind of choreography favored by choreographers like Macmillan and Gringovich. Not top-rate.

Gomes/Kent/Radetsky/Abrera/Cornejo -- The first-night cast was very good. Kent, Gomes, and Cornejo are some of my favorite dancers in the company, and Kent and Gomes are first-rate actors. Cornejo's line and ballon are just beautiful. Abrera and Radetsky did a terrific job as Iago and Emilia. Radetsky seems to be getting a lot of dramatic roles and is handling them well.

Hallberg/Murphy/Beloserkovsky/Butler/Matthews -- When casting went up about a month ago, I bought one ticket for Othello, for the Gomes/Kent cast. I wasn't sure I would like it, and I had major reservations about a cast that included Murphy and Beloserovsky. However, the prospect of seeing how Hallberg would handle the role intrigued me, and I finally relented and bought a ticket for the Sunday performance after seeing the members' dress rehearsal on Thursday. More about this cast later, but first a major aside about Murphy. If someone had told me 24 hours ago that I would be writing what I'm about to, I would flat out not have believed it.

When Murphy was first promoted to principal several years ago, I was intrigued to see how she would handle the responsibility, the way I am when anyone is promoted. I actully sought out her performances. However, after several disappointing performances that were weak dramatically, I started avoiding her. I felt that she was relying too much on her (amazing) technique and wasn't making much of an effort to be a compete package. Last year, she did a Black Swan PDD at the Kennedy Center that can charitably be described as tacky. It was vamped and inappropriate, and there was no interaction with Gomes. I vowed to competely avoid her performances, feeling that she was more interested in becoming a "star" than an artist.

I was stunned when I saw casting for the spring Met season, which includes Murphy performances of Juliet, Desdemona, and Titania. I couldn't believe that she would be able to handle those roles and suspected that McKenzie was doing this for box-office purposes.

As mentioned, the Hallberg casting finally won me over, and I bought the ticket for yesterday's performance, with great trepidation about Murphy. Well, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the performance, a little stunned, in fact. Although Murphy will never have the lyricism of Kent, she was much better dramatically than I expected. I sense that there's a commitment to artistry that wasn't there before. I'm curious now how the casting for the new Met season roles came about -- whether McKenzie suggested them or Murphy asked for them. I'm really starting to believe that Murphy may be able to pull off a credible Juliet.

In some ways the acting was even more detailed than Kent's. I tend to watch what goes on in the sides of the stage, because I think that can show how well the dancers are paying attention to the dramatic elements of the ballet. In the first act, when we were supposed to be paying attention to Cassio and the other dancers, Hallberg and Murphy did a good job on the side of the stage showing a loving, newly married couple, something that Gomes and Kent didn't do as well. There were several other moments in the ballet where the acting was very detailed and appropriate.

I do think it helped that this is a modern ballet, and I've always preferred Murphy in contemporary work. The test will be if she can pull off the dramatic parts of the classics, and Sleeping Beauty will be a good start. Although I'm not competely on board yet (I'm not sure that I'm ready for a Murphy Giselle, for example.), I'm cautiously optimistic that she's really making an effort to improve her artistry. It would be nice not to feel as if I don't have to avoid her, especially since my Met-viewing is limited to weekends. (It also helps that she seems to have abandoned that snotty nose-in the-air thing that she used to do.)

As others have mentioned, she does do a pretty good job in comedic roles, but these tend to be one-dimensional. If she can start getting the nuances of the more dramatic roles, I'll be convinced. It will be interesting to see if she can manage the three distinct Aurora characterizations in Sleeping Beauty, for example.

The rest of the second cast was pretty good, I thought. Hallberg was just a tad less good than Gomes, and I actually prefered Hallberg's depiction of Othello's third-act emotional breakdown, which was chilling. Beloserkovsky was better than I expected; I was afraid that he would be too bland, but he was more evil than I thought he was capable of. Butler did a very good job as Emilia (she is a very good dancer-actress). Abrera and Butler had their strengths and weaknesses as Emilia, and at different times I preferred one over the other. Matthews did a good job as Cassio.

Schulte and Boone both did a terrific job as Bianca.

GENERAL IMPRESSIONS

I feel better about the company than I did after last year's Kennedy Center visit. For me, I think it helped that these two programs were heavy on the drama, so that we got more artistry than pyrotechnics. I'm also glad that McKenzie seems to be using more and better coaches; Marakova's work was obvious in Bayadere, and I'm very pleased that Kirkland will be a key component in setting Sleeping Beauty. For a couple of years, I've been worried that ABT was developing a coaching problem, with a lack of attention to detail, but that seems to be improving.

Not to end on a sour note, but I do have one gripe. It would be nice if ABT management would extend the same courtesy to touring audiences that they do to New York audiences in terms of announcing casting. Waiting to announce casting until a month before performances is not fair to audiences that can be just as devoted as the New York audience.

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Wow, that was a lot of post! Thanks so much for the detailed descriptions of all the performances you saw.

Herrera -- Herrera had an off night, and I think Sarah Kaufman was actually pretty generous in her Washington Post review. While Herrera's pirouettes and turns were fine, she seemed to have problems with almost everything else, especially balances. The scarf section was uncomfortable to watch.

Dvorovenko -- A much better job than Herrera, and no inappropriate vamping, which she has a tendency to do sometimes. I haven't seen much of Dvorovenko lately, so I don't know if she does this a lot, but I did notice that she has a tendency to slightly distort her line to go for the higher extension, the higher lift, the faster turn. It looks gymnastic and unattractive. Overall, she is a beautiful dancer, and it wasn't especially obvious, but I wish she wouldn't feel the need to do this.

I'm amazed that Herrera had trouble with balances--that really must have been an off night for her.

I'm *not* a big fan of hers at all, but balances are a strength of hers, I still remember watching her in class at SAB adjusting her foot to hold the balance--pretty astonishing.

As for Dvorovenko--I think she may have dropped the inappropriate vamping. I saw her 2x last MET season--Swan Lake and Giselle.

I enjoyed the swan lake, but it was not spectacular. Still--her portrayal was perhaps cold, but not bad.

Her giselle however was really fantastic. Well characterized and exquisitely danced. If my recollection is right, she didn't do any of the things that bothered you in this performance.

She was absolutely ghostly and silent in act two, simply floating. I've rarely if ever seen anyone seem so much spirit in that act (that said, she still maintained the earthly connection to her prince..I'm just talking about her physicality)

I was going to quote some of what you said about murphy, but had trouble cutting it down to one thing that I'd respond to, so I am just making some general statements here...

I know where you are coming from, but I have to say I do like her. I'm not sure why, and I did avoid her briefly for much the same reasons you did.

I think its not a matter of just wanting to be a star. I think perhaps she overthinks some roles.

She seems to have trouble believing in the characters in some of the classics, and becomes rather cold.

I'm truly not sure how she's going to be characterwise in Sleeping Beauty--there really is not much to the role emotionally--yes, you need to show 3 diff phases of the character, but there isn't a lot of psychological depth to it. And I think Murphy needs a character that she can really grapple with to come alive.

Juliet, well here I think that she has potential. Yes she's playing sort of against type (i think of her as a bit tall and developed for juliet--although the ridiculous "ooh i have breasts!" mime will actually make sense for once), but I think Juliet is a character that has a lot more to it. And as such, being more than 2 dimensional, I think Murphy could actually make something pretty spectacular out of it.

It could be a disaster, but I think she has the potential to do a very interesting, and perhaps different, characterization of Juliet.

Whether its a triumph or a disaster, I have a feeling it will be worth seeing.

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"Solo shades all fine but I agree that Abrea and Kajiya stood out. Not sure what all the fuss over Sarah Lane is, she seems fine and pleasant and young."

I didn't know that there has been a fuss over Sarah Lane, but I have been a big fan of her's since I saw her do the principal part in Theme & Variations in NY a couple of seasons ago. One partnering glitch but an otherwise outstanding and refreshing performance.

I worry that some of the outstanding females in the corp won't have opportunities to move up because the rep is so full length ballet heavy. Lane is not the only one.

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"Solo shades all fine but I agree that Abrea and Kajiya stood out. Not sure what all the fuss over Sarah Lane is, she seems fine and pleasant and young."
I didn't know that there has been a fuss over Sarah Lane, but I have been a big fan of her's since I saw her do the principal part in Theme & Variations in NY a couple of seasons ago. One partnering glitch but an otherwise outstanding and refreshing performance.

A little unfair to pass judgment on any dancer, whether Lane or Part, from one performance or just one solo. Both of these ladies are beautiful and interesting dancers in very different ways... depending on the role given. I'd be happy to see either of them in any lead over most of the female principals/soloists currently at ABT.

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I'd be happy to see either of them in any lead over most of the female principals/soloists currently at ABT.

I can only echo that sentiment. I feel Lane has in her favor a fervency, freshness and innocence to her presentation that is unusual, helpfully married to technical aplomb. Maybe in the past this was par for the course for a young dancer, but more seem to be ironic, studied, coy, or simply direct rather than evocative. She dances her roles rather than "selling" them. What do I know? I'm young and jaded myself. I read somewhere a ballerina should possess generosity of spirit, and I have caught glimpses of that from her. Also, it was noted at the time, her performance as a lead in Quanz's Kaleidoscope definitely looked like a preview for Princess Aurora on her birthday.

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Did anyone see the Rasta Thomas cast of Othello? I've only seen him once, guesting with the Lar Lubovich company but I found him to be a very beautiful dancer and a compelling performer. I really appreciate all the posts here - I'm trying to decide who to see in Othello when ABT does it in NY this spring.

I have to admit that I've tried twice now to watch the SFB tape and was overcome by boredom both times. ABT's casting sounds wonderful but I have a feeling that I'm not going to want to sit through 4 performances, no matter how wonderful the casting is.

I am very glad to hear how good the corps looked in Bayadare, I'm looking forward to the full length production this spring as well as hoping for a Lane Aurora....

Susan

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"Solo shades all fine but I agree that Abrea and Kajiya stood out. Not sure what all the fuss over Sarah Lane is, she seems fine and pleasant and young."

I didn't know that there has been a fuss over Sarah Lane, but I have been a big fan of her's since I saw her do the principal part in Theme & Variations in NY a couple of seasons ago. One partnering glitch but an otherwise outstanding and refreshing performance.

A little unfair to pass judgment on any dancer, whether Lane or Part, from one performance or just one solo. Both of these ladies are beautiful and interesting dancers in very different ways... depending on the role given. I'd be happy to see either of them in any lead over most of the female principals/soloists currently at ABT.

Tremendous credit is due the current ABT ballet masters who prepare a corps member for a moment in the spotlight so thoroughly that it makes us believe that the corps member can now achieve anything in the repertory. If a wonderful dancer like Sarah Lane were in another company, she might likely be thrown out on stage in a Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake for hungry balletomanes everywhere to savor. But throwing a dancer a challenge and preparing a dancer for a challenge are two different things, and it appears that ABT does the latter. Sarah has been lovely when singled out for Theme & Variations, Sinatra Suite, and the Elo and Quanz things. None of that suggests she’s matured enough to hold an entire evening of a Petipa classic. But we sure see it in her future, and we’re always anxious to get to the future. I’m not the least bit tired of the current principals or soloists, and cannot wait to once again see Nina A. in Sleeping Beauty.

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...and cannot wait to once again see Nina A. in Sleeping Beauty.

According to her site, it looks like you'll have (y)our wish!

http://www.ananiashvili.com/georgia/nina/N...39;sReturn.html

Nice photo of her with baby ballerina Helene, too!

It is remarkable that she'll return to three such taxing roles at age 44, and after well over two years of not dancing (before the public). Still I'd really rather watch Lane (five years after medalling at Jackson) and Fang (seven years after winning the Prix Lausanne) have chances at the big roles than see any of the Company's regular Principals (Super Guests Annaniashvili, Ferri, Vishneva excepted). How much more experience do they need before retiring or escaping?

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...and cannot wait to once again see Nina A. in Sleeping Beauty.

According to her site, it looks like you'll have (y)our wish!

http://www.ananiashvili.com/georgia/nina/N...39;sReturn.html

Nice photo of her with baby ballerina Helene, too!

It is remarkable that she'll return to three such taxing roles at age 44, and after well over two years of not dancing (before the public). Still I'd really rather watch Lane (five years after medalling at Jackson) and Fang (seven years after winning the Prix Lausanne) have chances at the big roles than see any of the Company's regular Principals (Super Guests Annaniashvili, Ferri, Vishneva excepted). How much more experience do they need before retiring or escaping?

I agree. There seem to be some big talents in the women's corps who are not given opportunities due to the nature of the repertory and hierarchy. I'd love to see more of Fang (Lang had been given more opportunities because of her size but I'd love to see more of her too). There are other talented corps members too.

In NYCB, dancers have always been given opportunites even as corp members. Of course NYCB does more rep and has a history of that kind of casting. ABT depends on full length ballets with name principals.

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