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Stars of the 21st Century -- Toronto

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This year's gala line up is up!

Koffler Centre for the Arts Gala

New York City Ballet

* Ashley Bouder

American Ballet Theater

* Herman Cornejo

Royal Ballet

* David Makhateli

* Sarah Lamb

Bolshoi Ballet

* Artem Shpilevsky

* Svetlana Lunkina

Complexions Contemporary Ballet

* Desmond Richardson

Berlin State Opera Ballet

* Ronald Savkovic (partner will be announced)

The National Ballet of Canada

* Guillaume Cote

* Heather Ogden

The National Ballet of Canada

* Zdenek Konvalina

* Bridget Zehr

Stuttgart Ballet

* Mikhail Kaniskin

* Elena Tentschikova

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I am looking forward to seeing Ashley partnered with Herman Cornejo. They will be dancing Diana and Actaeon and Tarantella. It'll be interesting to compare it to the Bouder/de Luz Tarantella we saw in New York.

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Svetlana Lunkina, whom I love in classical pieces, should stick to them. Both her and Artem Shpilevsky's offerings were contemporary and, although showing off her incredibly beautiful body in its pliancy and shapemaking capablities, did nothing to show what Lunkina can really do given a familiar pas de deux/variation combination with its inherent difficulties of execution. Why, instead of the Pink Floyd nonsense, for example, could they not have offered a classical pas de deux as their Act II presentation?

Sarah Lamb: I was so looking forward to seeing her dance, and she did not disappoint. She gave us who have seen Daniela Severian dance to Edith Piaf singing "Je ne regrette rien" (I've seen Severian dance it 3 times and strongly associate the piece with her) the opportunity to compare and contrast. While Daniela Severian's performances of it are always earthy and, despite the balletic technical perfection, more "modern" in feel, Sarah Lamb made the piece come off as airy and light, with similarly perfect technique. The challenge to the dancer of "Je ne regrette ...." is to make its difficult and demanding choreography seem natural and raw. Both Severian, in the past, and Lamb, yesterday, have risen to the challenge with supremely exquisite results, but when all is said and done, if I were asked which of the two I would like to see dance it next time, my answer would have to be Severian. To me, she owns the piece. For Lamb, it's a great addition to her eclectic repertoire.

I knew ahead of time that Makhateli was injured and would be replaced by Ivan Putrov, and I was very interested to see Putrov dance "Le Bourgeois", having thus far identified the piece with Marcin Krajewski. While Putrov did a creditable job with it, showing off his flawless technique when possible, he needs a few more acting lessons before he can carry it off. Marcin still reigns for me, and I also think that Daniil Simkin performs it better. It's always a showstopper, of course, as it belongs to the group of inevitable crowd-pleasers which includes the likes of "Gopak", and it was lots of fun to watch, despite the fact that Putrov didn't really show us the drunken side of the character at all, managing to come off only as slightly inebriated.

Putrov and Lamb's second stage offering was a wonderful "La Sylphide", arriving in the nick of time to soothe the classical ballet-hungry patrons who had sat through about as many so-called modern pieces as a true ballet lover can take. Here, Sarah Lamb, accompanied by the physical appeal of her yellow-blond hair, danced a lovely sprite, showing us her incredible turnout in the fifth-to-fifth-to fifth position steps on point and in the light runs between jumps. Putrov, as James, was pure and perfect, demonstrating ballet at its best. He brought down the house with his variation.

Desmond Richardson danced to the "Moonlight Sonata" as he did 2½ months ago in New York, and was superb as always. I could watch him do anything at all, even just stand.

Rubinald Pronk (raised in the Netherlands) and Clifford C. Williams (a New York native), also of Richardson's "Complexions", showed us what modern dance really is. They danced an astonishingly compelling duet which was sheer perfection in dance. Both are technically very strong dancers with beautiful lines and phrasing, not unlike Desmond himself. The extra quality that both bring to their dancing is that inner knowledge that only the born-to-dance dancer has, that intense drive and connection to movement that cannot be taught -- it has to BE there from the start.

The only other dancers I feel compelled to write about are Ashley Bouder and Herman Cornejo, who, bless their hearts, brought us unparalled ballet dancing of the highest order. Ashley Bouder even effected change in the history of the Stars of the 21st Century. For the first time in years and years, it was not Lucia Lacarra's exquiste pose as Odette that graced the cover of the evening's thick ballet program -- it was, instead, Ashley Bouder's exuberant jump which refreshingly suprised us as the chosen cover picture. Way to go, Ashley, for breaking the languid ballet stereotype and bringing us a breath of fresh air!

Having seen Bouder/deLuz bound through Tarantella in New York in February, I was very much looking forward to Bouder/Cornejo do the same. Herman Cornejo, with his bouncy swatch of curly hair topping off his movements, rendered a Villella-like Tarantella to quicken the heartbeat of every audience member who was primed for an evening of stellar ballet. As the opening number, "Tarantella" perfectly set the mood as it had us sitting on the edge of our seats from the getgo. (Too bad we had to settle back again during the next number, the first of many slow, modern, "position-to-pretty-position" pieces.)

With Bouder's flirtatious audacity ruling Balanchine's choreography and Cornejo's boyish persona belying the perfection that is his command of all things ballet, the two romped through Gottshalk's uplifting Italian-flavored folk dance with abandon and total control. Tarantella is in good, no, great, hands, with these two, and Mr. B. should be very proud of them.

When it came to Act II and yet more contemporary stuff thrown to us masses, Bouder and Cornejo again rescued the evening with a "Diana and Actaeon", which, I daresay, has seldom been seen by balletomanes used to the Russian straight-arrow penchées and sharp poses struck by gymnastic ballet dancers bent more on showcasing their own flexibility than pleasing the patrons with any insight to the role. I bow down to you, Ashley (no pun intended, as she did indeed dance without the prop!), for giving us a different spin on things. You made the piece NEW and I love you for it. Technically perfect, that goes without saying -- you dance above technique because you OWN it -- you brought subtle nuances to it, simultaneously eschewing the slavishly held to and revered acrobatics displayed by all others I have seen perform this chestnut, and advanced the piece to a new level. What will stick in my mind forever is your beautiful penché with your raised leg positioned at the "2" of a clockface. Thank you for that.

Herman Cornejo, barechested with massive rib structure showing, gave us the pyrotechnics associated with the male variation and the crowd roared in response. He also matched Ashley, nuance for nuance, giving us a wonderful new version of a classical winner, both showing us that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

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Thank you for such a lovely review!! You always are able to say what I WISH I were able to articulate!

I too enjoyed the show very much last night. I did like the NBOC offerings, but wished that a piece other than the R and J balcony scene had been chosen for Cote/Nan Yu. It was wonderfully done, don't get me wrong, but he has been touring that one quite a bit lately.

I also liked the piece danced by Zehr/Konvalina, but agree that by the end of the evening I was wishing there had been more classical pieces.

I heard an audience member comment on the costumes - many were VERY simple, if not plain. I didn't mind this really, but found it interesting on the weekend of the YAGP finals that so many younger dancers must be paying quite a bit of money for costumes, while the professionals took a more minimalist approach.

Finally, about Desmond Richardson. Sigh. I agree with you compltely, Marga - as did a number of the young women sitting down the row from me. They were MOST vocal in their appreciation, which started the moment he stepped onto the stage. :thumbsup:


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I bow to Marga's wonderful technical descriptions of the dancers last night,.

I can only say that as an audience member I was greatly disappointed in the offerings of the evening. I think of galas as a venue for bravura dancing, and that was mostly missing until the final dance of the evening, Diana and Acteon, which finally woke the audience up. I was very disappoined that the couple from the Bolshoi did not choose to favour us with any classical dances. I miss the years gone by when the likes of Ethan Steiffel and Lucia Lacarra set the theatre on fire. I hope that Toronto will not become an also ran venue for this round of galas, but we will once again host the big stars.

I would like to mention how much I enjoyed Bridgette Zehr and Zdenek Konvalina in " A Simple Moment." To me, this was the highlight of the evening.

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Millie - you are so right! Where is a good Don Q pdd when you need one??

I forgot to mention that I did find it hard to follow the program - ok, partly this was because the program changed a LOT from the printed one - and would really have appreciated a little printed insert with the changes. By the time I got home I could no longer recall the name of the Royal dancer who was the substitution (thank you to Marga for this), and it was only thanks to some rudimentary knowledge (and luck) that I knew pieces were changed. I imagine changes are not unusual for a gala, so perhaps next year this could be a consideration?


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