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ABT in Chicago

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I attended yesterday's matinee performance with David Hallberg, Michelle Wiles and Veronika "divided opinions" Part.

Yesterday was a good day to be indoors at the Opera House as a typhoon more or less engulfed Chicago all day long. The Opera House was very full, especially for a Thursday afternoon show.

Given all the negative comments I've read about this production, I didn't know what to expect. Honestly, I think you could kill someone and receive less unfavorable comment than this production has received. (Yes, I'm being facetious . . . but not by much.)

Anyway, what follows is a by-no-means-comprehensive act-by-act summary of what I liked and didn't like:


The people who said the costumes were ugly sure weren't kidding -- many of the costumes were seriously hideous!

The worst one had to be the costume Isaac Stappas wore as Catalabutte -- a very unflattering kilt-skirt and a ridiculous wig. The costumes for the six knights were almost as bad -- unattractive to the eye and with the added offense of making the guys look heavy (which they're not.) The blue robes for the King and Queen were garish (and cheap-looking, to boot.) And on and on and on . . .

I'm harping on the costumes for two reasons. First, it boggles the mind that ABT could have spent the kind of money they must have spent on these costumes and received such cheap-looking things in return. Second (and more importantly), the costumes were so distracting and so unpleasant that they took me completely out of the stage action for the entire prologue (and this despite valiant efforts by Martine Van Hamel as Carabosse and, to a lesser extent, Veronika Part as the Lilac Fairy to get things going.)

Not much else to add besides reporting that the Prologue set was too big for the Opera House stage. Given the sheer number of people on stage during the Prologue, this led to some serious overcrowding and, consequently, a muddied pictoral.

Act I

I started to warm up to this production in Act I. Either the costumes got better or my eyes adjusted to them -- take your pick.

Michelle Wiles got through the balances well-enough but, boy, you could sure see the strain in her face and in her upper body. I would compare her nailing of the balances to a boxing match. She won on points . . . but no more. (She lightened up considerably after that and was quite at ease for the rest of the performance.)

Loved the four princes, especially Alex Hammoudi as the Spanish Prince. I was very intrigued by the impression he and Wiles made together (with their contrasting good looks -- his dark and hers light) and would definitely go to see a pairing of these two if it were to occur in the future. (Didn't they dance together in The Leaves Are Fading at City Center?)

And it was nice to see Sean Stewart on stage again.

Act II

On came David Hallberg and my mind sure snapped to attention!

He is perfectly proportioned and is the very image of the courtly prince. Even more intriguing is how he manages to keep gravity at bay. For such a tall man, he jumps and turns with almost casual indifference to the effects gravity has on mere mortals like the rest of us.

I also quite liked -- surprise -- the ABT corps. They take no end of grief for their supposed lack of unison but I have to say they were marvelous yesterday. So united and moving as one. Beautiful.


By this point, I was much more engaged with the production and I thought it ended more-or-less on a high note.

Still, I had some reservations. Although Hallberg and Wiles danced well individually and together, I do not think they are a match made in heaven. I didn't think so four years ago when I saw them in Swan Lake and I'm even more convinced of it now. I find that they cancel each other out to some extent -- the same blonde hair and the same pale skin leads to them blurring together so that the effect is one of "1 + 1 = 1.5". Truthfully, I would much rather see Wiles paired with someone like Alex Hammoudi and see where that union of contrasts could lead. (I especially thought so when Hammoudi and Hallberg were both in close proximity to her -- I found my eye drifting toward Wiles/Hammoudi rather than to Wiles/Hallberg.)

Blaine Hoven was the Bluebird and Maria Riccetto was Princess Florine. He has the plushest landings -- so beautiful to watch. Riccetto has not changed from when I saw her in Le Corsaire two years ago. She is academically sound but unmemorable.

Overall Thoughts

Is this production a disaster? No. Is it anything more than a workmanlike production designed to put rear ends in seats? No.

All that being said, I had a reasonably good time yesterday. If nothing else, it was a good opportunity to see how my favorites were doing and, to that extent, it was a successful afternoon at the theater.

Any concerns I had about this production were dwarfed by another concern -- ABT's repertory sure has grown conservative to the point of reaction. Since 2004, they have brought (in succession) Swan Lake, Giselle, Le Corsaire, Romeo and Juliet and Sleeping Beauty. This kind of programming works like a charm -- very full theaters -- but it sure doesn't say much for the future health of the art form if the result is a two-legged stool comprised of the 19th century classics as one leg of the stool and the Balanchine repertory as the other leg. I don't think I want to live in that world . . .

On that depressing note -- goodbye for now! :wink:

P.S. On the matter of Miss Part, I prefer to remain a non-aligned nation . . .

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I saw the thursday evening performance with Sarah Lane, Herman Cornejo, and Maria Ricceto. The theater was packed and there seemed to be a greater than usual number of children.

Sarah Lane looked happy to be there, often smiling, and dancing beautifully. The Rosa Adagio was graceful. There was some wobbling in the vision scene. Cornejo was impressive. Ricceto was an unmemorable Lilac fairy. Gelsey Kirkland failed to show, so Maria Bystrova was suitably menacing as Carabosse,

At the wedding celebration the fairy tale characters put in a brief appearance. They hardly danced, which was ok by me.

Overall I liked the costumes. Usually dancers are clad in pale yellow, pale blue, pale white... Here the brighter colors were striking. The corp costumes matched either Lilac or Aurora. Carabosse's minions looked like headless insects.

The sets were sets. I didn't see what all the fuss was about.


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I attended the Sunday matinee (Paloma Herrera, Angel Corella, and Veronika Part). This was my first Beauty ever, so I went in with an entirely empty slate.

About the costumes: I rather liked them at first, until we got to Acts II and III and they all began to look too gaudy, not to mention unrelentingly identical. I thought Caraboss' insects were pretty cool! Nothing headless about them, though; the headpieces were like giant eyes.

My major complaint is that until Corella arrived on the scene, most of the dancers looked as though they wished they weren't wasting a perfectly good Sunday afternoon at work. Is the christening traditionally a sober, understated scene? I imagined it would be joyous and celebratory. (There WAS the Fairy of Joy, but I found the choreography frenetic and annoying.) Part was the Fairy of the Sour Demeanor -- oops, I mean the Lilac Fairy -- who seemed to bestow on Aurora the gift of Everlasting Resignation.

Herrera just didn't meet my expectations for Aurora. Girlish? Winsome? Beautiful? No, no, and no. I thought she seemed particularly heavy and earthbound in playing the part of someone who is supposed to be sublime. And I didn't care for her costume either; the gauzy sleeves really bothered me.

Corella was a sweetheart, not to mention his usual technical whiz. He was the only dancer all afternoon who connected with the audience. Part and Herrera threw out little choreographed glances every now and again -- 'Did you see me balance? Look, I did it again!' -- but Corella came out and immediately had us all in his back pocket.

The single best dancing moment for my money was a set of pirouettes that must have been done by Corella, but maybe it was Jared Matthews as Bluebird? (Those of you who know the choreography can set me straight; it seems odd that I don't remember, but there you go.) He just kept turning, perfectly balanced, until he .... stopped. Still balanced. No 'finish' in the traditional sense. It was beautiful.

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I was there Saturday night (Dvorovenko and Beloserkovsky) and Sunday (Herrera and Corella). Was also at Wednesday afternoon's dress rehearsal, where we were teased with glimpses of Lane/Cornejo and Kent/Gomes. So I was fortunate in seeing a generous sampling of ABT pairings.

Even though they were rehearsing (and so not "going all out"), Kent/Gomes were the most exciting in the pas de deux. They looked simply great together.

This was my first time seeing Irina and Maxim, and I thought they were charming and ideal for their roles. She was lovely in the Rose Adagio, with a bit of flirtation tossed in to make it not just a solid performance but an interesting narrative too. I liked her attention to dramatic detail in her dance with "the dreaded spindle" too. Shades of Giselle.

The pairing of Corella and Herrera was less than ideal. I agree with all that Treefrog said in that department. Corella brings such excitement and charisma; he never disappoints.

The single best dancing moment for my money was a set of pirouettes that must have been done by Corella, but maybe it was Jared Matthews as Bluebird?

My hunch is that Treefrog must be talking about Jared Matthews' final series of turns as Bluebird. That was perfection. Sascha Radetsky was more impressive with his leaps and flexibility, but his turns weren't as clean. Anyway, they're both exciting soloists.

Part did the Lilac Fairy both performances -- I believe she was filling in for Stella Abrera Saturday PM. I was sorry to have missed Abrera.

The sets and costumes were a big distraction (headache?) for me. Gaudy, garish, heavy, crowded. Too much frosting on this cake. And it pained me to see some of the world's greatest dancers riding that silly animal-hybrid sail contraption. I was hoping a fairy would whisk them away to a Land of Tasteful Sets so I could simply enjoy the dancing.

(Some of the costumes I actually did like -- those for the four princes who came to court -- I've read were replacements, the originals being garish as well).

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