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ABT in Ottawa February 26th - 28th, 2009

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Thursday, February 26th and Saturday, February 28th, 8 PM

For both these performances I was seated too far away to see facial expressions very well. I did, however, rent binoculars for Saturday evening’s performance to which I scored a last minute ticket up in the amphitheatre, and used them frequently. So, I’m cobbling together the two performances by the same dancers in the roles of Giselle, Count Albrecht, Hilarion, Wilfred and Berthe (with different Bathildes, different Myrtas), with the same conductor, Ormsby Wilkins.

Having seen the first two performances and with a ticket for only one more, I was aching to see Veronika Part, but was willing to forgo the experience until I spoke to Isabella Boylston after Friday evening’s performance. She told me she was dancing the Peasant pas de deux Saturday evening, so that clinched it. I was going to land a ticket if I had to rent a wheelchair and obtain wheelchair seating in order the see the show! Fortunately, Saturday morning there were still a few seats left (by evening the theatre was completely sold out) and I bought a 3rd row seat in the middle of what is essentially the second tier of the theatre (there are 3 tiers above the orchestra). I was happy I did, for Saturday night’s presentation had so many wonderful moments, the best being Isabella’s sparkling debut in the peasant PDD.

Xiomara Reyes is eternally youthful and the spring in her jump is amazing. She won our hearts immediately as she vaulted onto the stage and performed her introductory circle of ballonées. I am not alone in saying that, when given a choice of which dancer to see in a role, Xiomara is not my first, or even my second or third choice. Therefore, it is a pleasant surprise to enjoy her interpretation of a major role when I am watching her. Conditioned to think she will display every emotion with a wide grin, it is refreshing to see that she does indeed have a more extensive vocabulary of expression.

While her dévelopés a la seconde do not stun with ear-scratching reach like those of, say, Svetlana Zakharova (whose Giselle I never want to see), or Maria Riccetto’s, even, I honor their purity. (I’m quite sure today’s rising young ballet stars who crave the athleticism of their current ballet idols would give Xiomara a big thumbs-down.)

Partnered with the reliable Jose Carreno, Reyes confidently carried out all of Giselle’s choreography and pathos as if she’s been doing it forever.….oh, wait.

Still, there were standout moments.

Memorable Reyes moment: Giselle’s famous Act II penché was elegantly developed in a molasses-slow rise of the cantilevered outer leg supported by the slow descent of a well-held upper body. Xiomara was so solid nothing could throw her off this tricky balance. It was one of the gems of her portrayal.

Especially nice to see was the opening Giselle/Loys dance culminating in high, forward-moving jetés, back legs in attitude, done perfectly in unison with lovely abandon. In fact, together the two are a well-suited pair, in height, ethnicity (it does count – ballet is, after all, visual art), perhaps in training? They move as one and relate naturally. It is so easy to picture them as a couple and quite impossible to believe the same of Carreno with either of his Bathildes: Luciana Paris (with whom he dances a sensual Sinatra Suite -- but that's another ballet) or Kristi Boone.

Jose Carreno, he of swash-buckling virility and balletic classicism, was an endearing Count and an actor of experience, who, nevertheless, has a more modest arsenal of communicative gestures and facial expressions than befits the role. He goes through the emotive paces – petal-discarding to assuage Giselle after her ominous plucking, hand to hip to draw the sword that isn’t there (although he provided the nice touch of lingering there, perhaps to cover for his mistake or to press his flesh in rebuke for slipping), forearm-to-forearm grip with the Prince of Courland to acknowledge their relationship – but somehow isn’t all that he could be. He is also showing his age in demanding jumps, landing with a thump followed by a laden leg-lift into plié arabesque rather than displaying the easy elevation of his younger co-Counts who rebound with a light, straight upward throw of the arabesque leg.

I still love watching him. He is an irresistible lover of the sweet and safe variety. Of the three Counts who placed their fingers under Giselle’s chin to tilt it upward, his was the touch I wanted to feel myself. His expression so tender as he gazed into Giselle’s eyes while lifting her head, the look of love in his eyes so affectionate, would make any woman melt. Here’s an instance where his minimalism had intense impact.

Reyes portrayed Giselle securely -- delicately when called for, insanely with fitting intensity in the mad scene, with steely determination fighting for her Count’s life in Act II -- and, being the ballerina she is, this is enough for the average audience. But when you watch ballet all the time, in person and on video, and are privileged to see dazzling moments amongst the regular ones, you kind of want to be surprised at each performance with something that's special from the principal dancers. Often, those moments come from a soloist or a corps de ballet member given a lead role, even a small one. But it’s normal to expect to see the top of the heap dancers do something unforgettable. It didn’t occur with either of the Reyes/Carreno attempts. I don’t want to sell them short, for they are formidable principals both, but this is American Ballet Theater.

A triple-A rating for Carlos Lopez, Count Carreno’s Wilfred: Attentive, attractive, accomplished .

More about Lopez when I discuss his peasant pas de deux. :ermm:

A few words about Susan Jones’s Berthe: wonderful, skillful miming.

ABT ballet master Jones, diminutive and quite round in Berthe’s bulky costume, was in supreme command of her stage business and a no-nonsense mother to Giselle. Plaudits to her for the watchful heed of her daughter, her village-mother hen manner of keeping Giselle’s friends in check, and her emphatic shooing away of the peccant Count from Giselle’s body.

Gennadi Saveliev, another dancer whom I don’t elect to see when there are other choices (I don’t know why – perhaps it’s just my thirst for someone newer), danced and acted Hilarion to perfection. Here’s a country boy who’s all guts and no glory. His is a love so deep that he was probably relieved to be danced to death in hopes it would reunite him with his beloved Giselle.

Memorable Gennadi moments:

1. Act I: As he rushes to the expired Giselle’s side after the Count has been ousted from it, he not only kneels, removing his cap and pressing it to his chest (as all our Hilarions do), but he grabs Giselle’s leg and holds onto it tightly as his final and very poignant physical contact with the true love he has lost.

2. Act II: His Hilarion tying the cross together methodically and with great care demonstrates that this young man knows his way around knots and constructing things from branches. With each overlay and tightening of the rope, his anguish is palpable. He drives the cross into the soil of Giselle’s grave with finality, stepping back to check its security, and feeling the gravity of the moment.

3. Sensing the Wilis imminent invasion of the clearing, his spinning chainés are more a plaintive act of “take me” rather than the result of an unstoppable force against which he tries to fight.

Luciana Paris’s Bathilde (Thursday evening) was exceedingly striking in appearance and her stride across stage was like a swan skimming the surface of a lake. She performed her role very, very well, and decided to use rage as the manifestation of her anger. It made for great contrast. Carreno’s Count was not one to exhibit fiery temper. Bathilde would have been the matriarch in their union.

Kristi Boone’s Bathilde (Saturday evening) was regal and divine. She was every inch the noblewoman, but a benevolent one, who unclasped her gold necklace from her own neck (after consultation with her father) and fondly reclasped it around Giselle’s. Albrecht, when caught in his lie, acquiesced to her admonitions, but did not really seem to belong with her.

All Myrtas, Moynas, Zulmas, and Peasant pas de deux will be discussed in posts dedicated only to them.

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Thank you all for spurring me on. It's satisfying to know my thoughts and observations are appreciated and awaited. I enjoyed these performances so very much and have had Giselle music running in my head ever since I left Ottawa -- and I don't want to make it stop. :ermm: It helps me recall what I saw and I have always liked it. Funnily, yesterday, the radio (which I have on all day set to the classical station) suddenly played the music which accompanies the hunting party as they descend upon Giselle's garden. It surprised me, as if I was caught with my hand in the cookie jar ("they know what's going on in my head!").

Thanks, sz, for the correction. I amended the post.

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Marga your reviews have been remarkable :) You have such a knack for bringing vision to words. It is so very disappointing ABT will not be in Miami this weekend. Thank you so much for helping "our pages" to dance again. :ermm:

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Saturday, February 28th, 2 pm (matinée) continued:

Jared Matthews is another of my favorite dancers. I have known him since he was 16 years old and was invited to dance Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake with my children's ballet school. Less than 2 years later he was back to perform Hilarion with the school’s company, Canadian Ballet Theatre. He spoke to me then of learning the part from Victor Barbee as well as Ethan Brown, and he was very excited to perform it, having been inspired by Barbee's coaching. His rival Count Albrecht in that production was the National Ballet of Cuba's Oscar Torrado, his Giselle, Laura Hormigon (also National Ballet of Cuba).

Last Saturday was his debut as Hilarion for American Ballet Theater, and he has changed some in the 6 year interim, but still comes through as the nicest Hilarion I’ve seen. The role was performed with everything done just right, but, alas, there were no memorable moments. Jared proved his mettle as a soloist, but where was the moxie of the character?

An inconsequential prop malfunction was dealt with without missing a beat. At the point when Hilarion emerges from the hunter’s hut with Albrecht’s sword and horn, his stage business is to sling the horn (it’s on a cord) around his body so he can partially withdraw the sword from its sheath and reinsert it, showing the audience definitively what he has discovered. But the horn’s strap refused to drape over Matthew’s shoulder and head and he had to display the sword while still holding the horn. For a Hilarion debut that you want to go just right, this tiny difficulty, unnoticeable by 99% of the audience (or more – the theater seated 2500) can throw the dancer off his game a smidge. I’m hoping Jared just thought “Oh jeez!” and didn’t let it trouble him for even a second.

Jared has occasionally gotten a lukewarm reception in the press (and on BT) since becoming soloist. He is a detail-oriented, hard-working dancer with strong technique and a personable onstage presence. Very good-looking to boot, and with excellent ballet physique, Jared's jumps are lofty, his arabesques eye-catching, his turns high, fast and straight. But even I have to say that he’s still working on developing pizazz. I’d like to see a bit of seasoning – and I don’t mean further brewing in the ABT cauldron. I’m talking about spice! Jared needs us to sit up and take notice of his many talents.

Admittedly, living in Canada, I don’t get to New York often enough to see everything ABT presents. I missed Jared (and everyone) in “Brief Fling”, for example, and I haven’t seen his Espada (Don Q) or Head Wrangler (Rodeo). I wish I could remember more of his Hilarion. I recall funny things, like the way those knee-high boots made all the Hilarions plod in an inelegant, almost lumbering way when they first walked across the stage. (Check out “The Village Idiot”’s blog – link in an early post of mine in this thread – for a hilarious account of boot agony by a Giselle super.) I feel I owe Jared more of a review. Or does he owe us more to review? (Sorry, sweetie, I do love you.)

Maria Bystrova was Bathilde to David Hallberg’s Count Albrecht and Maria Riccetto’s Giselle, and an imposing Bathilde she was. Her presence filled the stage, extending far beyond her regal garments. Her Russian training was substantiated by grand, sweeping gestures, a high tilt of her head, the coordination of her shoulders to all her movements (épaulement), even the iconic Vaganova style in which she held her fingers. The mime sequences were thus formulaic, but just what the doctor ordered for the way in which she portrayed the character. ABT has a valuable treasure of a character actress in her.

Unfortunately, she seems destined to stay primarily a character dancer. She is still given soloist and corps roles to dance, but not often enough. Bystrova is very tall – around 5’10” ?– limiting her pas de deux opportunities, a sorry situation since classical ballet is her forté and she’s so pure in line and execution. I am eager to see her whenever possible in contemporary works where height doesn’t matter. I missed her forays last year – one can only afford so many tickets – but perhaps next season I’ll get to see her in more than the last line of a Petipa corps. I remember how amazing she was as a 15 year old at the Kirov Academy of Ballet, showing the potential for a corps-to-soloist-to-principal trajectory, and feel sad that she’s been in the corps for so long with others leap-frogging over her.

Her Bathilde had an attitude of nose-in-the-air, high-born snobbery that made Count Albrecht look all the more like a privileged young man, barely out of his teens, who had not yet learned to be supercilious. He seemed light years away from attaining her level of haughtiness. All decked out and heavily made up, Bystrova looked about 40 years old (in reality, she and Hallberg are the same age), a veritable Mrs. Robinson to Hallberg’s boyish Count.

She treated Giselle (Maria Riccetto) more like a capricious young girl than someone she could bond with, fiancée-to-fiancée. Instead of purposefully undoing her necklace and kindly reclasping it around Giselle’s neck (as did the other Bathildes), Bystrova’s Bathilde sorted through her many necklaces (to find perhaps her least favorite?) and practically flung the chain over Giselle’s head.

When the revelation and ensuing mad scene occurred, Bathilde looked on as if she weren’t really a part of any of that nasty business, and with a rustle of her petticoats, turned heel, and -- head held high -- rushed away from it all, entourage in tow.

edited to correct misinformation about who danced Albrecht and Giselle to Jared Matthew's first Hilarion. I got my Canadian Ballet Theatre Giselle productions mixed up!

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The Myrtas

Gillian Murphy (February 26th, 2009, 8 pm. Thursday evening)

(Moyna: Melanie Hamrick; Zulma: Kristi Boone)

Simone Messmer (February 27th, 2009, 8 pm Friday evening)

(Moyna: Melanie Hamrick; Zulma: Leann Underwood)

Michelle Wiles (February 28th, 2009, 2 pm Saturday matinée)

(Moyna: Isabella Boylston; Zulma: Zhong-Jing Fang)

Veronika Part (February 28th, 2009, 8 pm Saturday evening)

(Moyna: Simone Messmer; Zulma: Yuriko Kajiya)

Gillian Murphy

With menacing music to set the mood, the curtain opens on a clearing in the middle of a forest. There is a lake in the distance. Huge, dark trees surround the glade. It is close to midnight and an indigo aura is suspended over the woodland. A disturbing mist rises from the hallowed ground. Hilarion is down on one knee fashioning a cross for Giselle’s grave. All of a sudden, a gossamer apparition scurries across the far side of the clearing. Massive strobe light flashes illume the atmosphere. Another wraith, and then another, flutters across the space. Hilarion, after planting the finished cross, runs into the woods. Out of the blue haze, a veiled phantasm bourrées diagonally across the clearing with a fleet-footed swiftness that can only be compared to the blur of a hummingbird’s wings.

Who IS that masked Wili?!!?

Gillian Murphy reenters after doffing her veil, to begin Myrta’s arabesques in promenade to penché, one sequence on each leg. Then, she starts her ritual of claiming the glade for the night. Murphy’s assured arabesque hops, her mime calling for the Wilis to rise from their graves, her grands jetés, entrechats, entrelacés, step piqué turns, were well, if perfunctorily, performed, with authority and a straightforward approach. The only thing that tainted her incredible initial effect was the clunky sound of her pointe shoes in the slow bourrées which followed the opening diagonal. I couldn’t believe it was the same dancer who had soundlessly sped over the same ground just seconds before. (In fact, I had to ask a dancer backstage the next evening if it had, indeed, been Gillian. Doesn’t she wear Gaynor Mindens?)

Part of the noise factor was due to my seat being in the first row, just an orchestra pit away from the stage, and the softness of the music. When the Wilis came onstage and began their dance, the clatter of their feet also belied their diaphanous appearance.

Gillian Murphy’s Myrta qualities can be described as somewhat remote, insular, and arctic cold. Although the character might warrant such a portrayal, Murphy did not leave me with the impression that here was an outstanding Myrta. (I had to wait until Veronika Part’s Myrta to feel that way.) Murphy's jetés in attitude, croisé each side, seemed a little jerky to me but they had great height and maybe that's why -- perhaps the atmospheric winds up there pushed her around. :off topic:

Melanie Hamrick’s Moyna was beautifully danced, with lilting sautés and delicate, expressive arms. Her piqué to arabesque was sharp and precise every time. Kristi Boone, with her longer limbs, provided an expansive contrast. Lovely, floating arms and sustained hold on her renversés, those attitude turns where you leave your head behind, bending it towards the audience as you turn.

The corps de ballet was, for the most part, a cohesive unit. However, in the Wilis’ famed crossing (as well as in the Act I village girls’ always exciting long rotating line, the Count at one end, Giselle at the other) there was one head toward the back of the pack bobbing out of sync with the others, always a fraction of a second behind.

When it came time to dance the men to death, Murphy’s Myrta hardened even more, carrying her stiffness into her back. She proved an immovable force, but was not all that interesting to watch, much is the pity. Her major dancing work is done and she must now wow us with her acting. There wasn’t anything distinctive in it, no unique touch.

So, I only have one memorable Myrta moment to share with you, the Act I opening bourrées. They were so spectacular that I expected something to match them in Act II.

I have an orchestra moment, though. Two of them, in fact, both occurring in the same performance, the first one, on Thursday.

1) As the first violinist guides his bow to draw out the plaintive strains which accompany Count Albrecht’s steps toward the grave, his very first tone is off and he has to slide up to the correct note. The result is truly a mournful cry!

2) Later on, and I no longer remember where in the ballet, a brass instrument blatantly honks out a sour note. Poor guy, but so funny!

Next to come: Simone Messmer

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The Myrtas continued

Simone Messmer

With nicely turned-out bourrées, much, much slower than Gillian Murphy’s (the new hallmark), Simone made her entrance in her debut as Myrta. Her reverential bend to the ground (while quite beautiful) was softer than the other Myrtas’ had been, and lingered a fraction longer. The arabesques in promenade were secure, the steps following accomplished, but Messmer did not stage enough of a foreboding environment.

Her severity increased as Act II continued, and by the time Hilarion (Isaac Stappas) was brought before her, she was a match for his Act I arrogance. He was dispensed with and Count Albrecht (Marcelo Gomes) brought in without delay. The Count’s complex personality was more of a test for Myrta, who adopted a determined stance in order to deal with him. Messmer commanded, Gomes complied, but with a flair, even in his despair, that took all attention off the Queen of the Wilis.

Melanie Hamrick as Moyna turned in another lovely performance and the debut of picked-from-the-corps Leann Underwood as Zulma was well-noted. It’s nice to see young talent given such opportunities so early in their ABT careers, but I think I would prefer to see a corps member who’s been giving her all for years get such a break. Underwood did do a beautiful job – she’s a beautiful dancer – and it was nice to get a better look at her, nonetheless.

Michele Wiles

Michele Wiles is an enigma to me. I’ve seen her do spectacular things since she was in her early 20’s. She is superbly trained and her career soared in an enviable flight path, the perfect dream of young ballerina hopefuls everywhere. Yet, in certain ballets, she just leaves me wondering why I was not more impressed with her prodigious talents. As Myrta, she has no opportunity to hold endless balances, turn phenomenal pirouettes, or even to move fast. In fact, her chance to really move during her opening bourrées was not optimally used, and her feet were relatively slow. (Of course, by the time I saw her Myrta, I was measuring opening bourrées against the incomparable Gillian Murphy’s.)

Even her pointe shoes didn’t seem to be right for her beautifully shaped feet (I know her feet and these shoes made them look like someone else’s), and their trademark color pink was too jarring for this white act. I also wanted to see more turnout in her bourrées, more heel-to-heel action.

Taken by itself, Wiles’s performance was outstanding. Her strength of technique, flying jetés, rocket-straight jumps, and effortless turns carry her through the role, but hers is a frigid Myrta who seems to be off in her own world as she goes through the motions her character makes, movements that must be second nature to her by now. I wish I had more illuminating things to say about her performance. I spoke of her moving fingers in the Myrta roundtable, and that was a curious thing. It occurred as she stood to the side with Moyna and Zulma, and because of my end of the front-row seat on the same side, I could see her almost vibrating fingers close up. It seemed involuntary, but one could read plot-led motivation into it, if one wanted to conjecture. At least, it made for an interesting thing to watch.

Isabella Boylston danced Moyna with such polish and richness of movement she reminded me of a chilled Bavarian cream – cold, smooth, and refreshing. Cold as a Wili should be, but with a creamy smooth delivery of dévelopés and arabesques, and a refreshing new dimension to Moyna that I had not seen before. Isabella gives Moyna’s choreography a nudge as she holds a balance longer, step piques more sharply into a high arabesque and lets her leg continue to rise, flies high and covers space voraciously in her glissades assemblés, fairly spins in arabesque, and piqué-turns down a diagonal with high-passéd rapidity. Zhong-Jing Fang’s Zulma was an attractive cohort with beautiful renversés, but I have to admit I was distracted by revisiting Isabella’s performance in my mind while I was watching Fang.

Veronika Part

Be still my heart! We’re not supposed to fall in love with Myrta! How can we not, however, when she is one of the most beautiful creatures that ever walked the earth? She is the coldest Queen of the Wilis of the four Ottawa Myrtas – imagine, even the city presented a proper setting of chilling, shivering temperatures -- but you warm up to her immediately. Does that make any sense? She was Marcelo’s match for charisma, sheer gorgeousness, inducing you to watch her every move. Her prey – Hilarion Gennadi Saveliev and Count Jose Manuel Carreno. They didn’t have a chance in her hell. Xiomara Reyes should have been putty in her hands, but proved to be a capable redeemer for her Count, love winning over torment.

Veronika Part (who is Estonian on her father’s side, thereby sharing a nationality with me, making me doubly proud) is an open dancer with a meticulous Kirov technique. Years in the States, and dare I say, years as a soloist, have enhanced her performance skills by stretching her abilities in all directions. She has been ably challenged with modern choreography, in which she excels, as well as classical warhorses which have given her some battle scars but which have also brought to the fore her strengths and many virtues. She’ll be cast as the star in one ballet and demoted to co-soloist the next. By the time she’s made principal (Kevin, do you hear us?) she will have earned her rank through blood, sweat, and tears. She talked about leaving ABT last year. I surely hope she has incentive to stay beyond this season’s contract.

Everything Myrta is choreographed to dance, Part takes to a new level. Her jetés are long, gliding, space-eating leaps, carried by the wind like paper airplanes. Her développé à la seconde is lifted with the steadiness of a hand-held helium balloon slowly allowed to rise by releasing its string in increments with utmost care against the pull of the earth. Her downstage jetés in attitude come right at you as they reassert her ownership of the space.

Part successfully tempers her frostiness with velvety arms and épaulement. Lovely things happen in her upper body that do not detract from her pitiless posture nor mitigate her intensity. Part brings passion to Myrta in the form of cold obsession. Not everyone could pull this off and still appear menacing. It’s part superb training, part the voluptuousness of her curvy body, part Part.

This Wili’s rebuke to the pleading Giselle is to haul her Count over the coals. Were it not for the mystical strength of love equal to Myrta’s own supernatural power and the chiming of the four o’clock bells, Count Albrecht would have been doomed at her hands.

All that’s left to say is Brava!

Simone Messmer’s Moyna showed that she was still wearing the previous evening’s mantle of Myrta, and she carried off the sequences of steps in her variation with a vivid frostiness. Yuriko Kajiya danced an engaging Zulma, being so physically suited to the part. With an introductory développé exhibiting her lovely line, a floating renversé in her variation, she looked lovely.

Coming up: Peasant Pas de Deux

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Today's Sunday Ottawa Citizen newspaper has a summary of Culture Editor Peter Simpson's experiences as a supernumerary during ABT's Ottawa Giselle run, including some descriptive material about the other supers:

"Extras! Extras! Read all about 'em!"

The act is to end when Giselle dies, and as we approach that point, it's not clear to me if she's died already. She goes down once, then she's back up. Then she's down again, and then back up. It's like the end of a James Brown concert. I expect her to leap up and shout, "I feel good!" But she gets back up and dances, rather well for a dead woman, as I look around at the other supers and wonder who they are.
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Peasant Pas de Deux

This virtuoso inclusion in the middle of Act I requires virtuoso performances of the dancers doing it, otherwise they’re just in danger of embarrassing themselves. ABT chose four different sets of able performers, none of them embarrassing, but a few much more able than their counterparts. Two of them shone like brilliant stars.

Order of male peasants as I would like to see them dance this PDD again:

Daniil Simkin

Craig Salstein

Blaine Hoven

Carlos Lopez

Order of female peasants as I would like to see them dance this PDD again:

Isabella Boylston

Yuriko Kajiya

Sarah Lane

Misty Copeland

Thursday evening, Feb. 26th, 2009

Sarah Lane and Daniil Simkin

Daniil’s high-flying cabrioles, juicy renversé, dazzling double tours en l’air, suspended-in-air croisé jetés in attitude, brilliant beats, bravura finishes, combine to create a peasant pas de deux with variations that becomes a new benchmark for male dancers. Not since Herman Cornejo has there been such radiance in the male part of this PDD at ABT.

An almost flawless frolic, the only poor marks in his partnership with Sarah Lane go to the supported pirouettes in which the first couple of times Sarah's rotations were turned by Daniil off center, looking like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. One seldom knows while watching whether this is the fault of the ballerina, her partner, or a little of both. It happens quite a lot, even with world-class dancers, that it only goes to show how difficult partnering is – but, of course, dancers try to avoid it. Being askew is not an attribute in ballet unless it's mandated in the choreography. :wink:

Sarah Lane performed vivaciously, like a glittering little gemstone within an ideal setting. Her turns, extensions, jumps and balances were noteworthy. I’m afraid, though, that her pairing with Daniil Simkin is relegating her to a sort of second place in any pas de deux they do together. He is so unpretentiously flashy, and the audience is still so interested in every move he makes, that, untraditionally, all eyes are on him instead of the ballerina he’s presenting. Thank goodness for solo variations. They give the girl a chance!

Friday evening, Feb. 27th, 2009

Yuriko Kajiya and Carlos Lopez

Rapidly becoming one of my favorites, Yuriko Kajiya danced a joyful pas de deux befitting the grape festival it was a part of. Carlos Lopez was all smiles as well and the two presented a competent, happy dance. Kajiya was the one to watch. Her long lines and soaring grands jetés, beautiful turns and camera-friendly poses are very appealing. She is well-trained, dancing above her technique, but seems to be best suited (so far) to pretty ballet parts where she displays a freedom of movement to match the delight so evident in her face.

Carlos Lopez, bless his heart, danced with expertise and joie de vivre, giving it all he had. What he doesn’t have (since we’re comparing) is perfect line (and it shows in the many arabesques), a dependable landing (he landed all his tours, but in a couple of them you could see the relief/surprise on his face that he didn’t wobble), or higher than 90˚ arabesques. When he lands in arabesque plié, his working leg doesn’t have that extra lift that is so nice to see. He is, however, lovely to look at and with Kajiya, they accomplished a satisfying PDD. I’d like to see each of them with a different partner, though. I think it would be a good thing for both.

Correct me if I’m wrong (somebody, please! – one of the dancers maybe?), but I don’t think Carlos Lopez and Yuriko Kajiya performed the pas de deux. I have it marked twice in my notes that they didn’t do it. They certainly did the variations and coda, but I was surprised (after seeing Daniil and Sarah the previous evening) that they left it out. The other couples in the following two performances performed it. Why did I come away wondering what happened to it?

Saturday matinée, Feb. 28th, 2009

Misty Copeland and Craig Salstein

Here’s a coupling made in Heaven: Ms. And Mr. Excitement! Vigorous spirit defines Misty Copeland’s approach to every role and she handled the part of peasant with her usual hearty flair. Craig Salstein matched her in flamboyance, notably in every secure landing of his perfect tours en l’air. Together, they presented a display of showmanship that was more an “anything you can do…” contest than a classical period piece. It was tremendous fun to watch, but it isn’t what the peasant pas de deux is about.

Misty is ABT’s anomaly, a brilliant dancer who doesn’t fit the usual mold but who transcends the norm in an utterly winsome and gifted way. The peasant pas was a piece of cake for her and she fluently flew through it.

Salstein left me with pretty much the same feeling. This was a lark for both of them. I did prefer his arms-outstretched “ta-raa!” landings, especially those on one knee, to a dancer who shows no emotion at the end of his feats. I can’t exactly put my finger on what was lacking, or, perhaps, what was too abundantly offered. That’s why I want to see him do it again.

Saturday evening, Feb. 28th, 2009

Isabella Boylston and Blaine Hoven

I’m watching a MASH rerun as I write this and Hawkeye Pierce just wisecracked “she’s a girl with so much body it should be continued on the next girl.”

What an apt line to describe some dancers! It could easily be applied to Veronika Part, and, for the male counterpart, to Marcelo Gomes.

Since I’m writing about Isabella Boylston, my knee-jerk response is to associate the remark with Isabella’s technique and presentation, of which she has more than a full share. Isabella’s dancing in the peasant pas de deux brims over with joyful energy, unassailably pure technique, and natural musicality. This is the foundation upon which she displays her balletic wisdom, trained into muscles and mind since early childhood. Isabella Boylston’s performance savvy, acquired through years of opportunities afforded her in starring roles at ballet school, principal level variations and pas de deux in prestigious ballet competitions, and a grounding in company work at ABT II before joining the main company, has enabled her to reach a point of maturity at the age of 22 that many dancers fail to achieve in their dancing lifetime.

To witness her attack in arabesque and attitude, her crystal sharp space-carving in grand ronde de jambe en l’air, her straight-arrow piqué turns, her whirling-pinwheel supported pirouettes, her jump-over-a-haystack leap, is to see a dancer so secure in her skill that she can let herself justly enjoy the purity of the movement. She even walks on pointe with a stride that declares it preferable to walking on flat. With charming finesse, Isabella enhances her variation with just the right amount of sweetness, personality, and poise. Until now, my most memorable peasant pas de deux soloist was Erica Cornejo. I now have a new point of reference. :)

Isabella Boylston has been chosen to represent ABT at the Erik Bruhn competition in Toronto next week. I wouldn’t be surprised if a promotion within ABT were on the horizon, too. I surely hope so.

Blaine Hoven was a strong partner for Boylston who facilitated her pirouettes and lifts with ease. The two danced in lockstep synchronization, adding an eye-pleasing element to their duet. Hoven impressed with high sautés and clean turns, smartly-beaten cabrioles, attractive arabesques and secure landings. However, he does not leave one with with an unforgettable picture. There’s nothing in particular to draw out of one’s memory and savor afterwards. I’ve seen him in other ballets and find he is a bit of a chameleon, adapting himself to a role even in changing his outward appearance. The day you’re looking for his mop of blond curly hair onstage is the day he’s got it gelled straight and combed close to his head. His dancing varies, too. This day, his peasant pas interpretation wasn’t at its pinnacle.

I have a few more tidbits to share with you in the next day or two. I’ll wind up my posting of these performances after I’ve added them.

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Giselle tidbits

1) The National Arts Centre's Southam Hall, the main stage theatre, has 2323 seats and they were either completely filled or just about completely filled for all 4 performances of ABT's Giselle. What recession?

2) The audience, which might have been as much as half Québecois judging from the amount of French I heard (the Québec border is just minutes away), was enthusiastic in a conservative Canadian way. Lovely people milled about during intermission, a great proportion of the women queued up (as we say here) in the endlessly long but swiftly moving washroom lineup (rest room line for you Yanks), generically expressing their delight in the daisy-plucking scene and in how beautifully everyone danced.

3) First performance and José Manuel Carreno bounds onstage. I applaud with recognition and respect. I am the only one out of well over 2000 patrons. I do the same when Xiomara Reyes steps out of her cottage. Again, it's only me honoring her.

The next night, I'm all atingle waiting for Marcelo's entrance. There he is! Wild clapping on my part. Did I hear one other person applauding? I think I did! Paloma got my appreciation next. I may have been the only one. Or perhaps it was her entrance that elicited someone else's acclaim. The hand chimed in after mine, so it was a copycat effort, but I'm glad I wasn't the only one this time.

On Saturday, David Hallberg and Maria Riccetto in turn received my ovation. Only mine. Saturday, Jose and Xiomara again heard the sound of two Estonian hands resoundingly clapping in an otherwise hushed hall.

Now, is this the way Ottawawians (that's my own word since I don't know how they call themselves -- probably Ottawans) greet their ballet stars, or is it just that not a soul in the audience recognized ABT's principals or was familiar with Giselle's opening sequence of their introduction to the stage?

4) At the end of the performance Thursday night, all received proper laudation, but not as much as a single flower to sniff between them. Friday brought the blooms, one for Paloma and one for Marcelo (I'm sorry I've forgotten whether Simone received such a tribute). Saturday matinée had the same long-stemmed flower, one each for Maria and David, but in the evening José and Xiomara again were left flowerless.

5) There were no curtain calls after Act I. That was disappointing, as eager was I to applaud the dancers who performed the peasant pas de deux, the Berthes, the Bathildes, and even the Wilfreds. The entire audience would have loved to give the elegant Russian wolfhounds a hand!

6) Binocular rental was only $3.00 (and your photo ID was taken hostage until their safe return).

Under-theatre parking was only $10. While leaving en masse, traveling through the multi-tiered underground maze following the exit signs that seem to take you in circles, no one honks their horn, ever. This is not New York, or even Toronto. Canada's capital city can be proud of the deportment of their denizens and its visitors.

7) David LaMarche is such a kick to watch conducting. His precise, brisk baton-waving provides a pleasant visual during the overtures.

8) I didn't have a backstage pass, but I had dancer friends to see, so I inquired of an usher how to get backstage. She said I could try knocking on a certain door and see if they'd let me in. After opening a door which led upstairs and to a locked door, I (along with my daughter who is always aghast at my brazenness) came back down and discovered an unmarked door with no doorknob next to the one I had opened. So, I knocked on it, Järvi imploring me to forget about it. Lo and behold, after a bit of rapping, the mystery door open-sesamed.

I was asked my business and whether I had a backstage pass, and after explaining whom we were there to see, we were admitted and told to "sit there". After a short while, Isabella Boylston came rushing toward us, arms outstretched, and we met with a warm hug. I then moved aside to reveal my daughter, and Isabella, seeing her old friend, squealed with joy and the two of them embraced and chattered excitedly. It had been 7 years, 7 months since they last saw each other.

Afterwards, I asked Järvi whether she was still upset with me for my chutzpah. No, she responded, she was glad I had persevered. It had been a wonderful reunion. Remembering how I had been just as shy at her age to do such cheeky things (reticence learned from my own mother who would NEVER be so bold), I hoped that as she got older, my daughter would become more brassy too. It makes life much more enjoyable. :sweatingbullets:

The next day I returned backstage to congratulate Isabella (she told us we could still call her Hildur) on her Moyna. This time there was no one to point out a seat or who offered to go fetch her, and I went looking for her myself, passing by many of the dancers in the corridors who were scurrying to leave for lunch between performances. Hildur and I talked animatedly (she had to join her friends but was still happy to spend time with me) and then I left for my inn in order to get an hour's rest between performances.

9) Tidbits learned from conversation with Isabella Boylston:

a) the stage was much smaller (although it seemed quite large to us in the audience) than the one at the Kennedy Center from which they had just come, and the Wilis had to close their ranks in order to fit on it. That made for less expansive movements and smaller steps on the part of the corps. We who watch from the other side of the curtain rarely think about such nitty-gritty issues.

b) Isabella was so pleased to know we were there watching her. She wished she would have known before the first performance (we visited after the second). It's nice to know you've got friends in the audience.

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Roundtable with 3 Giselles

Cast of characters

Xiomara Reyes

Paloma Herrera

Maria Riccetto

Act I

Giselle Herrera (her mother: Maria Bystrova; her "Loys": Marcelo Gomes): If I'd known he was going to leave Bathilde for me, I would have been fine. We were so in love. Why couldn't he tell me about her? Why did he keep it a secret? I trusted him completely. It's her I don't trust!

Giselle Reyes (her mother: Susan Jones; her "Loys": Jose Manuel Carreno): I had eyes only for him and thought he had eyes only for me. The shock of it all is hard to get my head around. How could he do this to me?

Giselle Riccetto (her mother: Nancy Raffa; her "Loys": David Hallberg): He was so innocent! I felt like I knew everything about him, he was so open and endearing. I wouldn't have believed he could do anything like this. It seems impossible even now. Mama was right. She's always right. Why, oh why, didn't I listen to her?

Giselle Herrera: Mama was smart. But this time she was wrong. He really loved me. I really loved him. He could not pretend a love so true. We were as one from the beginning. Even our hearts beat as one.

Giselle Riccetto: I don't know if he loved ME the way I loved him. We were having such fun! Mama warned me about boys, especially boys she didn't know. But none of the other village boys made me feel the way he did. I couldn't help falling for him. He made me tingle!

Giselle Reyes: Mama told me to watch out for all boys, even the ones we knew. They'll do anything to get you to like them, because they have only one thing on their minds, that's what mama said. But Loys wasn't like that, I told her. She still didn't believe me. At least, she didn't think that I knew how to be careful. I had to pretend that everything was okay, but I was a little worried, too, especially when he ran off without telling me and I had to look all through the crowd for him while the Countess was waiting.

Giselle Herrera: I wasn't worried at all. So he disappeared for awhile! Maybe he went to feed his horse. I knew he'd be back. We couldn't stay apart for more than a few minutes.

Giselle Riccetto: I though perhaps some other girl had gone for a stroll with him. I saw a few of the village girls flirting with him. I can't say I blame them, he's so cute! But he told me that I was the one and that we would be married. I was more worried about how I would tell mama about THAT.

Giselle Reyes: I know. She would have tried to talk me out of marrying, especially since she was so protective of me. Yes, I had a weak heart, but I always slowed down when it started to race. I felt fine otherwise.

Giselle Riccetto: Me too. I knew how to handle my heart. But mama was so anxious every time I danced and always brought up the Wilis. It was embarrassing when she told the whole village the story. I hate to be the center of attention. Except when I'm dancing, of course!

Giselle Herrera: Oh, how I loved to dance! It brought me more joy than anything else... that is, until he came along and made me know greater joy than I thought possible. Oh, how he made my heart jump -- in a good way! I even thought that it would help my heart heal, being in love with him. Those troublesome palpitations would ease because I felt so calm and secure with him. I thought he could protect me from everything, even my weak heart.

Giselle Reyes: But instead, my heart was hit with a pain sharper than any pain I had felt before . When the Countess claimed him as her fiancée, he took her hand and looked away from me. It felt like a dagger had pierced my heart. I ran to mama and collapsed. When I rose again, I felt as if the earth had swallowed me up and I was but a ghost which drifted out of my physical body. Everything went blurry. I saw Loys and me through a haze as we had been, dancing and in love. Then I was pulled into a dark void. I remember nothing after that.

Giselle Riccetto: I saw the look on Loys' face. It was shell-shock. I saw that HE needed protection and would not be able to do anything to help me. Did he even care about me anymore? Did he not remember how he showed me what the daisy said? How we danced and were so carefree? Why didn't he look at me? I lost it completely. Every fiber of my being was screaming. I couldn't stop the sensations, the pain. I needed only escape. Stumbling on his sword, I knew the only thing I wanted to do was drive it into me. Nobody could help me now. But it was seized from my hands, and then I had nothing with which to stop the pain. I couldn't see a way out. Where was Loys? Where was mama? Where was I? I just ran. Then I blacked out.

Giselle Herrera: He started toward me -- he never stopped looking at me. But she pulled him back. I thought she would make him leave with her! NO! NO! We love each other! Don't leave me, don't leave me, don't leave me! Remember -- we love each other! Mama, help me. Mama, where are you? I can't see you. No -- it's her! She's still here! Run, run, I've got to run .... away from her. She's the enemy. Loys, I can't see you! Loys, LOYS! I need you! Mama, where is Loys? Oh, mama-a-a.....

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Act II

Giselle Herrera (her Myrta: Simone Messmer: her Albrecht: Marcelo Gomes): I heard my name being called. I was still Giselle! But I wasn't moving of my own volition.....I was being pulled from my grave by a force I couldn't resist...

Giselle Riccetto (her Myrta: Michele Wiles; her Albrecht: David Hallberg): I didn't know where I was but I seemed to know what to do.

Giselle Reyes (her Myrta: 1st: Gillian Murphy; 2nd: Veronika Part; her Albrecht: Jose Carreno): It was like a dream, only real, but not earthly. I had to go, but I had no freedom.

Giselle Herrera: I felt frozen....I couldn't move my legs. But yet they moved, and made me step toward her.

Giselle Reyes: I didn't know what I would be doing next.

Giselle Riccetto: I was afraid.

Giselle Herrera: All of a sudden, I was spinning uncontrollably!

Giselle Riccetto: I felt as if I would soon be flying!

Giselle Reyes: It released me! I started to dance and this made me feel like myself.

Giselle Herrera: I couldn't stop and I didn't want to stop!

Giselle Riccetto: I was no longer frightened.

Giselle Herrera: Then, she sent the Wilis away and I was left alone in the forest. Soon I saw why. It was my beloved! He was coming my way. I ran out to be with him -- but he didn't see me! I had to make him see me!

Giselle Reyes: So I ran toward him so he could feel me in the air -- and he did!

Giselle Riccetto: He lifted me up for just a moment. He touched me!

Giselle Herrera: He knew I was there. When I circled him, I surrounded him with my essence. He felt my touch on his shoulder!

Giselle Riccetto: I tossed two of his lilies into the air so he could be sure it was me.

Giselle Reyes: Then he knew. When he picked them up, he knew it was really me.

Giselle Herrera: Right after that, she had Hilarion danced to death! She was going to mete out the same fate for my Albrecht. I would not let her!

Giselle Riccetto: He had to be saved. I had to find a way.

Giselle Reyes: I would not let him die. I loved him!

Giselle Herrera: I begged for his life to be spared. She grew colder the more I pleaded, but made me even more determined.

Giselle Reyes: I had to do everything I could to overpower her. Now was the time to be strong and unrelentless. She wasn't the only one who could stand firm.

Giselle Riccetto: New energy coursed through me. I would not fail him!

Giselle Herrera: He must stay by the cross. The cross on my grave would protect him.

Giselle Reyes: But he did not stay! I tried to keep him there by coming between him and her and making the sign of the cross with the fortitude of my love, but it only held him for a moment!

Giselle Riccetto: She made me entice him away. Now I had to go to Plan B.

Giselle Herrera: I had to help him dance.

Giselle Reyes: And I couldn't let her see I was helping him!

Giselle Herrera: She was so angry that I had defied her that I lost some psychic capacity!

Giselle Riccetto: But my resolve returned and, with it, my will.

Giselle Herrera: Together, we appealed to each Wili to have mercy.

Giselle Reyes: But they are ruled by her and stand as one. We had only ourselves to outwit and outlast the authority of the Queen.

Giselle Riccetto: And my Albrecht was beginning to fade!

Giselle Reyes: But we were confident in our love, and love assures that when one is weak, the other becomes stronger.

Giselle Herrera: That is how we were able to confound the evil.

Giselle Riccetto: When he could no longer hold himself up, I bore his weight.

Giselle Herrera: I carried him through his dance! I sustained his every movement. I know he knew it!

Giselle Reyes: I danced alone as long as I could. Then, when he had to dance, I watched him closely and ran in again when he started to flag.

Giselle Riccetto: We were in a new world of our own making! I knew we could do it -- our love would withstand our opposition.

Giselle: Herrera: And it did. The bells announced the arrival of day. The Wilis and their Queen became impotent once again.

Giselle Reyes: I felt a peace embrace me and yearned to return to my grave.

Giselle Riccetto: I knew something wonderful would happen when I did.

Giselle Herrera: My sweet love was alive. I had redeemed him and he had saved me! I could now go to my rest in peace and wait for him-- as a rightful spirit -- to join me in the afterlife when it was his time.

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