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ABT Don Quixote

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I went to the June 9th ABT matinee -- Gillian Murphy and Angel Corella in Don Quixote -- I thought this was a terrific performance, flawed in a number of ways but so high energy, so "on," that it worked very, very well. As far as I know this was Murphy's New York debut in the role (perhaps her debut plain and simple?) -- and I was delighted, actually a bit surprised, at how well she performed. She danced very well throughout and, often, really splendidly, using her somewhat cool presence to make Kitri seem sublimely self-confident, but at the same time quite funny in her little tantrums...This is not, I think, a "natural" role for Murphy, but she pulled it off. In particular, her very quick, articulate, and expansive leg movements were just wonderful in this choreography...another highlight was her solo in Act III which she seemed to just toss off with an air of almost amusing ease and authority. She and Corella were wonderfully matched -- both brought tremendous energy to the stage and each other. He just gets better and better. His bravura dancing was utterly brilliant, but he also seems to me to have new dimension and depth in the quality of his movements -- his arms are beautiful. And all the passion that he always brings to the stage was here, additionally, focused on Murphy. In the one armed lifts of Act I they were especially fun(ny), as he seemed to hold her up for ever while she, looking quite fearless, kept waving her tambourine. The audience sort of giggled and gasped at once. And when he let her down and ran across the stage and turned to her to set up the next lift, the smile on his face was just gleeful...as if to say, 'we must do that again.' In her fouettes in Act III, Murphy did single single double for the first half with perfect control and when she did the double she raised a hand holding her red fan over her head (a la couronne) and OPENED the fan as she turned. For the second half she did a series of singles very fast travelling forward in a pretty controlled way until the end when she started to travel sideways a bit, but she more or less kept things under control and finished the turns.

This was by no means a perfect performance. The character quality of Act I is not Murphy's natural element. The adagio of the Act III pas de deux could have gone better (and probably will in the future). In Act III even Corella had some tiny fudges, turns that went a bit off center. It would be possible to have a more carping reaction to this performance than mine -- but in fact one of the things I loved about this performance was that Corella and Murphy danced with all out panache even through their (minor) mistakes, and kept utterly focused. Whether or not Murphy is a great Kitri, she is certainly an enjoyable one -- and, in my eyes, a real ballerina.

Interestingly, the audience seemed, initially a tepid matinee crowd. Many empty seats (I was in standing room and easily found a very good seat during intermission), families, and subscribers etc. They reacted pretty mildly to Act I but by the end of Act II they were genuinely excited and at the ballet's close gave Murphy and Corella an enthusiastic ovation that continued one curtain call past the raising of the lights. As they walked out of the theater, people were notably talking about what a good performance it was. My favorite overheard discussion was between a middle aged couple (I'll guess subscribers): the wife was in the middle of saying "she was adorable" but before she had finished the word "adorable" her husband said "oh she...she was fantastic!" In this case, I think the audience's pleasure was a real gage of what Murphy and Corella brought to the stage. I don't want to exagerate -- even without seeing them, I don't doubt Ananiashvili and Dvorovenko are better Kitris, but somehow it was just a delightful afternoon.

The rest of the performance was, unfortunately, a bit uneven and even ragged. The toreodors were absolutely off kilter -- individually this one or that would throw in a high jump, but they never (in Act I or III) managed to dance in sync: even when only two of them were jumping across the stage together they were on different beats. They also had no feel for the "character" quality of the dancing. The women throughout were somewhat better than the men. Though in one sequence (Act II?) four girls in a line facing the audience were doing entrechats and they also were out of sync the first go round; on the repetition they were dancing together, but not very well -- the jumps just looked a bit limp. Molina as the star bullfighter has the right look but not the arch in his upper back that would make the choreography more dashing. Carmen Corella as Mercedes was excellent, though her bourrees in the knife solo were not in themselves particularly lovely. Otherwise, I quite liked her. The Queen of the Dryads, Shelkanova was fine as was the Amor (Ann Mikelski -- I may have the name wrong, I don't have my program). The two flower girls were Michele Wiles and Anna Liceica. When I saw Wiles as one of the two Wilis in Giselle, I felt similarly to Manhattnik; she seemed unable to make her tall limbs fit into the nineteenth-century wili image -- she looked as if she were dancing a twentieth-century ballet. Obviously in Don Quixote, she doesn't have those kind of stylistic demands and yet I almost felt there was an analogous problem. Watching her do the same steps side by side with Liceica, one could see how much more musically and stylistically nuanced Liceica is. Wiles danced very well (as did Liceica), and I am very eager to watch her development, but she definitely seems to me to need honing and experience. (I only mention it, because one can see that she is being groomed for big things -- with a Theme and Variations debut coming up.) As the "gypsies" Herman Cornejo and Erica (?) Cornejo were excellent -- well, actually, he was even better than that. He just has extraordinary height and ballon in the air and the sort of high intensity Corella has. Moreover, he dances everything -- even when it's sheer character dancing -- cleanly. I thought all the mime roles (led by Barbee as Don Quixote) were done well, but I tend to lose interest during the comic schtick in this ballet; mostly I watched Murphy and Corella "reacting" on the sides of the stage...So, from the company overall, it was a good but somewaht mixed afternoon, but the performance altogether raised to something much better by the leads.

For various reasons, I am unable this week to be where, as a ballet fan, I would like to be -- at the Kennedy Center seeing the Royal: Ashton repertory I hardly ever have a chance to see, new dancers, like Cojocaru, generating excitement, and one of my favorite ballerinas (whom I also hardly ever get to see), Sylvie Guillem. Well, this year it was not to be...actually I can't even attend very much ballet in New York. But I consider this afternoon a very nice consolation prize.

[ 06-09-2001: Message edited by: Drew ]

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Wonderful review.

Whenever I've seen Murphy lately, I'm with you, I've felt that she's a real ballerina. What seemed initially to me to be coolness, I now don't think is. She has in fact to my eye, now that I've watched her a few more times, a warm stage personality, but maintains a kind of artistic distance, something like Maria K across the plaza. It's a mixed affect that I don't quite know how to analyze. Anyway, who cares, I love to watch her and that affect is very much a part of her individual charm.

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A very wonderful review. Thank you, Drew. If it's any consolation to you, I've been watching Ashton all week and, reading your review, wished I could have been in two places at once! From what I've seen, I also think Murphy is a real ballerina. She's not there yet, but she will be :) I think this was a debut, but am not positive.

[ 06-10-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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Thanks Drew for the brilliant reveiw! I really wish I could have been there. I wish that ABT would one day come to the UK. I saw Gillian on the ABT video and thought she lookd gorgeous but expressionless. Others who have seen her there in NY have said the same thing. If you have seen the video would you say that she was very much different? now from your reveiw that you describe her as playing it cool but this may be more obvious live rather than on tape.


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I perhaps should've gone to see Murphy's Kitri, but I am among the party that firmly believes she's way too cold. Cold is fine, but there's an ininflected, metronomic quality to her dancing that I find rather, well, dull.

I'd rather shell out my heard-earned bucks for Ananiashvili's Kitri (she was quite sensational last night) or Dvorovenko's (always a high point of the summer!).

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Murphy's not an "ideal" Kitri -- I thought it was, nonetheless, a terrific debut and fun performance all round. I do think she has a somewhat "cool" persona, but as Kitri she showed real charm, using, if you will, that persona. She actually had a soubrette quality, quite distinctive, that I haven't seen in her before...As for her dancing, I did not find it the least bit cold or metronomic.

I've always liked Murphy better than Manhattnik -- though there is no doubt that she is still developing as a dancer -- but my reaction to this performance wasn't merely quirky. Clearly, the matinee audience really "responded" (in a way matinee met. audiences don't always do) to Murphy and Corella both.

If one wants to see a fully realized, "sensational" Kitri, Dvorovenko and Ananiashvili may well be the best ABT has to offer...(I haven't seen them -- except for Ananiashvili in the pas de deux -- but actually I don't doubt it.) But there is something to be said for the sheer pleasure of watching a gifted young ballerina growing -- and glowing -- before one's eyes.

p.s. jcaguioa: I haven't seen the video you mention, but as you can see from the above discussion a number of fans complain about Murphy's "coldness." I have always enjoyed her dancing -- and found her very "watchable" not dull. I have even found a certain quiet charmisma in the "cool" way she dances. But this Kitri did give me, additionally, the first glimpse of Murphy projecting more of an acting/dancing "personality;" it also was the first full length lead I've seen her do, the first role in which she has to pantomime and react to others' pantomime, and she did very well. She's only just starting to be cast in these roles this season, and, in this role, she's starting at a very high level. Among other things, this performance made me wish ABT would revive Coppelia so she can dance Swanilda.

[ 06-10-2001: Message edited by: Drew ]

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Oh, as a PS, Murphy may have borrowed the "fan-over-the-head" bit from Dvorovenko, who's been using it to bring down houses for a few years now.

Not that there's anything wrong with borrowing, and I'm sure Murphy was great at it -- she's nothing if not a demon turner (remember her quadruples in Le Corsaire a couple of years back?).

I don't mean to take away from your enjoyment of Murphy's Kitri, and perhaps it's the beginning of a new era for her. I can't say, as I wasn't there. I just remember her Black Swan from last fall's City Center season, where she didn't begin to get interesting (for me, anyway) until she did hit the fouettes, which was just a bit late in the day for my taste.

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I also saw the June 9th matinee of "Don Quixote". As has often occurred, I agree with just about everything Drew had to say (and he always says it much better than I could.) Before this "Don Quixote" I too found Murphy to be a rather cold performer. But yesterday she really was adorable. (As Drew overhead the middle aged woman say.) She wasn't as much of a spitfire as I would have liked, but I think that will come in time. And her chemistry with Corella was great. Not to be picky, but I thought her balances in the third act pas de deux were a bit wobbly. But the rest of her dancing was first-rate, really exciting.

And Corella, as Drew said, just gets better and better - his dancing, his acting, his charisma, everything was just perfect.

Hernan Cornejo was really exciting as the lead Gypsy, and his sister, Erica (are they twins?) was also excellent. Anne Milewski was just wonderful skimming lightly across the stage as Amour. Carmen Corella was very good as Mercedes. She seems to share the family charisma. It was hard for me to take my eyes off her whenever she was on stage. And Carlos Molina was much improved as Espada, the Matador. I saw him in the part last year, and was rather disappointed by his big solo in Act II. Yesterday he danced it quite well.

I think Gillian Murphy probably has a ways to go before she's at the level of Nina A. or Dvorovenko as Kitri. But she's still a very young dancer (how old is she anyway?) and I thought her performance was very impressive. She has amazing potential, and I think she'll be a principal dancer in a few years.

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