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ABT's Tchaikovsky Spectacular 6/12

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I attended ABT's first 'Tchaikovsky Spectacular' of the season last night. The program was Balanchine's 'Theme & Variations' and 'Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux', Kevin McKenzie's 'Nutcracker Pas de Deux, the 'Rose Adagio' and Act III of 'Sleeping Beauty'. Was anyone else there?

'Theme & Variations' was the highlight of the evening. It's so jam packed with treacherous choreography that it's no wonder dancers pale at the thought of doing it. Paloma Herrera and Marcelo Gomes led the cast. Herrera is a superb technician, but I've always found her pretty bland. Still, she made the harrowing intricacies of the choreography look easy, and she, Gomes and the corps deserved the hearty applause they received at the end.

'Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux' was danced by Amanda McKerrow and Ethan Steifel. McKerrow's dancing was pretty, but not that memorable. Like Herrera, I find her rather bland. Steifel, on the other hand, was simply brilliant in his solo and the coda. His lightning speed, high extensions, well pointed feet were gorgeous to watch. But during the coda the audience kept bursting into cheers whenever he finished, so that you couldn't hear the music when McKerrow came on to do her variation. I felt bad for her and was so annoyed by the audience's rudeness :mad: .

Julie Kent and Angel Corella danced the 'Nutcracker Pas de Deux'. Kent danced beautifully, with a wonderful flow and elegance. But, once again, it was her partner that stole the show. Corella's speed, ability to almost stop in mid air during a jump and marvelous attack were amazing.

Ananiashvili's 'Rose Adagio' was the disappointment of the evening. This was the first time I'd seen her dance live and, while her Russian style -- the distinct way she carries herself -- is lovely to look at, she seemed to be having an off night.

The highlight of 'Sleeping Beauty' was the Bluebird Pas de Deux' danced by Ashley Tuttle and Herman Cornejo. Tuttle is a very fine dancer and wonderfully musical. Her solo was especially beautiful. Cornejo, who I think is new to the company, is someone to keep an eye on. He's so light on his feet with an airy jump that was perfect for Bluebird. Susan Jaffe and Jose Manuel Carreno danced the Grand Pas de Deux. I'm not a fan of Jaffe's, but she has become a more lyrical dancer over the past few years, I think due in in large part to Irina Kolpakova's coaching. Carreno's was okay.


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I saw the same program last night with a slightly different cast. As people commented in Washington, it is not a perfectly designed evening, since basically it starts with an exploration of the Sleeping Beauty, excertps from Sleeping Beauty, and then the last act of Sleeping Beauty. At the end of Theme and Variations, I thought how wonderful to see it again, and then, of course I did. There are worse fates.

I saw Murphy and Gomes substituting for Belerotsekovsky, and I thought they were stunning. Gomes was so elegant and gracious--I think the tempo was a bit slower than at NYCB and he seemed to have time to use his arms as if he were so happy to be showing us what Murphy could do. Like many others, I have found her a bit cold, but she came across as a bit reserved but enraptured with the role, the dancing, and with Gomes. There were lots of little glances between them--not coy or calculated, but just like they were the only two people on the stage and they wanted to just look at each other. She had a lovely lyrical quality and seemed to pause at the top of a phrase and just extend it. Of course her turns were brilliant, but it was much much more than that.

McKerrow and Stiefel were the the Tschaikovsky Pas de deux. I like McKerrow a lot, and though I have seen her stronger, she was lovely, I thought. Stiefel seems to be pushing things a bit too much, like his sideways jumps when he jerked his leg at high as he could and lost the flow. He is not basically a flashy dancer, I think, more of a lyrical one, and it would be a shame if he just started doing tricks.

Jaffe and Carreno did the third act of Sleeping Beauty, which is why I went that night. They didn't really pull out all the bells and whistles. She rose up from the floor on a flat foot, not point, and he didn't land his air turns in an arabseque, and their backward chugs in the coda were a bit off, but I think it was just a beautiful performance. Jaffe is so clear and her arms are so lovely, and she really seems to understand who Aurora is in the third act. And he is such a wonderful partner for her.

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I went Wednesday afternoon. Theme & Variations was with Kent and Carreno. I've seen him dance this better, he seemed a little out of sorts. She appeared underpowered and, although I don't think she's particularly suited to the work, I also have seen her do better as well.

I have a problem with this work at ABT as the tempo is ponderous. So slow that the slow sections lose their poetry and the fast sections have no punch or verve. It looked like a classroom exercise, which although Balanchine used classroom steps, it should look like heaven.

The pas de deux was strange because Kent seemed to be phrasing totally on the solo violin, so when the violin stopped a phrase and waited a second or two to pick up the next phrase. Kent followed. But Balanchine didn't. He kept the choreography going so there were so many dead spots. In addition, Kent and Carrano changed the choreography a bit (I know the differences between the ABT and NYCB versions, that wasn't it).

That, unfortunately, was the theme of the Tchiakovsky pas de deux. Putting aside Tuttle's "ultra-brite" smile, Corella decided he wanted to make up his own choreography. The male solos in some of Balanchine's show pieces are often have multiple versions, and I've seen them before. This wasn't it. The changes were purely to give AC more jumps and spins and were unmusical. At one point, he walked around while the music was going on just so he can add a non-Balanchine authored jump. And at the end, when the man travel behind the woman before she jumps into a fish dive, he added more leaps. I was so upset I didn't applaud. The Balanchine Foundation should know what's going on over at the Met. This was not GB's piece.

It was almost a welcome relief when the Nutcracker came on with Jaffe and Malakhov, very classical, respectful and musical.

Gillian Murphy was very lovely in the Rose Adagio, more stately than sweet. Nina A was her usual self in Aurora's Wedding and the rest of the company tried their best to overcome McMillian's choreography. Sasha Radetsky was very good in the Blue Bird pas de deux. Shelkanova was nice as his partner and one of the few to anticipate the music in the Theme (demi soloist).

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Thanks very much for all these reports. Dale, I hope you called 911BT (the Trust).

I know Dale knows exactly what this means, but I wanted to add a comment about her comment on "Theme and Variations" being classroom steps only because I know (from teaching) that this is a phrase that's widely misunderstood. My modern dancers in the aesthetics course really truly believed that ballet choreographers looked up steps in a book, while modern dance choreographers created steps out of their bodies. The term "this is a classroom exercise" used to be used, in Balanchine's day, to refer to choreographers "after Balanchine" who basically took a class, or section of a class, and put it on stage, or whose choreography was so dull that it was the visual equivalent of scales. However, it became misunderstood and is now applied by some (not by Dale :mad: ) to anything by Balanchine or Ashton that is recognizable, even to the uninitiated, as classical/neoclasical ballet.

I now return the message board back to the Met watchers :) More comments, please! As always, whether you just want to write a few sentences and/or and are new to ballet, or whether you want to write a lot about a performance -- either is fine! The most usual comment I get when I try to encourage people to post what they saw is, "But there are so many knowledgeable people there, I don't feel as though I should." Yes, you should!!!! Your opinion is as valid as anyone else's, and it's always interesting to hear another take on a performance, a dancer, or a ballet.

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Melissa, I didn't want to go on an on, so I didn't mention Dvorovenko and Herrera. Both of those (Nutcracker and Rose Adagio) were out of context, which I think is especially hard, but I liked them both. I also like the Nutcracker version they danced, and Dvorovenko's costume was a lovely cream and pale pink. To me she was a bit studied, but she danced beautifully. The Rose Adagio is especially hard out of context, but I liked Herrera's performance. She was especially good about including the Prince's, at one time gesturing to them all one after another, before starting some killer choreography. I had never seen that moment so clearly before, and it was lovely. Her arms still aren't her strong point, but her feet are so stunning. The balances were very very good--she just brought her hand up and down for each prince at the same tempo, not grabbing a balance and holding on for dear life. And I forgot to mention that Ashley Tuttle was Florine, with Cornejo, so all in all it was a wonderful evening--though artistically the program was not balanced.

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It's hard for me to add much to what everyone's already contributed, but I'll try anyway...

I think Melissa really hit the nail on the head regarding Theme. I thought Gomes was wonderful, in his relaxed and happy presence, his easy, graceful and light dancing, and his gallant and proud presentation of his ballerina. While Murphy's technique made short work of her killer variations, but I found myself thinking she was using her stabbing and flashing feet much as a geometry teacher might use a protractor to demonstrate a geometrical proof. In other words, I found her dancing, not so much cold, but dry and expository, although technically beyond reproach.

McKerrow was lovely, if a bit low-key in Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, but I wish she'd stop flashing the audience with that cutesy smile during the backwards hopping arabesques in the coda. Steifel got some cheers from his "Center Stage" fans, it seemed, the instant he came onstage. He punched up his solos a bit more than I appreciated -- I mean, those big sissonnes to the side shouldn't be applause-getters, even if one can jump really high and almost kick one's ear while doing them. And he took liberties with Balanchine's choreography, as Corella reportedly did, too. Boo, hiss. One doesn't do that to Mr. B.

More later....

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Dale---I also saw that Wednesday matinee and was really bothered by the Tchai PDD--what Corella did at the end of the PDD was unforgiveable. In his haste to throw in a double tours en l'air he completely screwed up the finish--when Tuttle went headlong into her final jump, he clumsily managed to catch her, but had to give a final lift to achieve what he should have done in one take, and he had the audacity to repeat it! I suppose what really bothers me is that the audience applauded him more than they did Malakhov--who did a beautiful Nutcracker PDD with Jaffee.

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Dale and ATM have hit the nail on the head about Wednesday's matinee, so I'll just a add a litte.

Theme and Variations was indeed much much too slow. It made Miranda Weese's performances across the plaza the two previous weeks look that much better, and I loved them in the first place. Amanda NYC, don't complain that Fiorato conducts too fast! Julie Kent did not attack her part at all, she seemed behind the music consistently, there seemed to be something wrong musically (I think Dale has analyzed it correctly) -- but then, suddenly, Kent seemed to recover and become poetic and charged in the pdd, rescuing an otherwise flat performance. Carreno's phrasing in the coda of his variation was also very non-musical.

I do not like Susan Jaffe's line, which is merely a matter of personal taste, but a strong one. She danced impeccably.

I watched Murphy with attention in light of recent discussions. As Alexandra said, she's a ballerina but not totally there yet. In between gorgeous moments, there are still gaps which are flat. What I love about her, however, in contrast with the other ABT ballerinas, is precisely the fact that she is still unfiished, that she's young and learning and can still become something different. In contrast to Jaffe and Tuttle, she at least still has potential. It was thus frightening to see her too starting to ape it up and flirt with audience ABT-style, to do mannered little things in little ways. She could go either direction. I hope she intends to keep dancing and not decide that the female equivalent of wrist flicking is what gets you places in that house.

Nina A, however, was gorgeous in Beauty Act III (even though I agree with Mary about taking that piece out of context). I've actually not seen that much of her but yesterday made me a believer. She's the one to watch in that company and -- She's one of the one's to watch in the entire world. (I actually walked out of Dvorovenko's Don Q Monday night, after Act I, in general disgust with the entire scene: the house, the audience, the company, the way that it's never anything but technique and no effort is ever made to transcend it, and even the technique is not that good, but the audience can't tell the difference). Ananiashvili is in another class. I've never noticed before what beautifully developed and articlated shoulders she has, particularly when seen from the back, or how she uses her hands so completely as part of her arms, creating one finished line, or how she keeps her hips so level while using her shoulders so cleanly in effacee or ecartee positions, or what total control she has of herself. And her basic line is perfect, the proportion of her head and neck being in right proportion with the rest of her body. I was also impressed with Bocca, strange to say. Finally, someone who actually completes a double air turn before landing it.

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Just to finish up about Wednesday night....

I thought Dvorovenko and Piccone quite spectacular in the Nutcracker pas. I liked the way she made use of her killer extensions without, quite, going too far over the top, particularly the times she faced Piccone, swung her leg up into a high, high, high extension a la seconde, then in an effortless-seeming fouette twisted her upper body towards her standing leg so she was now smiling at the audience in a beautiful not-quite-six-o'clock penchee, during the course of which her upraised leg shifted not a millimeter. I'm sorry I probably make it sound like a trick -- it was a breathaking display of technique, control and bravura. Which, for me, is what Dvorovenko is usually all about.

I can only second what's already been said about Herrera. She was lovely in the Rose Adagio (what's with the one poor prince who forgot his hat, anyway?), strong, sweet and delightfully unaffected. It was nice to watch her and actually enjoy the performance without thinking "what's missing here?" I'm not sure I'd rush to see her dance Theme or Swan Lake just yet, but I would see her tackle Aurora.

In Aurora's Wedding, oops, SB Act III, this was my first look at the partnership of Carreno and Jaffe, and darn it if all the folks who've said they're a great partnership aren't right. I've never seen Jaffe so radiant and glowing as she was with Carreno, although he himself was having a bit of an off night.

Cornejo's Bluebird was the surprise delight of the evening. I loved the hovering ballon of his big assembles, the speed and clarity of his brises in the coda where he seemd to skim and hover over the stage, and the fact that he managed to appear birdlike, rather than a nice jumper covered with too many blue feathers and blue eyeshadow.

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Michael, I also think elements of ABT's Theme make City Ballet's look that much more impressive. Today, Weese is incomparable in the role, and as much as I admired Gomes' performance (he really did have the right idea in his first big solo, to keep those endless pirouettes moving, no matter what), it also made me appreciate that we in the NYCB audience tend to get as blase about Damian Woetzel's tours de force as he often appears to be himself. I have to think that interlacing those double tours in the second solo with double pirouettes, as Woetzel did, must be about ten times as hard as the "standard" double tour/single pirouette combo.

[ 06-15-2001: Message edited by: Manhattnik ]

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Please join in the discussion and tell us what and why you liked it so that there is another perspective to be had.

Manhattnik, actually Woetzel's double to double might not be harder for him than double to single, depending on the momentum of his tours, like the women who say throwing in a double foutte is actually easier than a single for them. Coming out of the double tour into a double pirouette may mean he can maintain a consistent force, rather than having to slow down.

[ 06-15-2001: Message edited by: Leigh Witchel ]

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Bobsey - Don't listen to me! Trust your own opinion. I wouldn't want to rain on other people's parades and when I say it's rainy that's not a guarantee that anyone else will agree. Also, despite my ill humour, I very much enjoyed Wednesday's matinee. Figure that one out. Michael

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Leigh Witchel & Michael1: Thanks for your comments. I appreciate them.

To answer -- I like the music, the costumes, the ambience of being with an enthusiastic audience. I've seen Kent, Corella, Jaffe, Tuttle, Bocca several times and never can find fault. They always please me. I don't count their turns or the angles of their limbs, and if I did that would not I miss the overall effect of their performance? Ideally, I suppose, I ought to be able to do both. Well, I'll work on it - I'm going to Saratoga next month.

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Lots of us don't count turns. Don't worry about it.

The more you see, the more nuance you will recognize, the more you will learn what pleases you, what leaves you cold.

Art is nothing if it doesn't touch you. You aren't going to love everything you see, although the more you see, the better /wider your field of comparison, of course.

I am the only person in the world who absolutely LOVES the new Royal Ballet Sleeping Beauty production, amid the general boo-hiss on both sides of the Atlantic. Do I care a jot? I can tell you in exhaustive detail, scene by scene, why I love this production, discuss the literary and artistic allusion, etc. , etc. and so forth. (But I won't!)

Keep watching, keep an open mind, and see you in Saratoga next month.....

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Juliet, you are not alone. I think I am the only one that loves Peter Martin's full length "Swan Lake." As a matter of fact, that swan turned me into a ballet addict.

We all see things others may otherwise overlook and vice versa.

I can't wait to see Tchaikovsky Spectacular next Friday.

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Yes, Bobsey. Please keep going to the ballet and write what you think. :mad:

I didn't mean to be a downer, I just don't like the choreography changed. I've been reading about how Petipa ballets used to look and I don't want in 10-20 years for people to watch a Balanchine ballet and think, "Well, what was so special about that." So when I saw changes, a red light went off for me.

But I did enjoy things Wednesday afternoon. Jaffe and Malakhov were very musical. I agree with ATM about Malakhov not getting the credit he deserved for his sensitive dancing. And even out of context, the Sleeping Beauty portions were done well, and a pleasure to watch (even though I don't like the McMillian choreography). Just to show how nuts I am, I'm going to this program two more times. :)

Juliet -- I like the Royal's new SB too.

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Bobsey, study hard, apply yourself, and you too can end up hating everything as much as the most seasoned BA poster.

Seriously, the important thing is that you enjoy what you see. All of the dancers at ABT (well, most of them) perform at a very high level, and I think when posters here complain about something or other, they're talking about very, very fine points of style, technique or interpretation.

I do remember it was quite a shock, and an education for me, back in the mid-seventies, after seeing a performance which I thought was wonderful (Kirkland in something or other, I think), to her the standing-room line cronies (this was back when you HAD to get in line early for the ballet) at the Met go on and on about how awful it was -- she was weak, she was off the music, she was a crazy drug addict (oops, we didn't know that at the time!)....

Anyway, the experience did teach me to look at performances a bit more critically, and to think about whether, and to what degree, I should really buy what a dancer or choreographer is selling, and to what degree. It's certainly not the only way to look at a performance, and sometimes I wish I could go back to the times when it was all wonderful and new and just washed right over me.

Leigh, I see your point about carrying momentum in double pirouettes, but I think the key word in what you said is "for him." If it really were easier for your average Joe Principal Dancer to do that combination, don't you think they'd all do it?

Malakhov was indeed wonderful as the purple-boots Von Rothbart last night in Swan Lake. I don't understand why he's dancing so seldom, and then only in secondary roles. True, ABT has many fine men, but Malakhov is one of the very finest.

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Dear Drew, Manhatnik,Alexandra and all the others! Please explain: After Malakhov has debuted at the Mariinsky during the FEstival this past February,where he was phenomenal, all the russian media proclaimed him the best dancer in the world. At the Festival also were Carrenho, Stiefel, Acosta but they were very poor compared to Malakhov as in russian media's opinion as in, especially, sesoned St.Petersburg balletomanes liking. malakhov became "the talk of the town" overnight. Though he was trained in Russia, nobody knew him - he left Russia ten years ago and has never returned till this February. So my question is: Why is he dancing secondary roles in New York( he must be a Principal) and is he as famous in the West as we believe it in Russia now?

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Katja, maybe others have a more complete answer but I have noticed VM taking on more character sort of parts than cavalier roles recently. Maybe its a combination of things -- a desire to do different parts and declining physical powers. Although he is not old, he was considered quite a jumper several years ago but he does not seem to have that sort of power now. But then again, maybe he has decided to show off different aspects of his dancing -- musicality, footwork, etc...

On the other hand, it could just be a matter of casting and who looks good with who. Dvorevenko has been used a lot this season (with reason) and she's usually paired with her husband. Nina A dances with either Bocca or Carreno, who also partners Jaffe and sometimes Herrera. Gomes is a guy on the rise and is getting a lot of the lead roles that require splashy technique. Plus Stiefel and Corella get many of the first nights with Kent. Malakhov has been dancing a lot with McKerrow, but her career is winding down. I believe some have said she is retiring soon. And Ferri is on maternity leave, so several factors could be weighing on the roles VM is getting.

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