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Greece? Italy?

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The opening night of NYCB at the Verdi Festival was a wonderful experience, highlighted by the presence of prima ballerina, Carla Fracci in the audience. She was my first Giselle and it was real thrill to see her, as beautiful as ever.

This NYCB tour has been hampered from the first by a host of injuries to the company's principals. Nichols is pregnant and never intended to join the tour but also missing are Evans, Ringer and Whelan. All much missed.

The Teatro Reggio is a jewel box of a theatre , although far from perfect for ballet. The orchestra, where I sat, is not raked, so sight lines can be a problem and the some of the boxes must have a very limited view of the stage. It is a much smaller house than the State Theatre and it was nice to feel the intimate connection between the stage and the audience.

I ran into James Fayette in town and he told me that although the raked stage was causing difficulties for some of the younger dancers, the main concern was a hard floor.

The program opened with Ballo della Regina led by Weese and Boal with Amanda Edge, Eva Natanya, Rachel Rutherford and Aubrey Morgan (substituting for an injured Ashley Bouder) as the soloists. This is one of my favorite ballets and Merill Ashley's performance is an indelible memory for me. Weese gave a charming performance but lacked the sheer dance athleticism that Ashley braught to the role. Natanya gave a lovely account of the solo originally choreographed for Stephanie Saland. Natanya is a much larger, rangier dancer than I remember Saland being and gave less weight to the port de bras and upper body work than Saland did. But Natanya covered the stage and danced larger than I remember Saland doing.

For me, the performance to watch was Boal's. He was having one of those magical nights when he seems at one with the music, every jump and turn perfectly phrased and he gave Weese great support.

I did not care for Quartet for Strings, Martin's new to Verdi's only string quartet. Another of those "stepless" works, it featured Tracey, Bouree, Somogyi, Millepied and Marcovici.

Viva Verdi, to orchestrated arias from La Traviata, featured Kistler and Askegard with Taylor, Mandradjieff and Abi Stafford. The costumes for the girls were the famous "Parma Yellow." A charming tribute to a lovely city. This was certainly a piece d'occasion, I was most interested by Martin's use of Askegard. He certainly sees him as a cavalier and used his height and the weight of his gestures to fill out the adagio pharses of the score. Kistler, whose movement range is now clearly limited, was a bit brittle at the beginning of the piece but warmed up and was glowing with that pearly radiance that makes her so attractive by the end of the piece. Taylor looked uncomfortable, maybe the raked stage was bothering her.

The program which will be shown on RAI eventually was to be filmed in its entirety at two seperate performances.

The Four Season may not be a great ballet but it is a crowd pleaser and the Parma audience responded with applause, bravos and lots of curtain calls.

Winter was well danced by Carrie Lee Riggins (with more musicality than I have previously seen), Hoffmans and Ritter.

Spring featured van Kipnis and Neal. Both danced with great joy, terrific musicality, wit and a great rapport. Neal, who can sometimes be a bit cold, responded wonderfully to van Kipnis and she gave an even better performance than the one I saw in NYC this spring.

Meunier and Fayette led Summer and the Italian audiences responded strongly to the real sensuality that Meunier brings to this role.

Fall was led by Carmena whose performance has grown tremendously since I saw it this spring. Then his charm and his jumping ability were clearly evident, now he has added stretched feet and perfect landings. It was the performance of the ballet. Woetzel seemed disengaged and slightly sloppy, although he partnered Ansanelli very well. I would say it was one of his B- nights.

I would have preferred to see Meunier dance Fall, her more robust dancing seems a better choice for the role than Ansanelli's girlish quality. But Ansanelli did well, throwing herself into the role. Her variation was the weakest part of the role, she doesn't have a great jump and in the coda, her fouettes were weak. But this was a promising debut and she may yet grow into the part.

All in all, it was an exciting evening and certainly the quality of the classical dancing was of a caliber that the Italians rarely seen from their own companies (if we can judge by the La Scala Ballet's recent performances in NYC). The response to Ballo was more muted that I expected, maybe it is a work that requires several viewings before one can take in the choreography's intricacies.

Unfortunately, I was not able to see the second program which featured Symphony in C, Dances at a Gathering and Barber Violin Concerto with Elizabeth Walker in the role created for Kate Johnson. That's a performance I look forward to this winter at the State Theater.

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