Sunday, June 05, 2011


American Ballet Theater: Mixed Reperatory

Yes, I've been very busy writing about Japan, but I am honoring all my ballet tickets and making it through the very heavy ballet season. I'd meant to write a post about what you should see--if you have kids, if you hate tragedy, if you like to experiment, if you want to see "stars," etc, but simply ran out of time. Maybe next year.

I started out the season by going watch Alina Cojocaru and Jose Carreno in Don Quixote, a ballet I've actually never managed to sit through in the past. But I made myself stay for Cojo and Carreno--this will probably be the last time I'll ever see him dance, which makes me extremely sad as he is a wonderful dancer, partner and performer. All the same, the ballet--even with Cojo's dedication and showmanship--didn't win me over. I felt like I'd been to the circus. Sascha Radetsky was replaced (due to injury) by Gennadi Savaliev, who appeared to be marking the steps. Maria Riccetto is a gorgeous woman in person, but somehow always appears pinched on stage. Why does life do this? It's not fair. Some people who are really good looking in person simply fade on the stage. Others who are odd looking in person come alive under the lights. Cojo was charming and earnest and you could not help but love her good-naturedness. But I needed something more, and this video of Osipova which I've watched repeatedly didn't help make me feel that an opportunity had somehow not been missed.

At any rate--I did enjoy seeing Simone Messmer and Joseph Phillips as Gypsies. I'd been curious about both dancers and was happy to have a glimpse of the "edginess" that Messmer is known for. I'd like to see more of her. And Phillips has grown on stage--much more presence than the last time I saw him.

Shallow points--Cojo's feet really bothered me. Much as been said and written about her bunions and how this is not her fault and how she has to wear extra wide shoes as a result. But must she cut the fabric off the bottom of her shoes so a raggedy edge is waving around as she dances and is visible all the way in the Dress Circle where I was sitting? I get that dancers don't have time any more to darn their points, but the raggedy edge was distracting.

With that complaining out of the way, I'll move on to the joy that was the Mixed Program. What is a mixed program? Well, it's a program in which non-related, shorter dances are performed by different casts. It's the way most of New York City Ballet performs. Think of it as a kind of "set list," like if you went to a jazz gig and heard different songs performed by the same band with different players sitting in at different points. It's like that.

First, a piece by Alexei Ratmansky, who's just accepted a 10 year contract with ABT. And just in time too, because the company needs some fresh blood who can choreograph new pieces and show that ballet is a living, relevant art form. And I say this as someone who loves and believes in ballet. Dumbarton, an ensemble work set to music by Stravinksy, featured a mixture of corps, soloist and principal dancers, including a personal favorite, Michele Wiles, who lately seems underappreciated and underutilized to me. Wiles is a virtuoso, but also a performer. She also has a scary and unpredictable quality that Ratmansky brought out in the pas de deux he created for her. This makes me hopeful that he'll continue to bring out what is best in her and that she'll continue to have the chance to dance better and newer pieces. Her Odile/Odette (Swan Lake) is one of the best out there and, again, underappreciated. Go if you can.

Dumbarton, though, is a piece that one needs to see more than once. Like everything Ratmansky does, it's thoroughly musical and while logical--nothing feels like the work of an automaton--it's not predictable. Like the best novel--you feel the story unfolding in an organic fashion but can't predict where it is going--Dumbarton is a little revelation. Most of all, I was just happy to see such great and strong dancing from all levels of the company. It's a sign of what could be and what Ratmansky could bring not just to ABT but to New York. After some trips to see dancing across the street where the men are not so universally strong, I was happy to see such bold and confident movement.

Dumbarton was followed by Troika, a work by Benjamin Millepied. Google him if you need to know who he is and why he has been in the news lately. I was so relieved to see Sascha Radetsky dancing here after missing him in Don Q, and grateful that between the two dances he chose Troika instead. Troika also feature Daniil Simkin, whose dancing and intelligence I've admired in the past and Alexander Hammoudi, a corps member whose athletic but inward quality make him unusually magnetic--like a dark haired Hallberg. I wasn't much of a fan of the choreography. It felt--to use a writing term--verbose. You know how you read a book by a contemporary writer who is getting lots of buzz and that writer talks and talks and talks and after a while you think: Oh, right, you are jabbering away because there is no there there? Well, that's how I felt about Troika. It was there--why? We had to fill the stage with all the movement . . . because? I understand that abstract pieces don't require a plot. And after seasoning my eye a bit with City Ballet, I no longer need a story from dance. But there has to be some kind of structure, or response to music that is still cathartic. While I loved the dancers in Troika, the emotional reason for the piece eluded me. It felt empty. It also felt like pieces I'd seen before.

I don't know anyone who liked the revival of Tudor's "Shadowplay," the third piece. Except for me--I liked it. But I'd just read a biography of Buddha, including the temptation by Mara that Buddha undergoes before his enlightenment. So, for me, the plot of Shadowplay was easy to follow. Also, I've read a lot of Jung to get the very 60s ethos that the piece intended to convey, and I really appreciated Tudor's ambition to try to do so much on stage and through dance--a fable, a psychological stage, an inner life. While I think Craig Salstein is such a wonderful actor--his Puck radiates in Midsummer Night's Dream--he didn't have enough gravitas or virtuosity for this particular piece. I wish I could have gone to see Simkin the following night, but don't have the cash for that.

Most people loved the final work by Christopher Wheeldon at the end of the evening. I loved it too though curiously, I don't remember much any more (the Ratmansky is lingering longer in my head) other than the fact that Isabella Boylston and Marcelo Gomes had a wonderful pas de deux in which they seemed to be asking each other to please, please "see me." It was moving. The lights and costumes were also very good. But beyond that, I now can't remember what I saw, which makes me wonder if the piece had some great moments but relied more on effect. I found myself wishing that Ratmansky had more help with costuming and lighting and learned a thing or two from Wheeldon.

And this is the funny thing about Wheeldon and Ratmansky: I find myself always complaining about Ratmansky's costumes. In Dumbarton, for instance, everyone seemed to wear these odd, post-Communist, drab, shirt dresses that really didn't do anything for anyone. I've complained in the past about his use of celadon green that doesn't pop on stage and the cut of the cap sleeves on his dresses. And here again I hated the costumes. But the dancing, the steps, the musicality were sublime. Of everything--Dumbarton is what I would most want to see again. And if I think back--it's the piece where the dancers looked the happiest.

Comments: Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?