2015 Balletfocus Highlights

Thanks for tuning in this past year and hope you enjoyed the ballet coverage as much as I had fun reporting and reviewing performances. Thanks also to those that provided their thoughts in interviews: ABT’s Gillian Murphy on pirouettes; NYCB’s Emily Kitka and Lara Tong, and Miami City Ballet’s Rebecca King on pointe shoes; Gillian, Olivia Cowley of The Royal Ballet, Bridgett Zehr, and Eliza Minden at Gaynor Minden on a post on new technology pointe shoes; Rachelle and Diane Di Stassio on training necessary to make it into a top ballet company; and ABT conductor David LaMarche on his work conducting an orchestra for ballet. 2015 also marked the debut of my YouTube ballet video dictionary with short videos demonstrating common ballet steps taken from live performances. Some of my favorites: grand fouettés, jeté passé en tournant, and pirouette en dehors.

2015 Balletfocus Highlights:

Herman Cornejo in Le Sprectre de la Rose


Herman Cornejo, Le Sprectre de la rose, October 24, 2015. Click for more photos.

If there is a better Rose in Fokine’s 1911 Le Sprectre de la rose in the world than Herman, I would like to see him. I saw Herman twice in ABT’s fall season and he was spectacular. Herman flew through the air with high grand jetés, assemblé six, and double assemblés. He was relaxed throughout, never forcing any of the steps in great Nijinsky form. Notable was his double assemblés done in both directions, which is unusual and difficult. Great performances were punctuated by a great grand jeté out the window after kissing the sleepy The Young Girl, Sarah Lane.

Joaquin De Luz


Tiler Peck and Joaquin De Luz, Harlequinade, October 15, 2015. Click for more photos.

Joaquin De Luz is an ageless wonder and had a great year at NYCB. Joaquin was one of my favorite dancers at ABT and I remember his great work in Balanchine’s Theme and Variations. He was always precise and exact in his movements filled with substantial athleticism in this challenging piece. Happy to report that 12 years after leaving ABT at age 39, he still has it, giving great performances. He was an expressive Tybalt in Romeo+Juliet, showing dramatic intensity that he picked up from his days at ABT. Unlike other versions, Tybalt has an athletic solo in the Martins version, filled with turns in second and pirouettes to a Don Quixote-type double tour to the knee. He was also impressive in Donizette Variations with Ashley Bouder with a number of athletic sections consisting of rapid turns in second, multiple tours, and high leaps.

Stella Abrera in Giselle

Stella Abrera

Stella Abrera, Giselle, May 23, 2015. Click for more photos.

Stella Aberra’s ABT debut as Giselle with Mariinsky’s Vladimir Shklyarov in May was a magnificent and memorable performance. Stella has been waiting for the chance a long time. She was originally scheduled to perform the role in 2008 but had to withdraw due to injury. For some reason, she has not been cast since at ABT, although she performed the role for The Australian Ballet in April and Ballet Philippines last year. Only when Polina Semionova was pulled due to injury did Stella get her chance.

Stella lit up the stage in front of an enthusiastic Met house. Her portrayal of Giselle effectively ran the gamut, from a frail, shy girl in Act I to a defiant afterlife spirit determined to protect the man she loved from the powerful Myrta in Act II. Her technique was on the mark with lush panches, arabesques, and extensions with flowing arms that extended her long line. Her mad scene was well done, but not overdone as she succumbed to the depths of madness.

The bond between Stella and Vladimir was moving and remarkable considering they only had a week working together. They moved in unison, complementing each other in the Act II pas de deux with perfect timing on opposing assembles. His partnering was strong.

ABT Ratmansky Sleeping Beauty


Alexei Ratmansky at the NYC premier of The Sleeping Beauty, May 29, 2015. Click for more photos.

ABT’s new Alexei Ratmansky Sleeping Beauty, which had its New York premier in May, is a grand production with spectacular costumes and sets. No expense was spared in this production, underwritten by a $2.5 million matching grant from David Koch, with sets and costumes by Tony-award winning designer Richard Hudson, prominent for design work in The Lion King. However, what sets this production apart is that Ratmansky doesn’t attempt a makeover of the popular classic, but returns to it’s Russian roots.

Ratmansky’s inspiration is Serge Diaghilev’s 1921 staging of the Imperial Russian Theatre’s Sleeping Beauty, first choreographed in 1890 by Marius Petipa to the music of Tchaikovsky. Ratmansky made heavy use of notations housed in the Harvard Theatre Collection from Nicolas Sergeyev, who restaged Petipa’s choreography for Diaghilev.

Ratmansky’s story is not only true to the original, but also the style of dancing from the 1920s. In Ratmansky’s version, dancers replicate the technique of the era. Dance technique has evolved over the years and, like watching video of 1950s basketball players that have an aversion to jumping, employing feet on the ground set shots and crab like defensive postures, what was standard then looks strange now.

The costumes are grand, particularly the King and Queen in the Wedding Scene. The Queen enters with a gorgeous white and gold gown with long tail (attendants need to work on not stepping on the tail). Wigs are prominent throughout; the Queen wears a tall, thin wig, probably 2-3 feet tall. Prince Désiré and Aurora wear white powdered wigs in the Grand Pas de Deux.

ABT has a true winner on its hands with Ratmansky’s Sleeping Beauty. Like most Ratmansky full length ballets, there is much action and nuance, which reward multiple viewings. It is refreshing that he went back to the 1920s for inspiration, rather than adding to the many modern Sleeping Beauty versions. A new interpretation would be boring; his creative instinct to look backward rather than forward was brilliant.

Studio Performances

Melissa Chapski, Paquita, 7DM2, f6.3, 8000 ISO, 1/640, 93 mm

Melissa Chapski, Paquita, Ellison Ballet Gala, May 15, 2015. Click for more photos.

The great young ballet talent in New York was on full display in an Ellison Ballet gala performance in May and the Gelsey Kirkland Ballet Nutcracker in December. I enjoyed both companies, stocked full of great young dancers, and some will undoubtedly dance on larger stages.