ABT Giselle Review: Gomes, Hallberg, Stearns

American Ballet Theatre celebrated Marcelo Gomes’ 20th anniversary with the company Tuesday evening in front of a raucous crowd. As is customary in such events, Marcelo gave numerous curtain call bows to an appreciative audience, with past and present ABT dancers congratulating him as confetti rained down on the stage (check out my photography website notmydayjobphotography for curtain call photos of the event).

In an ABT season with injuries to principal dancers-Isabella Boylston (ankle); Herman Cornejo (calf); Gillian Murphy (hip); Maria Kochetkova (??), one characteristic that stands out in Marcelo’s 20 years is his durability. Year after year, he has been a workhorse in the company, the Cal Ripken of the ballet world. According to my 2014 ABT Met wrap-up in which I compared the company’s dancers at various points in time, in the 2005 Met season, Marcelo danced in 25 works, with 7 in principal roles in full-length productions. A distant second was Angel Corella with 18 appearances in 6 principal roles. In the Fall 2005 season, Marcelo danced in 11 works, second to Angel’s 13. In the Met Season 2014, Marcelo danced in 16 works, with 8 full length performances while James Whiteside appeared 18 times in 6 full lengths. In the Met 2015 season, Marcelo appeared in 7 works, right behind Cory Stearn’s 8. In his 20 years, I don’t recall Marcelo getting injured and seeing one of those dreaded white slips in the program announcing his injury and replacement (leave a comment if you recall Marcelo being replaced due to injury). The paradox is that when done well, ballet looks so easy; however, ballet is a brutal physical activity where injuries are commonplace with all of the leaps, turns, and lifts for men. His durability is quite an accomplishment given the physical demands of the art form.

Update: ballet_bear at Twitter points to a 2013 article at Ballet Dance Magazine in which Marcelo discusses an injury to his deltoid tendon in his left ankle that caused him to miss some of ABT’s tour.

Marcelo just didn’t just show up to work on time for 20 years. In addition to his longevity, Marcelo has it all: great technique, wonderful dramatic abilities spanning the emotional spectrum, strong and unwavering partnering skills, all with princely looks. These traits enabled him to excel in diverse roles.

For a tall dancer, Marcelo is a great turner, capable of churning out 4-6 controlled pirouettes, either en dehors or at the end of a turns à la seconde sequence. His leaps are high, with great extension. These strengths allowed him to excel in bravura roles as Basilio in Don Quixote and Ali the Slave in Le Corsaire earlier in his career.

As I wrote last year about his dramatic capabilities after a memorable role as Rothbart in Swan Lake, Marcelo is so charismatic; he commands attention by simply being on stage. Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie has a great quote in the video Born to be Wild on Mikhail Baryshnikov that applies to Marcelo: “People used to say “Misha is so fabulous because he could do a triple whatchacallit to the knee that doesn’t have a name.” Well no. He was not fabulous because of that; he was fabulous because he could stand onstage and do NOTHING and you couldn’t take your eyes off him.” Marcelo, like Baryshnikov, has an intangible quality that makes him irresistible to watch, a certain theatrical timing and expressiveness that is difficult to explain, but you know it when you see it. Dramatically, not many dancers are in Marcelo’s class (although I am not a fan of his over-dramatic Romeo).

As a partner, Marcelo stands out for his strong support, but never overpowering his partner. Over the years, he has provided memorable performances with Nina Ananiashvili, Diana Vishneva, Gillian Murphy, Polina Semionova.

Marcelo’s talents were on display as Albrecht in Giselle, adding this evening to his long list of outstanding performances. His solos were solid, with high double cabriole devant, double tours with arms overhead, punctuated by a triple pirouette to a double tour to the ground in exhaustion. After getting no reprieve from Myrta, Queen of the Wilis, he performed 22 entrechat six, a beautiful sequence (see 3:00 in the video link for Roberto Bolle’s beats in Giselle). I have a great appreciation for multiple entrechat six. As a dancer many years ago, I could string together about five nice entrechat six. After a few good ones, fatigue set in; sucking wind (and generally sucking), my nicely articulated side-to-side leg movements turned to unattractive front-to-back movements with limited turnout, coupled with my upper body heaving up and down. Doing a long stretch of entrechat six with form is a great endurance accomplishment. Nice to see him do the entrechat six; in previous viewings, he did the more customary step for ABT dancers, a brisé along a diagonal.

As Count Albrecht, he was aggressive in pursuing Giselle. He knew what he wanted from the start, nothing subtle here. His pursuit was Stella Abrera, in her second year in the role at ABT. The two make a lovely pair, with Marcelo providing strong support. Stella’s strength in this role is in the second act, with her light as air leaps, entrechat, and backward moving arched jumps. In Act I she struggled on her hops on pointe, not traveling much along a diagonal.

Chiristine Shevchenko was an icy Myrta, Queen of the Wilis. Christine is having an outstanding Met season, with a blockbuster performance as Kitri in Don Quixote. Add Myrta to her list of successes this season, with high leaps and lush penchés.

Cassandra Trenary and Blaine Hoven gave the best Peasant Pas de Deux I’ve seen this year. Cassandra had excellent phrasing in her solos, well-timed with the music. Blaine had a unique solo in which he did double tours in both directions with arms overhead. Joseph Gorak was also effective in two performances, although he had problems with his pirouette to double tour to the knee on Saturday.

More on David Hallberg

It was great seeing David Hallberg return to the stage Saturday after a three-year absence due to ankle surgery. Commenting on my photo on Twitter in which he is clasping his hands as if in prayer, eyes closed, he says: “and all I could do is clasp my hands together and thank the universe..”

As memorable as the performance was, I briefly noted in my initial review that I’ve seen better solo dancing from David. His shortcomings were basically his turns. He was off kilter on several of his pirouette to attitude turns, out of control lunging backwards. At the end of his solo, he did a very simple double pirouette to the ground instead of the customary double tour or turn in second position. Who knows whether these issues were due to his left ankle or just being rusty after a long absence. We will know more when he does more technically demanding roles such as Swan Lake, with more pirouettes and tours (he is not scheduled to dance this role this season). For now, it is nice to see him back in action.

Hee Seo and Cory Stearns

ABT Giselle Review: Gomes, Hallberg, Stearns

Hee Seo and Cory Stearns. Click for more photos.

Hee Seo and Cory Stearns were effective in their only Giselle performance Thursday, May 25. Giselle is a good role for Hee as she has light jumps similar to Stella. Cory gave a solid solo, very controlled throughout. I’ve seen better Myrta performances from Veronika Part. Her penchés were weak, with less authority in the role than I’ve previously seen.