After three weeks of important, critically acclaimed works (Sylvia, Ratmansky mixed rep, La Fille mal gardée), ABT took a break last week, performing the campy and often silly Le Corsaire. The plot is thin and dramatically unappealing, but who cares as it serves as a showcase for bravura dancing, spectacular when done well. The culinary equivalent of eating kale and brussels sprouts for three weeks followed by a week of decadent chocolate soufflé.
Le Corsaire is about big time dancing rather than plot development. For example, the dramatic scene in Act III in the Pasha’s palace in which Birbanto runs into Conrad and Medora with Medora exposing Birbanto as a traitor, followed by Conrad shooting Birbanto, takes all of 45 seconds. Too much dramatic development takes time away from dancing.
The Thursday performance was spectacular, at times reminding me of ABT’s glory days 10-15 years ago with stars Julio Bocca, José Manuel Carreño, Angel Corella, Vladimir Malakhov. Although the performance was not at that lofty level, it was close and was great fun. Herman Cornejo was Conrad with Jeffrey Cirio as his slave Ali, Daniil Simkin as Lankendem, the owner of the bazaar, and Craig Salstein as Conrad’s friend Birbanto. Maria Kochetkova was Conrad’s love interest Medora and Sarah Lane was Medora’s friend Gulnare.
I thought Vladimir Malakhov was the best at Lankendem-until I saw Daniil Thursday. The two are equally matched in the leaping department with Vladimir having an edge on his nice assembles to a deep plié, but Daniil excelling in a few big air 540 rivoltades. However, Daniil has a huge edge in the turning department. Where Vladimir struggled, Daniil excels, with wide arm pirouettes, drawing in after 5-6 turns. Dramatically, Daniil played the sinister slave trader with campy flair.
Jeffry Cirio was an impressive Ali the Slave. Jeffrey joined ABT last year as a Soloist after leaving a Principal Dancer position at Boston Ballet. Small and slight of build, he moves quickly, sometimes at an almost reckless pace. This was the first time I’ve seen him perform in a major bravura role and he was up to the task, with nice slow five turns in attitude devant (leg bent behind him), big split jeté passé and jeté passé en tournant, and a very rare triple triple saut de basque to the floor at the end of his first solo. His pirouette à la seconde section was not the best; after single and triple turns in second position, he pulled in to a rushed double pirouette ending.
Herman was a robust Conrad, with nice leaps and turns throughout. At age 35, he still has it, although maybe not the same WOW factor as 10 years ago. Maria Kochetkova and Sarah Lane danced well, navigating difficult sections such as Maria’s Italian fouettés and Sara’s turns on a diagonal in first position, all with lyrical flowing arms.
Skylar Brandt, Luciana Paris, and Christine Shevchenko were the Odaliques, generally danced at a high level. Christine’s triple pirouette en dehors with arms in fifth position (overhead) diagonal was well done in the early stages, but she struggled on the last few.
Wednesday’s Le Corsaire was more subdued, with fine performances from the always lovely Gillian Murphy as Medora and Stella Abrera as her friend Gulnare. Both are very consistent, dancing with great grace and substance. Paris Opera Ballet’s Mathias Heymann (listed as an exchange artist not a guest artist in the program) was Conrad. Mathias has a nice line and extension. He performed the role well, with nice jetés and lift on his jumps. This is the first time I’ve seen him and was impressed with his partnering skills as he worked well with Gillian.
Gabe Stone Shayer, as Lankendem, was fine, but not particularly memorable. Similarly Odalisques Melanie Hamrick, Katherine Williams, and April Giangeruso were not distinguished in their solos.
Daniil was exceptional as Ali on Wednesday; he has special talents in bravura steps and the role allows him to showcase his strengths. His solo Wednesday was similar to the YouTube video below. He combines his great leaping ability and turning skills for an overpowering effect:
- On his en dehors pirouettes (4:35 in the video), he winds up to generate substantial power into his turns and is able to harness the extra momentum; once into the turns, he carries his arms very wide, almost in first position (to the side). As his turns progress, his arms close into his body.
- Daniil is the master of the 540 rivoltade (7:35), a trick that originated in the martial arts. A few other dancers do the step, but Daniil is the only one that can put together a sequence along a diagonal.
- He has very nice tour de reins (barrel turns) with his body almost horizontal to the ground (7:50).
- On his piroutte à la seconde (8:30), he delays his retiré position (foot to the knee) for several turns, maintaining a very open position until his foot touches his knee on about turn 3-4. On Wednesday, he did single turns in second with triples (maybe quads) with alternating arms, before turning in to five (maybe six) controlled turns in retiré.
- In his second solo, he did a double assemblé menége section rather than his standard barrel turns finishing with a 540. The double assemble menáge is generally more difficult than barrel turns.
Daniil has specific talents that make him a unique dancer. He is at the top of my list in circus style roles such as Ali or Lankendem along with more subtle roles such as Bluebird Pas de Deux from The Sleeping Beauty. However, for full-length lead roles his partnering skills are a drawback as he is not the strongest partner.