ABT 2015 Spring Season Wrap-up

With departures of long-time favorites Paloma Herrera, Julie Kent, and Xiomara Reyes coupled with injuries to Polina Semionova and David Hallberg, the Spring Season at the Met was a patchwork for ABT in which the company relied on a limited number company dancers (the overworked Hee Seo in particular) and guest artists to fill the roles. On the positive side, the company has upgraded its repertory over the past several years with Alexei Ratmansky productions.

Sleeping Beauty a Winner 

The highlight of the season was the New York premier of Ratmansky’s The Sleeping Beauty. It 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, what was standard then looks strange now.

ABT has a 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.

The company has upgraded its repertory recently with the addition last year of the gold standard Frederick Ashton Cinderella (replacing the James Kudelka version), and Ratmansky’s Nutcracker (also financed by David Koch) which premiered in 2010. The current versions of Giselle (McKenzie), Romeo and Juliet (MacMillan), Manon (MacMillan), are first-rate. ABT’s popular productions of Don Quixote (McKenzie and Jones) and Le Corsiare (Marie-Homes), which are never popular ballets with the critics, are serviceable. McKenzie’s Swan Lake is not thought of highly by critics, but I’ve not seen a Swan Lake that critics do like. A new ABT Swan Lake from Ratmansky would be great, although his new production with Teatro Alla Scala debuted recently.

ABT must present the familiar (some say tired) full-length classics to fill the cavernous 3,800 seat Metropolitan Opera House. Other major companies perform in theaters with much fewer seats (Bolshoi Theatre 2,200, Mariinsky Theatre 1,800, Royal Opera House 2,300) that allow for more expanded repertory. ABT’s mixed rep performances in celebration of its 75th anniversary in the first week had many empty seats, in contrast to the familiar full-length classics which drew better crowds.

Hee Seo Busy In Spring Season

The table below lists the number of times a female dancer was in a lead role in a full-length ballet, excluding Othello. I hope Hee Seo gets overtime pay as she stepped up for injured Polina Semionova, Natalia Osipova, and Diana Vishneva who withdrew from Romeo and Juliet due to illness. Hee danced in an extraordinary number of performances, 13 out of the total 51 full-length performances, one in every four productions. Putting her in so many performances was a disservice to both Hee and the audiences. It is difficult for any dancer to perform at a high level in so many demanding roles, particularly for a dancer just promoted to Principal Dancer three years ago. Not great for audiences either to see one dancer so many times.

 

Female Dancers in Principal Roles in Full Length Ballets (Excluding Othello)

Key: GIS-Giselle; LB-La Bayadere; SB-Sleeping Beauty; RJ-Romeo and Juliet; SL-Swan Lake; CIN-Cinderella. CAPS=Guest Artist

Dancer# AppearancesPerformances
Hee Seo13GIS,LB-3,SB-2,RJ-3,SL-2,CIN-2
Gillian Murphy8SB-3,RJ,SL-2,CIN-2
Isabella Boylston4GIS,SB-2,SL
MARIA KOCHEKTOVA4LB-3,SL
Stella Abrera3GIS,CIN-2
Misty Copeland3RJ-2,SL
Diana Vishneva3GIS,SB-2
Julie Kent2GIS,RJ
Sarah Lane2SB-2
MARIANELA NUNEZ2CIN-2
Veronika Part2LB,SB
ALINA COJACARU1LB
Paloma Herrera1GIS
EVGENIA OBRATSOVA1RJ
NATALIA OSIPOVA1GIS
Xiomara Reyes1GIS
Total51

 

Among the women, I was particularly impressed with Isabella Boylston. I was lukewarm to her in previous seasons, but she has converted me to her side. I liked her high leaps and articulation of steps in difficult roles such as Theme and Variations and La Bayadère. Stella Abrera stood out with a great performance of Giselle, standing in for the injured Natalia Osipova; she was also effective as the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty. I missed Misty Copeland’s much publicized full-length performances but look forward to seeing her in those roles next year. She was energetic and compelling in Rodeo but lacking in the Peasant Pas de Deux from Giselle. Veronika Part was strong in La Bayadère; unfortunately, I missed her in Swan Lake due to a conflict with The Royal Ballet.

Guest artist performances were first-rate from the Bolshoi’s Evgenia Obraztsova in Romeo and Juliet and Marianela Nuñez of The Royal Ballet in Cinderella. I would definitely like to see them again at ABT. Maria Kochetkova also stepped in for Natalia in La Bayadère, giving quality performances. We will see more of her in the future at ABT as she was appointed a Principal Dancer in late June.

Among the younger dancers, Skylar Brandt, who was promoted to Soloist in June, continued to impress and has star potential. Devon Teuscher, promoted to Soloist last year, gave very nice performances as Myrta in Giselle, but disappointed in the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty. Cassandra Trenary, Nicole Graniera, and Karen Uphoff also have great potential.

 

Male Dancers in Principal Roles in Full Length Ballets (Excluding Othello)

Key: GIS-Giselle; LB-La Bayadere; SB-Sleeping Beauty; RJ-Romeo and Juliet; SL-Swan Lake; CIN-Cinderella. CAPS=Guest Artist

Dancer# of AppearancesPerformances
Cory Stearns8GIS,LB,SB-2,RJ,SL,CIN-2
Herman Cornejo7GIS,SB-2,LB-2,RJ,SL
Marcelo Gomes7GIS,SB-3,RJ-2, SL
James Whiteside6SB-2,RJ,SL,CIN-2
Alexandre Hammoudi5GIS,RJ,SL,CIN-2
Roberto Bolle5GIS-2,RJ,SL-2
Joseph Gorak5SB-2,RJ,CIN-2
KIMIN KIM2LB-2
LEONID SARAFANOV2LB-2
DENIS NEDAK1LB
VLADIMIR SHKLYAROV1GIS
STEVEN MCRAE1GIS
Daniil Simkin1SB

 

The above table shoes the male dancer distribution in full-length productions. With David Hallberg out of the season with a foot injury, ABT veterans Herman Cornejo and Marcelo Gomes continued to shine, with their dancing and dramatic interpretations in high gear. I particularly enjoyed Herman in Sleeping Beauty and La Bayadère. At age 40, Roberto Bolle still has it, although I wonder how long he can maintain his high level of dancing. Among younger dancers, Soloist Joseph Gorak had a great season with his supple technique and gorgeous line. He has made strides on the partnering front, once a weakness for him. Guest artist performances from Vladimir Shklyarov in Giselle and Leonid Sarafanov in La Bayadère were outstanding. I was less impressed with Denys Nedak in La Bayadère.

Promotions and New Blood

The Spring Season saw the departures of longstanding crowd favorites Paloma Herrera, Julie Kent, and Xiomara Reyes. To fill their considerable shoes, the company announced the promotions of Stella Abrera and Misty Copeland to Principal Dancer along with the additions of Maria Kochetkova and Alban Lendorf. Promoted to Soloist were Skylar Brandt, Thomas Forster, Luciana Paris, Arron Scott, and Cassandra Trenary. Jeffrey Cirio, a Principal Dancer for Boston Ballet will join ABT as a Soloist.

The changes are welcome news for the company with many holes to fill. Hiring from outside the company was inevitable given the lack of development of homegrown talent over the recent past. ABT was stocked full of young talent 10 years ago with Gillian Murphy, David Hallberg, Herman Cornejo, and Marcelo Gomes. Today, those dancers are in their 30s while young talent awaiting promotion to the principal rank is scarce, currently limited to Sarah Lane, Joseph Gorak, and possibly Alexandra Hammoudi.

Adding Maria and Alban makes sense as both have performed as guest artists with ABT. Also, both are young at ages 31 and 26, respectively. I don’t know much about Cirio, but his background is impressive; he won a Gold Medal at the Youth America Grand Prix in 2005, a Princess Grace Fellowship, and a Gold Medal at the Helsinki International Ballet Competition in 2009.

The lineup of lead women next spring will consist of Stella, Misty, Maria, Hee, Isabella, Veronika, Gillian and maybe Polina, who was injured the spring season, with Soloist Sarah Lane picking up some principal roles. This is a compelling lineup with Gillian, Isabella, Veronika, and Polina the stars of the company. Hopefully, Veronika will be cast more in full length roles as she only performed in two in the spring.

Among the men, the mainstays doing the bulk of the work will be Marcelo, Herman, Cory Stearns, James Whiteside, and Alban. Hopefully, David Hallberg will be fully recovered from his foot injury. A solid lineup, but not at the same level as ten years ago. It is probably unrealistic to hope for that level of star-studded talent again (Julio Bocca, Jose Manuel Carreno, Angel Correla, Ethan Stiefel in addition to Marcelo and David) as I wrote in my ABT 2014 Met Season Wrap-up.