ABT’s broad repertory was on display in the fall season that ended Sunday with classics Les Sylphides (1909) and Theme and Variation (1947), dramatic ballets The Moor’s Pavane (1949) and A Month in the Country (1976), and modern works Bach Partita (1986), Clear (2001), Gong (2001), Piano Concerto #1 (2013), and The Tempest (2013). The generally solid dancing and interesting repertory made the fall season a success.
The upside in a mixed repertory format, unlike the ABT spring season that features full-length classics, is the large number of dancers that have opportunities to shine in lead roles. The season featured mainstay Principal Dancers Marcelo Gomes, Julie Kent, Gillian Murphy, and Xiomara Reyes and also introduced a number of Corps members dancing in lead roles, demonstrating ABT’s deep bench: Thomas Forster in Les Sylphides and Clear, Daniel Mantei in Clear, Calvin Royal III, Gabe Stone Shayer, and Skylar Brant in Piano Concerto #1. I look forward to seeing them in the spring Met season; the challenge for ABT will be to keep them occupied in meaningful roles given the limited number of real dancing parts in full length ballets.
The highlight of the season was the revival of Twyla Tharp’s Bach Partita, last performed by ABT in 1985. Unfortunately, I only had one viewing of the work, with leads Polina Semionova/James Whiteside, Gillian Murphy/Marcelo Gomes, and Stella Abrera/Calvin Royal III. The piece is complicated, with the leads performing in short bursts to be replaced by other leads and other dancers. Sometimes the leads would perform together, on their own, and with other cast members, all to the music from brilliant violinist Charles Yang. During the curtain calls, the emotional embrace of Tharp and ballet mistress Susan Jones, who helped revive the work, was itself worth the price of admission. ABT should put this modern classic on the regular play list.
Alexi Ratmansky’s The Tempest had its premier in the fall season and the great dancing couldn’t revive the complicated, hard to follow plot. Marcelo was strong as Prospero (ably described by ABTFAN at Ballet Alert as “…a very buff Jesus Christ”) as was Herman Cornejo as the beast Caliban, Daniil Simkin as the explosive Ariel, and Sarah Lane as Prospero’s daughter. Unlike other story ballets such as Romeo and Juliet and A Month in the Country, following The Tempest without studying the program in detail is a challenge.
A Month in the Country featured Xiomara Reyes and Cory Stearns, and Guillaume Côté and Julie Kent as leads. As the cad Beliaev, Cory was more subdued than Côté, although his dancing was quite good during his introspective solos as he tried to figure out which of the many women on his list to pursue. Xiomara, as Natalia, was delicate and tender during her interaction with Beliaev but flew into a rage after catching him with Vera (Sarah Lane). This chance encounter nearly precipitated a brawl between Xiomara and Sarah, a battle of two super light lightweights with a combined weight of probably less than 200 pounds.
Sarah was outstanding as the young Vera, particularly in the pas de deux with Cory as her legs fluttered in excitement as she danced with the much older hunk. Arron Scott was technically solid as the boyish and immature Kolia. As Kolia in the other cast, Daniil Simkin was spectacular, with a solo filled with energetic pirouettes with very wide arms followed by a massive double tour that filled a lot of space with his wide arm carriage. Overall, I liked the Côté/Kent duo more as they were animated and seemed to connect with each other. Gemma Bond was outstanding as Vera.
Polina Seminonva and Cory were featured in Theme and Variations on two evenings. Polina was terrific, completely in control and at ease throughout this difficult piece. She is one of my favorites with her great line, extension, and expressiveness; of course, having the looks of a model doesn’t hurt. Cory was technically good but a bit subdued in his demeanor.
I saw the The Moor’s Pavane Friday. Jose Limon choreographed this modern classic in 1949 and has been in the ABT repertory since 1970. The work lasts only 20 minutes but covers a lot of ground, beginning with a sedate dance for couples (pavane) to the murder of Othello’s wife. The ballet has four characters that are onstage for the entire piece: Othello (The Moor, Roman Zhurbin), the innocent Desdemona (The Moor’s Wife, Hee Seo), the treacherous Iago (His Friend, Cory Stearns), and Emilia (The Friend’s Wife, Veronika Part). Roman gave a powerful performance as the jealous and volatile Othello, one who generally loves his wife, but ultimately kills her and then regrets his actions. Cory was animated as he played the scheming Iago as he teamed up with his wife to manipulate Othello. You knew trouble was brewing when Iago wrapped his leg around Othello and whispered something into his ear. Veronika’s stately, elegant red dress hid her conniving nature as she set up Hee. Veronika was powerful as she stood in a deep plié in second position as she spread havoc. The delicate Hee was a bit overpowered in the role as she was no match for these three and the work climaxed with Othello beating her to death, partially covered by Veronika’s sweeping red dress.
Piano Concerto #1 is my favorite of the three pieces in Shostakovich Trilogy by Alexi Ratmansky that premiered in May 2013. I saw the same cast twice with leads Gillian Murphy/Calvin Royal III and Skylar Brandt/Gabe Stone Shayer. Another example of young dancers performing lead roles as all are members of the Corps except for Gillian. Skylar stole the show with her rapid, powerful turns. She is small in stature (a future partner for Herman Cornejo?), similar to Principal Dancer Xiomara Reyes. Skylar had a grande jete diagonal section in which she seemed to fly, similar to Natalia Osipova, who performed the role in the spring season. Royal and Shayer were up to the task in this athletic piece. Royal is tall and lean, and covers a lot of ground with ease while Shayer’s more compact build facilitates his rapid, aggressive turns. I particularly liked their nice double assemble diagonal (except for the sloppy landings) and Shayer’s big double cabriole derrière.
Sascha Radetsky put together two great performances in Clear. In previous seasons, I found him stiff and not able to turn proficiently. However, my concerns were put to rest as he pulled off this very athletic work requiring substantial stamina. He had a nice fouetté section with quarter turn changes in focus. Making this task more difficult were nearby dancers moving in the opposite direction, providing a substantial distraction.
Craig Salstein had difficulties with the double tour/single pirouette combination in Clear; I’ve heard that Daniil and James Whiteside also had issues with the combination in Theme and Variations although Cory pulled it off in the two performances I saw.