Balletfocus 2014 highlights:
Polina Semionova, ABT Don Quixote, June 17
Polina Semionova was stunning as Kitri in ABT’s Don Quixote on May 17. If there is a better Kitri in the world today, I would like to see it. She was in control throughout the evening, making the difficult and physically demanding role look easy. Standout technical parts include endless balances in the Grand Pas de Deux that drew gasps from the crowd. Conductor Ormsby Wilkins had to extend the music, waiting for her to conclude her balance. WOW!!! She also had a nice fouetté section in her final solo that alternated single and double pirouettes with one hand on her hip and other hand overhead on the double. The sequence started out with a quadruple pirouette. It takes a lot of guts to start out a difficult turn sequence with four pirouettes. The Grand Pas de Deux with Marcelo Gomes was stellar with no rough edges. At times, Marcelo used only one hand to support her turns. Why use two hands when one will do?
Women of NYCB
The women continued to excel in 2014 at New York City Ballet. Aside from the retirement of Wendy Whelan after 30 years with the company, the main NYCB story of the year was fine dancing by the women Principals, particularly Ashley Bouder, Megan Fairchild, Sara Mearns, Tiler Peck, and Teresa Reichlen. I can’t remember a time when NYCB had such depth of great women dancers.
Ashley makes full use of her precise technique, rapid, sure fire footwork, boundless energy, joyful demeanor, and sense of humor. She also excels in phrasing, with elongated pauses in arabesque, flowing arms, exaggerated shoulder and head movements, in synch and complementing the music.
Sara is a well-rounded dancer, able to perform the regal, formal roles such as in Chaconne and the Diamonds segment in Jewels, with slow adagio, high extensions, and well-timed balances. At the other end of the spectrum, she is able to dance with reckless abandon in roles such as MacDonald of Sleat in Union Jack.
Tiler pulled double duty in the Fall season, splitting her time between NYCB and rehearsals for The Kennedy Center production of Little Dancer. Her style is similar to Ashley’s, with substantial energy and reckless abandon combined with great technique.
Teresa danced with substantial confidence this season during her many performances. I particularly enjoyed her in Firebird where she showed her vulnerability after her capture, yet revealed strength during the battle scene.
Megan Fairchild did not dance in the Fall season as she was performing in the Broadway musical On the Town.
These dancers are very good and would be principals at any major ballet company.
Ivan Vasiliev-Mikhailovsky Ballet at Lincoln Center
Mikhailovsky Ballet made ample use of Ivan Vasiliev in November at Lincoln Center, featuring him as the lead in three out of the five Don Quixote performances and three of the four Flames of Paris. His dancing in his Thursday Don Quixote was breathtaking, filled with unconventional innovations. In his first solo, he did five or six nicely controlled turns in attitude after pulling in from turns in second position. On his diagonal double tour section, he did a funky switching feet thing that I have never seen before followed by a double fouetté after landing on one leg, very unique. In his second solo, he did huge split double cabriole derriere to the knee, a nice coupé jeté en tournant en manège (split jumps in a circle), broken up by leaps in attitude, punctuated by a spectacular triple sauté de basque to the knee.
Give Ivan credit for going all out and not leaving anything in his gas tank at the end of a solo. I’ve heard critics complain about his heavy breathing after his solos; it’s never bothered me, given what he is doing. Hey, try doing coupé jeté en tournant ending with a triple sauté de basque in your backyard sometime without breathing heavily!
Ivan has special talents that fill a niche in bravura Don Quixote/Flames of Paris type roles, where an overpowering stage presence and circus style bravura are needed. In more nuanced roles such as Albrecht in Giselle where there are no pyrotechnics, his downsides come into sharper focus such as a not so perfect physique and technique that is sometimes lacking.
On the Town
I’ve seen dozens of ballets in 2014 but zero Broadway shows. After tiring of Nutcracker, I jumped at the chance to see On the Town at the Lyric Theatre given its ties to the ballet world-Jerome Robbins was the original choreographer and the current production features NYCB’s Megan Fairchild. The production is a great revival, a rousing work with never a dull moment for 2 hours and 35 minutes. The critic in me wants to find a few shortcomings with the production-but I can’t find any. It’s a helluva show in a helluva town.
The plot of On the Town follows a rather predictable path about three sailors in New York on 24 hour leave with two goals: seeing the sights (Bronx Zoo at 10:30, Stature of Liberty at 10:40) and pursuing beautiful women. However, with the great choreography and performances, the show seems fresh 70 years since its debut. The show nicely captures the tempo of New York-from the hustle and bustle of the subways to the loneliness of being alone in a city of eight million people (Lonely Town).
The show features choreography by Emmy winner and Smash choreographer, Joshua Bergasse and NYCB’s Megan Fairchild as Ivy. Megan’s dancing capabilities are well documented and on display with energetic fouettés and supported leaps over the sailor’s heads in Presentation of Miss Turnstiles. We all know Megan can dance, but can she act and sing? She’s very effective as the sweet Ivy, who Gabby pursues after seeing her on a poster in the subway for a Miss Turnstiles competition. Megan has great comedic timing and can sing well, appearing in Presentation of Miss Turnstiles, Do-Do-Re-Do with her voice teacher Madame Dilly, who is more interested in alcohol than teaching (the hilarious Jackie Hoffman), and Pas de Deuxwith Gabby. We find out that Megan can sing effectively while standing on her head and in penché position during Do-Do-Re-Do.
Viktoria Tereshkina and Vladimir Shklyarov, ABT La Bayadère, May 29
Mariinsky Principal Dancers Viktoria Tereshkina and Vladimir Shklyarov gave a standout performance from both technical and dramatic perspectives as ABT guest artists in La Bayadère. Viktoria was an outstanding Nikiya, performing steps I have not seen before. In the first act in sous-sus position, she raised her leg to passé and, while still on pointe, extended to arabesque and held it momentarily. Not once but twice. Very impressive. Dramatically, she was flat at the beginning, as she seemed bored at encountering the High Brahmin. However, she perked up after seeing Solar (Vladimir) as they swore eternal love.
Vladimir has a commanding stage presence with ample charisma as he portrayed Solar. His Solar displayed a range of emotions from the joy of capturing Nikiya’s love to grieving of her loss after she dies from a snake bite. His solos were powerful and technically clean. He displayed nice double cabriole derriere with substantial separation, and double cabrioles to the front in which his beat separation was slight, but ended with a large separation of the legs. I look forward to seeing them in Swan Lake at BAM on January 15 and 23.
ABT premiered its fourth version of Cinderella in 2014, the Frederick Ashton 1948 masterpiece. Although I liked the previous Kudelka version, which has an art deco, 1930s theme, ABT has acquired the gold standard masterpiece that will hopefully remain in their repertoire for many years. Dancing was at a high level and I enjoyed leads Hee Seo/James Whiteside and Gillian Murphy/David Hallberg.
ABT will celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2015 with a new production of Sleeping Beauty choreographed by Alexi Ratmansky. The ballet will be based on the production Léon Bakst created for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1921. The Ashton Cinderella is an improvement over ABT’s previous version by James Kudelka; I’m not familiar with the Bakst version, but it has to be an better than the widely reviled current ABT production, staged by Kevin McKenzie, Gelsey Kirkland, and Michael Chernov.
I know that Ratmansky is a busy guy, but is he available to choreograph a new Swan Lake version for ABT in 2016?
Roberto Bolle, ABT Swan Lake, June 28
At age 39, Roberto still has it, dancing Prince Siegfried with ABT in June with great confidence and gusto. He is always a great partner, sturdy as a rock in big lifts and supported turns. His June Swan Lake solos were solid with the requisite double sauté de basques, triple pirouettes, double tours with arms in fifth position (overhead), single turns in second with alternating doubles (maybe triples) to a controlled triple pirouette.
I always love taking photos of Roberto in curtain calls after the performance. He is the best as he always has a nice relaxed smile and acknowledges all parts of the house. It is impossible to take a bad photo of Roberto. He should give lessons to other dancers on how to bow during curtain calls.