Balletfocus 2017 Highlights

It’s been fun covering the New York ballet scene in 2017 and I hope you enjoyed Balletfocus commentary and photography. Thanks for tuning in. Here are my favorites of 2017:

ABT Discovers New Stars

Christine Shevchenko and Alban Lendorf, May 18, 2017. Click for more photos of the ABT Met Season.

Sometimes bad events lead to good outcomes. Such was the case in ABT’s Met season when faced with a rash of injuries among the female Principal Dancers. When Gillian Murphy, Maria Kochetkova, and Veronika Part were injured, ABT was forced to use Soloists and found out that the young dancers, Christine Shevchenko, Skylar Brandt, Sarah Lane, and Devon Teucher, could actually deliver, with performances rivaling more seasoned dancers.

ABT has not been good at developing new talent over the past decade, instead relying on flyover guest artist talent for the Spring Met season. That policy changed several years ago after the departure of Executive Director Rachel Moore with no guest artists this Met season. The new strategy of relying on homegrown talent was on full display with Christine Schevchenko as Kitri in Don Quixote in a Wednesday matinée performance and a prime-time Thursday slot as she stepped in for Gillian Murphy. The Soloist since 2014 clearly made a statement I AM A PRINCIPAL DANCER! in front of the prime time Thursday evening crowd with a high quality performance opposite Alban Lendorf.

At the beginning of the Le Corsaire performances later in the season, Skylar Brandt and Christine anticipated an uneventful week not doing much. In reality, they stepped in the female lead Medora role for five performances, carrying ABT on their small shoulders. There must have been a lot of scrambling as the two had to learn the role quickly. Skylar danced on a Monday (replacing Maria Kochetkova) after ABT gave her the news the previous Friday. She also danced Wednesday evening. Christine danced the role Tuesday (replacing Veronika Part), Thursday (replacing Maria), and Saturday evening (replacing Veronika). It was a patchwork but it led to exciting performances.

Devon Teucher, in a scheduled Swan Lake Wednesday matinée performance, showed that she is a Principal Dancer in waiting, delivering a quality performance as Odette/Odile. Sarah Lane, replacing Gillian Murphy on short notice was also expressive in the role and technically sound, with Daniil Simkin as the Prince.

At the end of the Met season, Devon, Christine, and Sarah were promoted to Principal Dancer.

Check out my reviews of Christine’s debut in Don Quixote, Skylar Brandt in Le Corsaire, Devon’s debut in Swan Lake, and Sarah’s Swan Lake debut.

Julio Bocca 50th Birthday Celebration

Julio Bocca Birthday Gala at Lincoln Center

Julio Bocca, 50th Birthday Celebration. Click for more photos.

In April, Youth America Grand Prix celebrated Julio Bocca’s 50th birthday (check out my article and photos). The gala event featured Julio’s signature pieces along with dancers that worked with him: Marcelo Gomes, Joaquin De Luz, Maria Riccetto, Nina Ananiashvili, and others. The gala featured a big screen backdrop with Julio reminiscing about his early training, expressive hands, love/hate relationship with Don Quixote, working relationships with dancers. Clad in an ABT shirt, he came across as a modest and reflective guy, unlike some of the characters he portrayed on stage.

Leading off the evening was Marcelo Gomes, who gave a heartfelt speech about his relationship with Julio and how much of a mentor he was to younger dancers. On the big screen, Maria Riccetto, who danced in his company, talked about what it was like to be in his company. Joaquin De Luz gave a hilarious imitation of Julio’s hyper-serious on stage demeanor, taking a round about route around the stage before a solo in Robbins’ Other Dances. Tamara Rojo and Isaac Hernandez delivered a rousing Don Quixote Pas de Deux, featuring endless turns and loooong balances from Tamara. Isabelle Guerin and Manuel Legris gave a poignant and touching portrayal of loss in Farewell Waltz, choreographed by Patrick De Bana.

The evening was about Julio and at the end, dancers assembled on stage around a table. All raised their glasses to say “Cheers” for a drink to Julio’s birthday followed by a long series of well-deserved bows by The Man.

David Hallberg Returns

David Hallberg, Giselle, May 27, 2017. Click for more photos of the ABT Met Season.

David Hallberg returned to the Met stage in the American Ballet Theatre Giselle in May, a triumphant and emotional performance with Gillian Murphy as Giselle (for curtain call photos, see my photography website and Balletfocus review. David had been out since 2014 after several ankle surgeries (see Dance Magazine for detail on David’s rehab in Melbourne with the Australian Ballet). In front of an enthusiastic packed crowd Saturday evening, David delivered a memorable performance. As if to make a loud statement that he is back, he did the difficult entrechat six sequence (24 in all) with great form after the Queen of the Wilis, Myrta, orders him to dance until he dies. Most at ABT in the Albrecht role do a brisé along the diagonal; the entrechat six makes more sense dramatically as doing this step 24 times is actually exhausting, in line with the story (Roberto Bolle is the other dancer who does the entrechat six). The last time I saw David perform the role he opted for the brisé.

I was able to snag a side front row seat and snapped the above photo during David’s curtain call. Eyes shut, David looked like he was praying as he faced the black abyss of the audience. He liked the photo and included it in his autobiography A Body of Work, which was published in November. The caption of the photo in his book explained his thoughts: “I clasped my hands together, closed my eyes, and bowed my head. There was nothing else for me to do but feel thankful for every bit of my past experience.” The rebirth after two and a half years.

Tiler Peck in Swan Lake

Tiler Peck and Chase Finlay. Click for more photos.

Tiler Peck has been a New York City Ballet Principal Dancer since 2009 and it is surprising she has not tackled the iconic Odette/Odile role in Swan Lake until this season. Her debut in September was a stunning success, filled with confidence, nuance, and technical firepower of an old hand in the role. Her dramatic timing and focus was impressive along with her expressiveness as she portrayed a frightened swan, bourreeing frantically upon encountering Prince Siegfried in the forest. In the Act I Lake Scene, her arm movements were beautiful, as they effortlessly flowed to the Tschaikovsky score. In Act II, she was a fiery seductress, overwhelming the Prince with her dazzling technique. Tiler was aggressive in her Act II solos, showing a reckless abandon on her double pirouette to a double turn in attitude (leg bent behind) sequence. She has great turning capabilities; her fouettés were stellar, starting with 10 doubles followed by single fouettés to finish the music. A great performance. Check out my review of the performance.

Big Apple Circus Returns

The Wallendas

The Wallendas. Click for more photos.

Happy to report that the Big Apple Circus is back at Lincoln Center and better than ever. The 2017 rendition was a thrill a minute, two-hour delight filled with top-notch high-flying trapeze artists, tight rope walkers, jugglers, and acrobats. Big Apple Circus had financial problems and closed in 2015 after a failed emergency fund-raising drive. After a successful auction in bankruptcy, the circus emerged as a for profit organization and opened its tent at Lincoln Center in October for its 40th season. The circus has been an annual event in our family for the past eight years and we are thrilled that it made a comeback. Check out my photos of the circus from the afternoon November 25 performance on my photography website and Balletfocus article.

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park Great Head Trail photos

Acadia National Park Great Head Trail, July 29, 2017, 5:23 am. Click for more photos.

In August, I posted photos from my August vacation in Maine on my photography website Most of my photography these days is dance related, so it was nice to get out and do some landscape work. Our family spent a few days in Acadia National Park in northern coastal Maine near Bar Harbor. With nearly 50,000 acres, the photography opportunities are endless with numerous breathtaking views. I caught a great sunrise one morning on the Great Head Trail near Sand Beach. The view of the ocean, beach, and trees was majestic as the sun peaked through the patchy cloud formation, creating a nice orange glow.

2017 Favorite Articles

My favorite article in 2017 was on counterclockwise (CCW) turning and featured insight from The Royal Ballet’s Francesca Hayward and ABT’s Cory Stearns. Francesca says about learning to turn: “I naturally choose to fouetté, pirouette,and chaîné CCW. In my early ballet classes, my first dance teacher encouraged me to spin and see which side I felt dizzy more quickly. I decided I felt stronger to my left. I felt much less dizzy and therefore more in control of myself turning CCW.”

Another favorite was on Misty Copeland and the publicity she generates: “…some of the publicity she generates is out of proportion to her accomplishments on the stage. She made the Dance Magazine Power List of the most influential people in dance, proclaiming that she is “…the ballerina of our generation.” After watching Paloma Herrera, Gillian Murphy, Natalia Osipova, Polina Semionova, Diana Vishneva over the years, such statements make me want to throw up my hands in exasperation.”

Lastly, I reviewed Simon Morrison’s fascinating history of the Bolshoi Ballet, Bolshoi Confidential. Morrison, a Princeton University Music Professor, presents a gripping, suspense filled history of the Bolshoi Ballet filled with drama not usually associated with theater histories. The 2011 acid attack of Bolshoi Artistic Director Sergei Fillin, which left him blind in one eye and partially blind in the other, made headlines globally; however, Morrison argues that violence surrounding the Bolshoi is not new, but dates back to the founding of the theater in the 18th century. Indeed, Morrison’s tale is filled with stranger than fiction events of murder, rape, suicide, execution, sex slave trade.