The Gelsey Kirkland Ballet spring performance mixed rep bill was interesting and exciting. With a theme of Mischief, Mischief & More Mischief, GKB again avoided well-worn gala excerpt classics in favor of unique, less frequently performed works. The works were done with a high level of dancing and theatricality that sometimes rivaled the lofty heights at major ballet companies.
First was the Petipa one-act classic Harlequinade, staged by GK ballet master Nikolai Levitsky and his wife Vera Soloviev. Featuring the standard commedia dell’arte (a form of comic theatre characterized by masked “types” which began in Italy in the 16th century) characters, the ballet recounts the efforts of the mischievous and cunning Harlequin and his adorable Columbine, who is jealously guarded by her father who conspires to marry her to a rich fop. With the help of the Fairy, true love triumphs. The GKB production has one act, while the NYCB Balanchine version consists of two acts, with Act II featuring divertissements celebrating the wedding of Columbine and Harlequin.
The work featured Johnny Almeida as the Harlequin and Dawn Gierling as Columbine with Co-Artistic Director Michael Chernov as Pantaloon. Johnny was animated and energetic throughout, combining nice technique with a great theatrical presence. His dancing included several pirouette á la seconde turns, pulling into 4-5 well-controlled pirouettes, and high grand jeté leaps. Dawn was his match technically, with a tricky extension series, pulling into a double pirouette, nice triple pirouettes on pointe, ending in attitude derriére (leg bent in back). Although technically very good, Dawn was more reserved on the dramatic site, not as outgoing in her portrayal of Columbine.
Standing out in the work was Sabina Alvarez as Pierette, Columbine’s friend who rescued her several times (Sabina had a nice series of pirouettes in attitude devant-leg in front); Katrina Crawford, elegant as the Fairy; Anderson Souza as the lazy and clueless Pierot; and Chernov as Columbine’s overprotective father Pantaloon.
GKB dancers were expressive in this story ballet, with minute and multilayered touches The work featured colorful costumes and sets, which complemented the comical work.
GKB’s performance of The Wedding Procession (Jewish Wedding) was the second U.S. performance of Leonid Yakobson’s work, which is set to Shostakovich’s Piano Trio Number 2 in E minor from 1944. Yakobson was a major figure in Soviet ballet, who survived censorship during Stalin’s rule and managed to “…create a singular body of revolutionary dances that spoke to the Soviet condition,” according to Janice Ross’ biography of Jakobson, Like a Bomb Going Off. He is best known in the U.S. for Vestris, a solo work performed by Mikhail Baryshnikov.
The Wedding Procession tells the story of the poor groom whose pregnant lover is forced to marry into a wealthier family – in front of everyone in the shtetl (a small Jewish town in eastern Europe) including the Fiddler, the Piper, the Rabbi, both families, and the town gossip. The work is set by GKB’s ballet master Nikolai Levitsky. He and his wife Vera Soloveyva served as the Artistic Directors of the Yakobson Foundation in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
The Wedding Procession was entertaining, at times danced with high energy, but difficult to follow. The cast, in Fiddler on the Roof 1800s peasant costumes, entered in the beginning as if to introduce themselves. The cast included a Poor Groom (Anderson Souza), a Rich Groom (Gustavo Ramirez), a Bride (Katerina Schweitzer), Rabbi (Kaito Yamamoto), among others. The dancing was filled with gusto at times, with several stomp-type dances, with plenty of thigh slapping among the various groups of dancers. Anderson displayed great emotion, on his knees at end, despondent at losing his lover.
Walpurgis Night is the famed Bachanalian scene from Charles Gounod’s Faust, where virgins, satyrs, Pan, and Roman Patricians celebrate the festival of Bacchus. Originally choreographed by Leonid Lavrovsky, this rendition was restaged and choreographed by GKB’s Nikolai Levitsky and Vera Soloveyva.
The plot of the work is thin, but who cares as the work showcased the amazing Koki Yamaguchi, a 21-year old who joined GKB in 2015. I was impressed with his Nutcracker performance from December and am a bigger fan after his performance as the Roman god Pan (Pan is the god of the wild, hunting and companion of the nymphs, depicted as being half human). Though slight of build, his dancing is huge with endless acrobatics including creative saute de basques (leaps off of one leg with multiple turns in the air), extremely rapid pirouettes á la seconde, many pirouettes en dehors-some in plié, high stylized, bent knees grand jetés. His demeanor was light-hearted, over-caffeinated, with an ever-present beaming smile/grimace, always solicitous and deferential to the Lead Bacchanal (Nina Yoshida). A great performance from Koki; one would be hard pressed to see a better Pan at any major ballet company. According to the company, he trained at the Tokyo Ballet School and the Rudra Bejart School in Lausanne, Switzerland before joining GKB.
Gustavo Ramirez as the Lead Patrician provided strong support for the spunky Lead Bacchanal (Nina Yoshida), particularly in the Grigorovich one-handed type overhead lifts.
The work featured sets of Roman ruins originally created for New York City Opera’s production of Mephistopheles, as well as original costumes from the production.
GKB has come a long way since it’s founding in 2010 and Co-Artistic Directors Michael Chernov and Gelsey Kirkland have much to be proud of. I have reviewed several performances: 2015 Nutcracker, 2014 Nutcracker, 2014 Symphony Space and have come away impressed with the level of dancing.
GKB is unique in that it is a professional studio company without a main company. Some ballet companies such as ABT, Boston Ballet, Washington Ballet have studio companies with a limited number of young dancers, similar to the minor leagues in baseball. The dancers are nurtured for a few years before some are admitted to the main company as Corps members. While a dancer at the ABT Studio Company or Boston Ballet II can aspire to join the main company, no such exit strategy exists for members of GKB. It will be interesting to see the development of the current crop of GKB dancers.