The big American Ballet Theatre Manon news last week was Roberto Bolle’s farewell ABT performance Thursday. Leading lights in the ballet world were on hand to celebrate Roberto’s great career and work at ABT (check out curtain call photos at my photography website notmydayjobphotography.com). Roberto’s ABT career started in June 2007 when he was a Guest Artist paired with Alessandra Ferri in her final ABT performance in Romeo and Juliet. Beginning with that performance, Roberto has been a New York crowd favorite, providing memorable performances in such classics as Giselle, Onegin, Sylvia. Roberto’s great mix of athleticism (32 entrechat six, 3:22 in the linked video in Gisselle for example) and dramatic energy made his performances unique. His great looks and beaming smile didn’t hurt his cause.
In such farewell events, the performance is secondary to the extended curtain calls. Roberto’s many current and past partners greeted him with flowers, including Irina Dvorovenko, Julie Kent, Veronica Part, Isabella Boylston, Misty Copeland, Hee Seo, Devon Teuscher, in addition to Alexei Ratmansky, and a group of male dancers. The crowd gave Roberto a rousing and noisy send-off.
In he prelude to the main event curtain calls, the crowd was treated to a reasonable but not stellar performance. Hee Seo was Manon with Roberto as Des Grieux, and the pairing lacked the intensity of Ferri/Bocca or Vishneva/Gomes. James Whiteside as Manon’s brother Lescaut stole the show along with Stella Abrera as his mistress. My favorite part of the ballet is Lescaut’s “drunk” solo when he and his mistress enter Des Grieux’s Paris lodge. James was hilarious as his exaggerated movements consisted of tours and pirouettes with leg extended front, intentionally off balance at times with swirling arms, all with his precious bottle in his hand until he ended his solo flat on his back. He demonstrated his dramatic range in more serious moments. A great performance from James.
By the way, ABT provided a ridiculous Trigger Warning for Le Corsaire last week (see my previous article). By similar logic, ABT should take the plight of people with alcohol addiction more seriously rather than presenting Lescaut as a comic drunkard. A note in the program recognizing the problem while noting the production does not approve of such behavior would be consistent with the message last week. Also changing Kenneth MacMillan’s classic to include a few treatment sessions for Lescaut at the French equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous would be in the same spirit (of course, I am kidding).
The pairing of Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo the next evening provided more dramatic fireworks. Sarah has impressed me with her growth since her promotion as Principal Dancer in 2017. She surprised me with her great athleticism on her turns and leaps in the difficult Kitri role in Don Quixote last year. In Manon, she let loose with great emotion; examples included the Act I bedroom pas de deux with Herman, filled with giddy love and the Act III final pas de deux in which she was clinging to life, limp in much of the dance. Manon is not my favorite work as I find parts very dull and drawn out. But Sarah and Herman allowed it come to life with very expressive interpretations. Herman, coming off a leg strain injury, danced with confidence, although he had no challenging Don Quixote-type steps to test his leg.
Luis Ribagorda’s solos were well done in the Beggar Chief role while Blaine Hoven was effective but not as expressive as James Whiteside the previous evening.
On to two Petipa classics to finish the ABT season: Swan Lake next week followed by Sleeping Beauty. I look forward to Aran Bell’s debuts in lead roles in these works. Check back for coverage.