ABT Classic Spectacular, May 22

ABT performed a mixed rep bill Thursday evening consisting of Theme and Variations, Duo Concertant, and Gaîté Parisienne.

Theme and Variations is one of my favorites, having seen this Balanchine classic many times. The work, which Ballet Theatre premiered in 1947, was intended to honor the period when Russian ballet flourished with the aid of Tchaikovsky’s music. Isabella Boylston and Daniil Simkin were the leads. Overall, I liked their performance, which had more plusses than minuses. They both are a work in progress; she is a Soloist getting her first taste of principal roles while Daniil excels at solos but lacks consistency in partnering. They also performed in this role in the fall and I heard they had some rough patches.

Daniil was quite good in his solos. In his first, he pulled off a nice triple pirouette section, where most perform doubles. The most challenging section that male dancers dread consists of a diagonal of rond de jamb leaps followed by sissonne jumps and, just when the dancer is running out of gas, a treacherous eight tour/pirouette combination. Here Daniil does double pirouettes rather than the much more common singles. In my day, I could do double tour/single pirouette combinations but struggled maintaining a nice tight fifth position after landing the double tour before going into the pirouette. In order to generate power to originate the pirouette at the completion of the double tour, the tendency is to separate the feet, otherwise known as a visually unappealing sloppy fifth position or “cheating”. From my high overhead perch in the balcony, I could see that Daniil had nice form on his tours, completing the tours with a reasonably tight fifth position before starting his double pirouette. He ended the section with controlled pirouettes to the knee. Nicely done on a very difficult and tiring part.

Isabella was controlled during her tricky turn parts. Tough segments include a multiple fouetté turn section with alternating arms into a pas de chat jump, a rapid beat section, and double pirouettes from first position into a pas de chat, all requiring rapid fire execution to keep up with the music. She pulled off all of these segments well.

In the pas de deux, the two hit poses in a rather abrupt manner with Daniil appearing tense at times. Although there were no mishaps, it was not the smoothest pas de deux. Isabella displayed nice extension in her panches, but her balances were very short, barely getting her hand off of his.

Duo Concertant is a 1972 Balanchine piece set to Stravinsky. Paloma Herrera and James Whiteside were on stage as the curtain opened, behind violinist Benjamin Bowman and pianist Emily Wong. Here the musicians are not just unobserved partners; they are part of the dance as the dancers frequently acknowledge them and stop to listen to the beautiful music. Paloma and James started their dance side-by-side moving in opposition with mechanical movements dominated by intricate, fast footwork. James’s dance was fast, featuring quick single tours in succession. The piece is cheerful, joyful, and inspiring.

In the end, the stage goes dark and the music slows; they are illumined by a dim light; they embrace; she runs off-stage; he is alone and lost; she returns and their hands embrace, highlighted by a spotlight in a dramatic climax.

Gaîté Parisienne (Parisian Gaiety) was choreographed by Léonide Massine to music by Jacques Offenbach. It premiered in 1938 and first performed by ABT in 1988. Thursday evening Veronika Part was the Glove Seller, with Craig Salstein the hysterical Peruvian and Jared Matthews as the elegant and debonair Baron.