ABT Harlequinade: Brandt, Simkin Delight; ABT Schedule Rumors

ABT opened its spring Met season with Alexei Ratmansky’s delightful restaging of Petipa’s Harlequinade. As I noted in my review of the debut performance, Harlequinade is a lavish spectacle that takes audiences back in time, serving as a welcome respite from the tensions of everyday life. Ratmansky recreated the ballet choreographed by Marius Petipa (his last major work) by sleuthing through volumes of dance notation documents from the Nikolai Sergeev collection at Harvard University, staying as true to the original work as possible. Harlequinade serves as a tribute to Petipa, as ballet fans commemorated the bicentennial of his1918 birth. Check my review last year for more background on the work.

Thursday’s performance featured two dancers I would go out of my way to see: Skylar Brandt as Columbine and Daniil Simkin as Harlequin. Both delivered energetic performances with great technique and expressiveness. As a Soloist, Skylar is one of the most entertaining dancers among the women at ABT. She played Harlequin’s love interest as they attempted to thwart her father’s wishes for her to marry the wealthy suitor Léandre. Skylar and Daniil filled their roles with campy delight, particularly Daniil as he made his love for her abundantly clear. In addition to his exceptional technical skills, Daniil was able to rotate his tassels on his Napolean-type hat in opposite directions, a nuanced comical touch.

Steps in Harlequinade are not razzle-dazzle, but tricky with subtle movements, particularly for Columbine. Skylar handled the precarious steps well, particularly hops in attitude on pointe in the Act I solo and balances in retiré in her Act II solo. Well done, with a beaming smile. Daniil’s assemblé six in his Act I solo were done with a massive and exaggerated split, the most separation I have seen. His Act II solo featured an airy sissone assemblé six completed with great clarity. Alexandre Hammoudi was effectively dopey as the sad-sack loser Pierrot while Hee Seo was elegant as Pierrette as she assisted Columbine along with the Good Fairy (Tatiana Ratmansky).

ABT Harlequinade

Cassandra Trenary and Tyler Maloney, Harlequinade, May 18, 2019. Click for more photos.

Cassandra Trenary and Tyler Maloney danced well in the Saturday evening performance but lacked the WOW! factor present in the Thursday performance. Cassandra, like Skylar, is another Soloist that I would like to see more in lead role work. Tyler is a Corps member with a promising future given his solid work as Harlequin. Christine Shevchenko was graceful as Pierrette with Blaine Hoven as Pierrot.

Part of the problem Saturday evening was the lack of energy from the sparsely populated Metropolitan Opera House, with many empty seats. The Thursday attendance seemed much greater, leading to a more boisterous crowd.

I enjoy the production, but question its staying power. With the one hour and fifty-minute production light on significant dancing, I do not have a strong desire to see it again soon. Harlequinade is similar to Whipped Cream, another delightful Ratmansky work that I avoided this season. Both need a rest.

ABT Harlequinade

Christine Shevchenko and Blaine Hoven, Harlequinade, May 18, 2019. Click for more photos.

ABT Spring Season to Start Later in 2021

One reason for the lower attendance in the first few weeks of the ABT season is competition with New York City Ballet, whose spring season generally ends in late May. The ABT/NYCB overlap will end starting in 2021 when the Metropolitan Opera will take a three-week break in February and extend its season by three weeks into late May. The decision of the Metropolitan Opera to take a break in February and extend its season is odd, given that February is a dead month for activities and entertainment events, while May is a busy month. Whatever the wisdom of the Met’s schedule change, ABT must scramble (see my September article for more detail).

There has been speculation on how ABT will alter its season. A source tells me that ABT is considering a two-week engagement at Koch Theater starting in early June after the NYCB season, followed by a six-week season at the Metropolitan Opera House, ending in late July. This proposal makes ABT’s unusual performance calendar even more strange. For most major companies, the schedule is similar to the school year from September to May. With this contemplated change, ABT will be even more of a summer company to New York fans.