Balletfocus Highlights of 2013

My ballet highlights of 2013:

Irina Dvorovenko’s Final Performance, May 18

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It was an honor to be at Irina’s final ABT performance, as Tatiana in Onegin. I always enjoyed watching Irina since she joined ABT in 1996, so it was sad to see her go. She was always expressive when dancing diverse roles-from a cocky, coquettish Kitri in Don Quixote to an anguished young lover in Romeo and Juliet. I enjoyed her great athleticism typified by a fouetté sequence in Don Quixote consisting of a series of alternating single and double fouettés with the double pirouettes capped by one arm en haut (arm above her head) holding a Spanish fan. Her performances with husband Maxim Beloserkovsky were memorable; you could see the great affection and bond between the two from the audience.

I had an event in Philadelphia that weekend but wasn’t going to miss Irina’s final performance even if it meant taking the 3 am Amtrak train back to Philadelphia. Well worth the lack of sleep.

Twyla Tharp Bach Partita Revival, November 1


Twyla Tharp and Marcelo Gomes. Click for more photos.

What took ABT so long to perform the revival of Twyla Tharp’s Bach Partita? What a shame that it was last performed by ABT in 1985 until the fall 2013 revival. The high-energy piece consists of three couples, 14 soloists and 16 corps members. The piece is set to Bach’s Partita in D minor, “…a thirty-minute virtuoso showpiece for solo violin. It is considered one of the greatest works ever written for the instrument,” according to Marisa Harsse. 25-year old violinist Charles Yang was at the helm, standing on a raised platform, facing a monitor so that he could see the dancers.

The piece is complicated, with the leads performing in short bursts to be replaced by other leads and cast members. Sometimes the leads would perform together, on their own, and with other cast members. Gillian Murphy stood out, making full use of per prodigious turning skills. With Marcelo Gomes, her finger turns and supported turns seemed to last forever with the music her only limitation. Stella Abrera excelled at the rapid footwork and worked well with Calvin Royal III.

The bows were emotional as Twyla and Susan Jones made appearances on stage and exchanged hugs, along with the dancers and violinist Yang. I enjoyed this piece and, given all the work that went into the revival, it would be a shame to wait another 28 years to see it again.

Sara Mearns, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, October 11


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Sara Mearns was impressive as the stripper. In a short black dress with string skirt, fishnet stockings, high heals, and blond hair flowing down to her shoulders, she paraded around the pink stage, hand on hip, strutting her stuff. Not typical fare at the ballet, but audience members (particularly the men) didn’t seem to mind. Andrew Veyette as the Hoofer demonstrated his proficient tap dance abilities in several high-energy solos. After the performance I thought I had a long walk back home from Times Square-until I realized that I was at Lincoln Center.

Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes, Sleeping Beauty, July 6

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Veronika Part was spectacular as Aurora in ABT’s final Met performance of 2013 of Sleeping Beauty. From the moment she appeared on the balcony and descended the stairs to join her 16th birthday party, Veronika took command of the stage with energy, confidence, and style with precise technique and grace, taking full advantage of her long, pure, elegant line and extension. I have not seen Aurora performed this well in a long time.

Veronika performed the difficult Rosa Adagio nicely with great control and confidence. Some dancers perform this adagio well but with a nervous look of an impending root canal; from my vantage point she did not display any anxiety before or during the adagio. During her balances, she raised her arms to fifth en haut (arms above her head) with a pause before placing her hand down to her next prince. Some dancers do not raise their arms to fifth position, but quickly and anxiously grab the hand of the next partner in desperation. Not Veronika as there were no rough edges that evening.

Marcelo Gomes perfectly complemented Veronika as Prince Desire. He also has a nice long line and great extension. He is a perfect prince as he showered attention to his new love, beaming in admiration. He partnered her effortlessly throughout and his solos were also graceful with nice deep plies ending in a tight fifth position on his tours and jumps. He makes dancing look very easy, a sign of a great dancer.

Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg, Romeo and Juliet, June 14

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I hadn’t seen Osipova in a dramatic role before and was impressed by her portrayal of the evolution of Juliet; in Act 1 Scene 2 she is a young, playful, immature little girl who gasps in amazement when the nurse points out her developing physique. Fast forward to Act III Scene 1. This is a particularly heavy scene as she refuses to marry Paris (Sascha Radetsky). She does a bourrée quickly away from him, much to the displeasure of her parents that threaten to disown her. In Osipova, there are traces of Giselle’s mad scene as the tension mounts as she rejects Paris and faces the severe consequences.

Hallberg portrayed a playful, rebellious young man thoroughly transformed by his love of Juliet. He was in tune with MacMillan’s vision of Romeo as a young man swept off his feet by love, dancing in dizzy exultation. As usual, his dancing was solid and always in character, showcasing his long line and perfectly arched feet. Although a dramatic ballet, it has a number of technical elements that maintain my interest such as Hallberg’s nice double sauté de basque diagonal repeated effortlessly four times. The balcony scene pas de deux was intense and dramatic as the young lovers celebrate their union with reckless abandon. Osipova is criticized for her excessive expressiveness (mugging it up); I did not detect this trait and thought her portrayal of Juliet was always in character.

Ratmansky’s Shostakovich Piano Concerto #1, June 1


Natalia Osipova, Ivan Vasiliev, Diana Vishneva, and Cory Stearns,. Click for more photos.

The third piece in the Shostakovich trilogy, Piano Concerto #1, is my favorite and the premier featured two couples: Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, and Diana Vishneva and Cory Stearns. The scenery consisted of red objects hung in suspension reminiscent of the Soviet hammer and sickle.

There was of non-stop action with the four main dancers appearing in various combinations. Diana and Natalia danced well together and complement each other given their similar physiques. I particularly liked a spectacular double assemble diagonal from Ivan and Cory that drew much applause. Natalia had a grande jete diagonal section in which she seemed to fly.

Jacques d’Amboise at Bank Street, September 9

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Former New York City Ballet great Jacques d’Amboise gave a presentation with his National Dance Institute (DNI) at the Barbara Biber Lecture at The Bank Street Graduate School of Education. The fast moving hour plus presentation featured dances by students in d’Amboise-founded NDI programs; also, a wide ranging discussion by d’Amboise of his storied career at New York City Ballet, thoughts on the power of dance and the arts in fostering child development, and techniques that NDI uses to teach dance to children.

The lecture opened with a demonstration by a group of students in the NDI program. d’Amboise founded NDI in 1976, which works with New York City school children through weekly classes, short-term residencies, and public performances. NDI currently partners with 31 New York schools and serves 5,000 children each week from K-6 grades, according to the NDI website.

He then went into a wide-ranging discussion starting with the basis for all arts-dance and architecture: dance, which humans developed to express emotions by controlling how we move through space and time and architecture, involving the ordering of everything.

In book review of d’Ambroise’s autobiography “I Was A Dancer,” New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay quotes a nice passage from d’Ambroise’s autobiography that summarizes his view of the importance of dance in young people’s lives:

“In an affecting passage late in the book, d’Amboise takes three paragraphs to describe what was involved in assisting a boy who, unable to get from his right foot to his left on the music, became terrified and unable to move at all. “I put my arm around him and said, ‘Let’s do it together. We’ll do it, moving forward, in slow motion.’ We did. Then I said, ‘Now do it alone, and fast.’ With his face twisted in concentration, he slammed his left foot down, directly in front of him, smack on the musical note. The whole class applauded. He was so excited. He was on the way to discovering he could take control of his body, and from that he can learn to take control of his

Polina Semionova, Theme and Variations, November 2


Polina Semionova and Cory Stearns. Click for more photos

Polina Semionova was outstanding in a fall season performance of Theme and Variations, completely in control and at ease throughout this difficult piece. Tricky 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. Polina pulled off all of these segments with grace and style, one of the best performances that I have seen from her.

On the negative side, Ratmansky’s Tempest was not my favorite, as it has a complex plot with a short period of time (46 minutes) to tell the story. ABT’s Symphony in C also fell short of the mark; Ivan Vasiliav has many talents (his Ali the Slave in Le Corsaire was outstanding) but performing in Balanchine roles is not one of them.


For 2014, I hope to see some of the young dancers that broke through in 2013, including Skylar Brandt, Calvin Royal III, Gabe Stone Shayer, and Thomas Forster. And Roman Zhurbin in any dramatic role.

Regarding rep, how about retiring ABT’s current version of Swan Lake after the 2014 Met season and starting the process for a new Ratmansky version? He was open to the idea in a Dancelines interview earlier in the year:

“You’ve choreographed your own interpretations of many great classics, among them The Nutcracker. Would you ever tackle the two pinnacles of the classical repertoire, Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty?

At the beginning I would say I never wanted to touch these, but now I feel that I would actually do that. There are plans yes, but it’s too early to talk about it.”