Balletfocus 2018 Highlights

2018 has been an action packed year in the New York ballet scene. My highlights and lowlights:

ABT Young Women Emerge

Christine Shevchenko and James Whiteside, Swan Lake, June 20, 2018. Click for more photos

American Ballet Theatre featured many great young women in 2018, particularly Christine Shevchenko, Devon Teuscher, Skylar Brandt, and Cassandra Trenary. These young dancers are top-notch, with many years of stellar dancing ahead of them. ABT needs to put these dancers at the front of the pack in terms of casting; they are that good. Christine is my favorite ABT dancer, one that I would go out of my way to see. She is the most exciting dancer at ABT, on the path to stardom in the mold of Irina Dvorovenko and Nina Ananiashvili. Skylar is a technical whiz, ready to lead full-lengths such as Don Quixote and Swan Lake. Devon and Cassandra impressed in the 2018 Met season (see my ABT Met Season wrap up for more details).

While the young women at ABT are strong, there isn’t much male talent waiting in the wings. To fill the cavernous, nearly 4,000 seat Metropolitan Opera House, the company needs stars. But with an aging group of male Principal Dancers with little depth in the Soloist ranks, putting together performances with compelling casts in the near future poses great challenges. The result will be the use of less talented dancers or guest artists to fill the slots. The roster of male Principal Dancers at the start of the 2018 Met season was thin, but became weaker with the departure of Jeffrey Cirio to English National Ballet. ABT must shore up the ranks of lead men in the near term.

In one of the few times in the 2018 season, Lincoln Center was electric in mid-May, with a full house (some paying $250 or more for orchestra seats) to see the birthday duo Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg in Giselle. Approaching the Metropolitan Opera House, there was a buzz that reminded me of ABT 10-15 years ago when the company fielded superstar studded casts with regularity. Many were anticipating this performance for months and were holding their breath in anticipation due to David’s much publicized injury issues. Natalia and David did not disappoint, with a memorable performance (see top photo).

NYCB Problems Off Stage; High Quality On Stage

Joaquin De Luz final NYCB performance. Click for more photos.

New York City Ballet was in the news a lot in 2018-for all the wrong reasons. Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins resigned in January after allegations of sexual and physical abuse (see my article on Martins’ resignation). In September, NYCB fired three Principal Dancers, Chase Finlay, Amar Ramasar, and Zachary Catazaro due to allegations they shared sexually explicit photos of dancers. These allegations came to light in a lawsuit by Alexandra Waterbury, a former School of American Ballet student and Finlay’s former girlfriend. The complaint is shocking and disturbing, serving up numerous allegations of Animal House misogyny at NYCB (the complaint that merits an R-rating can be found on the New York State Supreme Court website using case number 158220/2018).

Off stage, NYCB was in the news a lot in 2018-for all the wrong reasons. On stage, NYCB was in fine form with interim leadership, with no Ballet Master in Chief named after 12 months.

On stage, NYCB was in fine form with interim leadership, with no Ballet Master in Chief named after 12 months. It was not surprising that veterans such as Ashley Bouder, Megan Fairchild, Sarah Mearns, Tiler Peck danced at a high level. Particularly well done was La Slyphide, Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux with Ashley Bouder, and Jewels with Tiler Peck. More uncertain at the start of the season was the Corps without the leadership of Martins. However, the Corps was outstanding, particularly in Divertimento No. 15 and Chaconne. The tight and crisp work of the Corps was a welcome feature for NYCB in 2018.

I wasn’t a fan of Kyle Abraham’s The Runaway. The work, which debuted at NYCB’s gala in September, is designed to appeal to the young hip crowd with Kanye West and Jay-Z rap music filled with words that start with F, MF, S, and N with lyrics such as “I love myself way more than I love you, so today I thought about killing you, premeditated murder.” I seem to be in the minority as the work received rave reviews, earning mention in the New York Times 2018 Best in Dance review. I guess such lyrics are acceptable these days, unlike the 1944 classic Baby It’s Cold Outside which is currently the source of debate with some radio stations banning the song from playlists.

NYCB said goodbye to Joaquin De Luz in October (see my article on his final performance). Hard to believe that Joaquin is 42 years of age based on his work in his final performances, putting on a show that many dancers 20 years to his junior would envy. After starting his career in 1996 at Pennsylvania Ballet, then to American Ballet Theatre in 1997, and finally to NYCB in 2003, he is going out on top with great dramatic flair and technique. Check out my photography website for curtain call photos.

Like ABT, NYCB needs new blood in the men’s ranks as some of the mainstays are getting up there in age. Male Principal Dancers in their mid-to-late 30s include: Jared Angle, Gonzalo Garcia, Ask la Cour, Daniel Ulbricht, Andrew Veyette. Whatever faults Martins had, he was successful at identifying and nurturing young talent. That important responsibility will be passed on to the next leader of NYCB.

Kimin Kim

New York audiences had three opportunities to see Kimin Kim, the 25-year-old star from the Mariinsky Ballet. Kimin stepped in at ABT for David Hallberg in La Bayadére in June and delivered a sterling performance (article here). Kimin’s biggest asset is his great leaping ability, making even simple assemblés look riveting. His grand jetés have great height and cover much ground such as a huge jeté in attitude in his Act II solo. His double assemblés en manége was executed with great precision and energy, a difficult feat given how taxing the step is. Dramatically, Kimin has great stage presence and portrayed Solor with authority.

In October, K-Arts Dance Company presented the delightful Song of the Mermaid at City Center with Kimin as the Prince (article here). The ballet is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid and was choreographed by Artistic Director Sunhee Kim with an original score by Hana Ryou. In November at the Balanchine: The City Center Years featuring Balanchine works from eight leading companies, Kim danced Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux with Mariinsky’s Vikoria Tereshkina. Kimin drew gasps from the audience on the simplest steps such as grand jetés that appeared to cover most of the stage and big split jeté entrelacé. All done with great stage presence and gusto Hopefully, Kimin will become a regular in New York (articles here and here).

Dance Theatre of Harlem-Dougla

Dance Theatre of Harlem, Dougla

Dance Theatre of Harlem, Dougla. Click for more photos.

The Dance Theatre of Harlem’s New York season in April was over the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (article here). The Vision Gala commemorated the anniversary, reflecting on the legacy of Dr. King and his impact on the founding of DTH. Arthur Mitchell, then a Principal Dancer at New York City Ballet, took the tragedy as a call to action to form the company in 1969 to become a touring company, training school, and arts education program with a global presence. Mitchell passed away in September at age 84.

The season featured a company revival of Geoffrey Holder’s 1974 Dougla. Holder was an actor, dancer, choreographer, singer, director, and painter who died in 2014 (this video of Holder in 7-Up commercials from the 1970s takes me back to my childhood). He created several works for DTH including Dougla, a dance inspired by wedding ceremonies of a Dougla couple-a mixed couple in which one partner is of African and the other of Indian descent. DTH last performed the work in 2004. As described in The New York Times, the restaging for the City Center season was a team effort, consisting of Holder’s widow Carmen de Lavallade and son Leo Holder, Charmaine Hunter, Kellye Saunders, Keith Saunders, and Donald Williams.

The work is fast paced, a wild kaleidoscope of movement to live throbbing music from multiple drummers and flutists. The work opens with men and women in long flowing white skirts with red tassels with men bare-chested and women in tight skin colored tops. Men strut while women preen in a sort of ritualistic match-making ceremony. A constant throughout is a finger wag between the men and women; basically “Don’t mess with me” which added a dramatic, somewhat comical touch. A mysterious Woman in Green makes an appearance with six men in flowing red skirts. Later, three Women in Black entertain, weaving in and out of the action. My favorite is a pas de deux with two men (I can’t recall their names). Same sex partnering is getting much attention these days, although I have not seen much that I find entertaining. In addition to being ahead of his time with men dancing together, Holder produced a pas de deux worth watching.

The beautiful costumes, originally by Zelda Wynn with reconstruction by Vernon Ross and Pamela Cummings, added much to the uplifting work.

Misty Copeland and Herman Cornejo, Swan Lake, June 17, 2017. Clock for more photos.

My most popular article in 2018 was on Misty Copeland and her fouetté turns. I have discussed Misty Copeland’s technical issues in two previous reviews from last year’s American Ballet Theatre Met season: Don Quixote and Swan Lake. In general, in difficult technical segments, Misty tends to simplify steps, in particular her fouetté turns, the punctuating mark in Kitri and Odile’s solos in the Grand Pas de Deux. In March, a pirate video circulated from an ABT Swan Lake performance in Singapore and posted on YouTube. The 57-second video filmed from the audience shows the turn section of the Grand Pas de Deux with Misty and Herman Cornejo in which Misty does 13 turns followed by piqué turns to fill out the music. The video was the source of much commentary in the ballet world and Misty responded to her most vocal critics. My article tried to make sense out of the situation and the source of Misty’s celebrity.

Also popular was an interview with 16-year-old Elisabeth Beyer, a student at Ellison Ballet. As a 15-year old, she took 1st place at the prestigious International Ballet Competition and Contest of Choreographers (better known as the Moscow International Ballet Competition) in the Girl’s Solo Division last June. She followed up in April by winning 1st place in the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) Senior Women’s Division (ages 15-18) at age 15. She also won the gold medal at the USA International Ballet Competition at Jackson, Mississippi Women’s Junior Division in June.

I also ventured outside of ballet in 2018 with a how to article on church photography and an article on the New York Yankee and Boston Red Sox rivalry in baseball.

What’s in store for 2019 for Balletfocus? Look for continued coverage of NYCB and ABT. The NYCB winter season features a Sleeping Beauty run and ABT has a Ratmansky celebration for the 2019 Met Season. Also look for more videos in 2019, similar to a series I did on Mikhail Baryshnikov.