Balletfocus 2019 Highlights:
Dance Theatre of Harlem Celebrates 50 Years
Dance Theatre of Harlem, celebrated its 50th anniversary and held its New York season at City Center in April. Arthur Mitchell, the first African-American dancer at New York City Ballet, established DTH 50 years ago after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 as he was determined to provide opportunities for young dancers. The company Gala event presented many fond memories of Mitchell, who passed away last September. An entertaining historical tribute film directed by Danel Schloss captured through reenactment Mitchell as a young boy in Harlem in 1946 as he dreamed of becoming a dancer; his NYCB days as he rose quickly to Principal Dancer; and the founding of the company. Excerpts from DTH works filled the bill; highlights included DTH alum Ashley Murphy with Da’Von Doane in Mitchell’s The Greatest and the energetic alum Dionne Figgins in Louis Johnson’s Forces of Rhythm. The works presented at City Center were a mix of old and new, all danced to inspiring and fascinating music. Check out rehearsal photos on my photography website notmydayjobphotography.com.
New Leadership at NYCB; High Quality Performances Throughout the Year
In February, New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet announced the appointment of Jonathan Stafford as Artistic Director and Wendy Whelan as its Associate Artistic Director of NYCB. Jonathan was the company’s interim director after Peter Martins resigned in January 2018. NYCB presented many high quality works in 2019 with a healthy dose Balanchine and Robbins classics. My favorites in 2019 were Joseph Gordon in Sleeping Beauty, Megan Fairchild, Gonzalo Garcia, and Mira Nadon in the Tall Girl role in Rubies. Emily Kikta also excelled in the role in another cast.
Emergence of ABT’s Aran Bell (See headline photo of Aran in Sleeping Beauty with Hee Seo)
The big news from the spring American Ballet Theatre season was the emergence of 20-year-old Aran Bell, promoted to Soloist late in the season. Last year, my ABT Met season wrap-up lamented on the lack of great new men on the horizon. I am happy to report that ABT has found one piece of the puzzle. With his performance as Siegfried in Swan Lake, Aran demonstrated that he is The Real Deal. He is at a technical level one would expect from Principal Dancers in the prime of their careers. He has an elegant elongated line, with long stretched out legs and is capable of razzle-dazzle beyond what one would expect from a tall man. Despite Aran’s great work, ABT still has issues with a lack of men at the Soloist level that have the potential to dance Principal roles.
Herman, Daniil Still Have It After Injuries
Despite injuries in the spring season, Herman Cornejo and Daniil Simkin demonstrated they both are at the top of their game, dancing at a high level. Daniil was injured after a superior Ali performance in Le Corsaire and was out for Manon. He came back with a stirring performance in Swan Lake. Herman also returned with compelling performances in Manon, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty. Herman was stellar in Sleeping Beauty and Manon with Sarah Lane. Despite the compelling performances, Herman and Sarah are not scheduled to dance together in the spring 2020 season.
Roberto Bolle Final ABT Performance
Leading lights in the ballet world were on hand to celebrate Roberto’s great career in his final ABT performance in Manon in June. 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 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.
Strong Performances from Women
While the male side is shaky in terms of young talent, ABT has an abundant supply of young women that will fill leading roles for years. My favorites are Christine Shevchenko, Devon Teuscher, and Skylar Brandt. Christine’s Odette/Odile in Swan Lake last year brought back memories of the ABT glory years, and she continued her progression this year with excellent performances in Le Corsaire, Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake. Skylar, a Soloist, also has exceptional technical powers. I hope that she is finished with Soloist roles such as Princess Florine in Sleeping Beauty and Pas de Trois in Swan Lake. She is an exciting dancer ready for more leading roles. Sarah Lane also had an outstanding season, with compelling performances in Manon, Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake Act II Odile, stepping in for an ill Misty Copeland.
Ratmansky 10th Anniversary
Alexei Ratmansky works dominated the American Ballet Theatre spring Metropolitan Opera House season (Harlequinade, Ratmansky Trio, Whipped Cream, Sleeping Beauty) as the company celebrated his 10th year as Artist in Residence at ABT. ABT has changed dramatically since Ratmansky arrived. From the late 1990s to shortly after his arrival, ABT had mediocre/below average repertory performed by international superstars (Nina Ananiashvili, Julio Bocca, José Manuel Carreño, Angel Corrella, Alessandra Ferri, Paloma Herrera, Ethan Stiefel, Diana Vishneva). The business model seemed to work well, as ballet fans flocked to the Met to see all-star casts in works that lacked critical appeal. As the stars retired, ABT implemented a concerted guest artist policy during the Rachel Moore years but was abandoned when the Executive Director left ABT in 2015 (see my 2014 Met wrap-up for more detail). The roster is much different today with the leading lights replaced by high-quality dancers without the star power, many rising through the ranks at ABT through its affiliated Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and/or Studio Company.
The repertory today is much more attractive due to Ratmansky’s contributions, with Petipa revivals and Soviet-era works as significant themes. These innovative works have eased the blow of not having glittering casts. However, attendance and revenues were probably higher ten years ago, revealing what dance enthusiasts value the most, star power versus innovative works. Ratmansky has made his mark on ABT with works that will remain in the repertory for many years.
Thanks for tuning in to Balletfocus in 2019. Look for more New York ballet coverage along with a few YouTube videos. I have another video on the great Baryshnikov in the works.