American Ballet Theatre took a pause in its season featuring young talent Thursday and Friday to celebrate the accomplishments of established dancers that have made substantial marks on the ballet world. The Thursday leads in Onegin were Alessandra Ferri and Roberto Bolle, pairing for the first time since her ABT finale in 2007. Friday evening featured Diana Vishneva in her final ABT performance, with Marcelo Gomes.
Diana joined the Mariinsky Ballet in 1995 and was promoted to Principal Dancer in 1996. She was only 20 years of age after having won the Grand Prix and Gold Medal at the prestigious Lausanne ballet competition in 1994. Her first ABT performance was in 2003 and joined the company as a Principal Dancer in 2005. Diana danced the range of classics during the ABT Met seasons with great technical prowess. Noteworthy was her long line and supple back, a product of her training at the Russian Vaganova Academy. In addition to her technical command, she possessed great theatricality, providing memorable performances in Giselle, Onegin, Romeo and Juliet. Her Giselle portrayal nailed the frailty of Giselle as she devolved into madness in Act I to a resolute spirit intent on defending Albrecht against the onslaught of the Wilis in Act II. Her Nikiya in La Bayadere was gorgeous, filled with lush extensions and balances in tune with her Russian training. Diana was typically paired with Marcelo Gomes and what a pair they were. He was her equal, with robust technique and dramatic flair. They have a great bond, with impeccable dramatic timing. For curtain call photos of Diana over the years in Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, La Bayadére and Mariinsky Ballet, see my photography website notmydayjobphotography.com.
Their dramatic magic was on display Friday in Diana’s memorable farewell performance. She played Tatiana, a young girl that, after reading many romance novels, falls for the handsome Saint Petersburg aristocrat Eugene Onegin. Hopelessly in love, she pens a passionate love letter expressing her true feelings for him. Marcelo was Eugene Onegin, a pathetic, self-absorbed jerk with little redeeming qualities. Moody and introspective, he views the world through a single lens and focus: himself. After she spills her feelings for him in the letter, Tatiana falls asleep and dreams of Onegin, as he enters through a mirror with Diana’s image together with him. Their timing was beautiful, filled with exulted lifts, representing her dream of an idealized life with him. Diana and Marcelo were on the mark with much passion.
Drama builds in Act II when Onegin receives the letter while experiencing a bout of boredom during Tatiana’s birthday party. Cad that he is, he considers the letter as an outburst of adolescent love and tears it up in a taunting manner in front of Tatiana. He becomes more agitated as Tatiana’s distress grows. Diana and Marcelo create great tension as she is shattered by his anger. Rattled by her, Onegin flirts with Olga (Isabella Boylston) the love interest of his friend Lensky (Blaine Hoven). After much flirting, Lensky challenges Onegin to a duel. Onegin resists the dual request, but Lensky persists. They finally meet; Onegin fires the first shot, killing his former friend. High drama indeed in the Russian Imperial state. Ironically, the author of the verse-novel on which the ballet is based, Alexander Pushkin, died in 1837 in a duel with his brother-in-law at the age of 36.
Years later after an unfulfilled life, Onegin returns to Saint Petersburg to a ball at the palace. Tatiana is there, no longer a young country girl but a beautiful woman. The tables turn as Onegin is infatuated by Tatiana who is by then married. Undeterred by her marital status, he declares his love for her in a letter. But it is too late. Diana and Marcelo were at the top of their dramatic form as she tore up the letter and ordered the pathetic, begging scoundrel to leave forever as the curtain fell.
ABT curtain calls are really continuations of the performance, particularly this special evening (see my photography website notmydayjobphotography.com for more photos). The post performance celebration began as the curtain opened for Diana and Marcelo’s first bow. They were overcome by emotions in Diana’s final ABT bow as adoring fans roared in appreciation (see above photo). The curtain calls continued as current dancers presented Diana with flowers, including Gillian Murphy, Misty Copeland, Isabella Boylston, ABT Ballet Mistress Irina Kolpakova, Alexi Ratmansky, Kevin MacKenzie, and Marcelo. Diana’s emotion ranged from joy to sadness, a mix of smiles and tears. After 14 great years with ABT, this was her final bow.
According to Gia Kourlas of The New York Times, Diana plans on opening a studio in Saint Petersburg, Russia offering classical ballet training for professionals and nonprofessionals. She will also use the space to cultivate new works and choreographers in addition to expanding her work with her dance festival, Context.
It was another trip down memory lane Thursday with Alessandra Ferri and Roberto Bolle. Alessandra retired from ABT in 2007 but returns for a few dramatic roles. She is about my age at 54 and I am amazed by her ability to dance at that age with nice arabesques and turns. Technically, she isn’t what she was, but it is hard not to grade on a curve given her age. At age 42, Roberto is still great, capable of out doing much younger dancers. With his great looks, line, and demeanor, he is a perfect Eugene Onegin. Both were emotive Thursday, their first dancing together since her ABT farewell in 2007. Sarah Lane and Daniil Simkin gave impressive performances as Olga and Lensky, respectively with a nice pas de deux.
Onegin is a beautiful, lavish production choreographed by John Cranko for the Stuttgart Ballet in 1965. The ABT version is from the revised production for Stuttgart Ballet in 1967. This production premiered in 2010 by the National Ballet of Canada featuring wonderful sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto.
The production is based on Russian poet Alexander Pushkin’s 1830s verse-novel Eugene Onegin. Pushkin’s influence on Russian literature and language is immense as he is considered as Russia’s greatest poet. Ekaterina Aleeva argues that Pushkin is the founding father of the modern Russian language. Pushkin died in 1837 at the age of 36.