ABT Spring Gala 2013

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Tatiana’s red dress (for source please click on image). Image by Gene Schiavone.

As I stand in my hotel shower, and try to rinse the cold night (New York City spring? Hah, what spring?) from my bones, I can only think about Tatiana’s red dress. As the opening number of the gala, it remains in my mind vivid and clear, an afterimage burned into the retina of memory.

The ABT Spring 2013 gala was a smorgasbord of ballet variations and full length works, a preview of ABT’s season at Lincoln Center. With performances ranging from cozy well-worn renditions of Petipa and Ashton classics to sizzling new fireworks by Ratmansky and Gomes, the 2 hour performance had was a kaleidoscope of ballet across the ages.

The gala begins with a plunge into the salons of the rich and wealthy in Imperial Russia. Yes, that era of illicit backroom romances, swirling gowns, and over the top manners (think Anna Karenina). The golden curtains part to reveal a gauze overlay of Pushkin’s poetry and behind it an sparkling chandelier-lit ballroom.

Tatiana (the beautiful and captivating Diana Vishneva) dances with Prince Gremkin (James Whiteside). The music is soft Tshaikovsky, a pale pink romantic flare that captivates the sentimental heart. Tatiana is shy and fragile and  Visheneva has to restrain her vivacious stage presence (see her performance in Ratmansky’s Don Quixote) to capture Tatiana’s character. I am utterly captivated by the whole visual feast: the chandeliers, the corps dancers, the loving embrace with which Vishneva and Whiteside paint the stage.

The second number is called Cortege, a piece choreographed by Raymond Lukens and performed by the students of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. About a dozen, young dancers-in-training flood the stage in pure white and light blue costumes. The choreography has a barre-like aftertaste, and for a moment, it feels like being a spectator in a company class: pure and technically perfect sissones and port de bras, as if under the vigilant eye of the ballet mistress. Although rather emotionless, the choreography achieves its purpose: to showcase the purity of line and technique, the grace of the developing danseur/danseuse. The shyness of their still fledgling artistic persona is truly endearing, and their humility admirable. One of the young ballerinas slips and falls during a particularly fast-paced phrase, but recovers herself with grace. Bravo!

As the piece comes to an end and the dancers receive applause from the audience, I cannot but think back to the title of the work, “Cortege”, a retinue, a procession. Is this a depiction of the dancer’s life? An endless procession from one stage to another (pun intended) guided by the pursuit of perfection…

After the young dancers depart, the power duo of ABT: Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo take command with a boisterous pas de deux and coda from   “Le Corsaire”. The duo Reyes/Cornejo, who I saw performing “Giselle” last May is at home beneath the dimmed chandeliers of the Lincoln Center.  Reyes is spot on, radiant and elegant, and technically flawless.  She completes the coda and the 32 fouettees with a smile, a tour de force performance that earns both astounded ‘oohs’ and well earned applause from the audience. Cornejo, not to be outdone, also earns bouts of applause from the audience for his daring jumps.

Two new works premiere at the gala. One of them is the new Ratmansky, “Symphony #9”, which completes the Shostakovich trilogy. I admit, I have not seen the other pieces set to Shostakovich, but there is a feeling of old and comfortable, that sinking softness that comes when you slip on an old sweater. Watching Ratmansky is like picking up a favorite author and falling into the familiar lines, word choices and style. There are choreographically humorous moments, grouping of dancers into small groups, the usage of unexpected elements (an assemble of 3 male dancers and a fourth one who jumps into their arms) and a lot of borrowed elements from contemporary dance.The costumes are a loud cacophony of prints and patterns, completely out of the world of the traditional tutu and tights.  There is floor work, flexed feet, terrifying moments of silence, a strong presence of body language, all elements that Ratmansky has presented before, for example in “Jeu de Cartes”, the work commissioned by the Pennsylvania Ballet.

The true emotional gem of the evening is  Marcelo Gomes’ debut as a choreographer. His piece, “Apotheose” is set to the second movement of Beethovens’s 7th Symphony , a long-time favorite of mine. The grandeur suggested by the title(from the Greek, apotheosis, “to make divine” ) is a juxtaposition to the asceticism of the stage and the two nearly nude dancers, Kent and Bolle. Gomes’ choreography is an exercise in emotion, written with a flourish for the melancholy romantic. The stage is bare, except for Bolle, and Kent, tenderly enveloped in each others arms, lying on the floor. What follows is a romance, no doubt. But between whom? A man and a woman. God and man? Love and death?The dance hardly provides any commentary on itself, the only thing the audience is given is Bolle’s towering sinewy silhouette and Kent’s fragile fairylike one. Although the work is devoid of any geometric or rhythmic cleverness, its plainness and poignancy make it memorable.

The evening concludes with excerpts from  “the Sleeping Beauty”, the hunt scene from Ashton’s “Sylvia” and Balanchine’s majestic “Symphony in C”.  Hallberg and Seo’s rendition of the Petipa classic is glittering, technically impeccably, but devoid of anything spectacular. Ashton’s “Sylvia”, on the other hand, is a more interesting and rare creature. The balletic lineage of the work dates to the Paris Opera Ballet of the late 19th century, and the libretto even further into the warps of time to the 16th century play “Aminta” by Torquato Tasso, which depicts “shepherds and nymphs“. Ashton’s version is neatly wrapped in neoclassic symbolism and features the talent of Gillian Murphy. The corps de ballet is dressed in flowing tulle gowns and roman warrior helmets. Each one is carrying a little hunting bow. The martial theme of the ballet places a spotlight on Murphy’s powerful, athletic body that embraces the choreography and presents pure, passionate and beautiful dancing.

The gala ends with  “Symphony in C”, a celebration of symmetry, rhythm and juxtaposition with appearances by Paloma Herrera, Daniil Simkin, Cory Stearns and other talented dancers.  The choreography is a perfect painting of Bizet’s music and completes the evening like a satisfying dessert.

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