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American Ballet Theatre

Spring Gala 2009

Metropolitan Opera House

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Rachel S. Moore, Executive Director
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Ballet Masters:
Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova, Georgina Parkinson
Clinton Luckett, Nancy Raffa
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
Susan Morgan, Press Associate

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 18, 2009

(Read More ABT Reviews).

Gala Lighting by Brad Fields.

With Michelle Obama, Caroline Kennedy, Chuck Schumer, and Kevin McKenzie all addressing ABT’s Spring Gala, the Met Opera House, on opening night of the Spring Season, was filled with high energy and eager anticipation. The sold-out Gala audience was not disappointed, with eleven ballet excerpts or special performance events, and casting that featured Principals, Soloists, Corps, and even the young ballet students of the JKO School of ABT. All three ABT Conductors took batons, and we even got to see a renowned jazz pianist, Herbie Hancock. A highpoint was also the beginning of the farewell countdown for Nina Ananiashvili, who would retire end of June, and she appeared in a personal premiere by the new Artist in Residence, her friend from Russia, Alexei Ratmansky.

Mozartiana (Preghiera): Choreography by George Balanchine, Staged by Maria Calegari, Music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky (Suite No. 4, Op. 61), Costumes by Rouben Ter-Arutunian, Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Veronica Part, with Anastasia Barsukova, Catherine Hurlin, Lindsay Karchin, and Madeline Wittmann, all students from the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of ABT. Presented by arrangement with the George Balanchine Trust. Veronica Part, newly promoted to principal, was riveting and majestic, as the curtains opened to her strong lifted torso and circular arms. The “Preghiera” portion of Mozartiana, performed to a Tchaikovsky Suite, has visual power, as the lead ballerina is visually echoed by four students (here of the JKO School), in matching black, calf-length tutus. Balanchine’s choreography exudes a “prayer-like” somberness with subtle, stark elegance, and Ms. Part and the four students danced with eloquent grace.

The Procession (“Le Defilé”): Choreography by Raymond Lukens, Music by Luigi Boccherini Ritirata notturna de Madrid, arr. by Luciano Berio), Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of ABT, Levels 5, 6, 7, Principal, Franco De Vita. Raymond Lukens created a masterful Defilé, for three levels of students, 52 in all, including a solo for David Alvarez, Broadway star of Billy Elliot. Mr. Lukens added triple turns, rapid spins, tiny en air kicks, and the students, in brightly colored leotards, were poised, confident, and thrilled. It must have been some task to create choreography for 52 students, all to Boccherini, and for the performance to be so cohesive and seamless.

La Sylphide (Act II Excerpt): Choreography by August Bournonville, Restaged by Erik Bruhn, Music by Hermann Von Lovenskjold, Scenery and Costumes by Desmond Heeley, Conductor: Charles Barker, Performed by Xiomara Reyes, Herman Cornejo, and the Company. In a preview to the upcoming full-length La Sylphide, set in Scotland with kilts and stockings, and not mounted by ABT for quite some time, Xiomara Reyes, as the Sylphide, and Herman Cornejo, as James, leaped about in refined Bournonville technique. The Corps was rapturous as 18 Sylphides, all in a white, surreal vision of puffed up tulle tutus, gossamer-like wings, and tiny floral crowns. Desmond Heeley’s forest glen drew the audience in.

Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux: Choreography by George Balanchine, Music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, Conductor: David LaMarche, Performed by Gillian Murphy and Ethan Stiefel. Presented by arrangement with the George Balanchine Trust. Gillian Murphy and Ethan Stiefel, renowned real-life partners, are not partnered often enough in full-length ballets. This sumptuous Balanchine Pas de Deux brought out their chemistry and connection with depth and nuance. There were early inter-locking figures, followed by separate solos, and then partnered dance once again, with Ms. Murphy leaping into Mr. Stiefel’s arms with abandon. She was warm, ravishing, and possessed. He was chivalrous, enthused, and quite virtuosic. Together they made the most of this brief ballet, set to “lost” music from the first drafts of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

Sylvia (Hunt Scene): Choreography by Sir Frederick Ashton, Music by Leo Delibes, Production Realization and Staging by Christopher Newton, Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Michele Wiles and an Ensemble of eight female Soloists and Corps. This excerpt from Sylvia, another Seasonal preview of a rarely produced full-length ballet, was led by Michele Wiles, as Sylvia, and supported by eight Soloists and Corps women. With multiple fouettés, Ms. Wiles and her “hunting’ ensemble stormed the stage with devilish power. There’s no rapture, romance, or vulnerability here, and at once, it was apparent that Sylvia would be a refreshingly different ballet to mix Spring Season’s mood. Ms. Wiles has grown in stage stature, theatrical affect, and bravura balance.

Waltz Masquerade: Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, Music by Aram Khachaturian (Waltz from “Masquerade Suite”), Costumes by Natia Sirbiladze, Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Nina Ananiashvili, with Jose Manuel Carreño, Maxim Beloserkovsky, Marcelo Gomes, and Angel Corella. From the moment Nina Ananiashvili stepped onto the stage, the audience went wild. This is her “Farewell” season, although she’s Artistic Director of the Georgia State Ballet, in the Ukraine, and will continue to develop this Company for quite some time. In Natia Sirbiladze’s red-black coquettish dress, Ms. Ananiashvili teased and flirted with four ABT Principals, Jose Manuel Carreño, Maxim Beloserkovsky, Marcelo Gomes, and Angel Corella, all of whom wore black formal suits. This was Alexei Ratmansky’s piece, just for Ms. Ananiashvili, and she danced to a Khachaturian Waltz, with lightness, agility, pluck, and prowess. This is one prima ballerina assoluta, from whom the eye never wanders. Ms. Ananiashvili kept her quartet of suitors on bended knee, arms pleading for attention, a very campy affair.

Romeo and Juliet (Balcony Pas de Deux): Choreography by Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Music by Sergei Prokofiev, Scenery and Costumes by Nicholas Georgiadis, Conductor: Charles Barker, Performed by Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes. The Gala quickly merged from coy flirtation to urgent ardor. Marcelo Gomes was the penultimate Romeo, tossing Diana Vishneva against his torso, carrying her in shoulder high lifts, and dashing about in his flowing cape. Ms. Vishneva was equally consumed with rapture, presenting sudden infatuation with glowing dramatics and dizzying spins. Again, this was a preview to the upcoming, full-length ballet, always a must-see Sir Kenneth MacMillan production. Nicholas Georgiadis’ iconic gray balcony adds metaphorical strength to this tragic tale.

Swan Lake (Act II Pas de Deux): Choreography after Lev Ivanov, Music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, Costumes by Zack Brown, Conductor: David LaMarche, Performed by Paloma Herrera, Maxim Beloserkovsky, and the Company. It was during this preview excerpt that I was disappointed with its level of restraint. Perhaps the chemistry between Paloma Herrera and Maxim Beloserkovsky is vapid, but some extra theatricality would have served them well. It is during this Act II Pas de Deux that Odette and Siegfried fall in love, as Odette tells him how she was turned into a swan, swimming in the lake of her mother’s tears. Chemistry is requisite. However, the Corps, as Swans, with eight in the lead, was sensational, perfectly timed, a vision of tightly tuned shapes and choreography. As an ensemble, their combined chemistry framed the moment.

Le Corsaire (Pas de Deux à Trois): Staged by Anna-Marie Holmes after Marius Petipa and Konstantin Sergeyev, Music by Riccardo Drigo and Prince Oldenbourg, Music Reorchestrated by Kevin Galie, Sets and Costumes by Irina Tibilova, Conductor: David LaMarche, Performed by Irina Dvorovenko, David Hallberg, and Angel Corella. No ABT Spring Gala is complete without this bravura pyrotechnic Pas de Deux à Trois, another excerpted preview of the full-length extravaganza. Irina Dvorovenko was Medora, the young enslaved Greek woman, David Hallberg was Conrad the Pirate, and Angel Corella was Ali, his Slave. The score is compiled from music of a number of composers, and even this excerpt features music by both Oldenbourg and Drigo. Both Mr. Hallberg and Mr. Corella were premier danseurs nobles, executing backward leaps in circular motion, gravity-defying spins, and mid-air jumps. Ms. Dvorovenko seemed thrilled to be part of this energy, but she seems better suited for less athletic ballets. She exudes style and Russian refinement. Le Corsaire, and especially this segment, is known for impassioned abandon and breathtaking feats.

Pièce d’Occasion: Music Composed and Performed by Herbie Hancock, Choreographed and Performed by Jose Manuel Carreño, with Stella Abrera. This brief foray into a combined jazz solo, with choreographed interpretation, was much too loosely contrived. Jose Manuel Carreño danced around Herbie Hancock’s piano with some of his signature Gala technique, spins, leaps, lunges, and audience seduction, and Stella Abrera served mainly as a feminine prop, barely moving, perhaps a figment of his imagination. Mr. Hancock’s composition would have been better served in a more intimate jazz setting, as the Met Opera stage overwhelmed his piano solo, making it seem one-dimensional. The entire presentation was puzzling.

Theme and Variations (Finale): Choreography by George Balanchine, Staged by Kirk Peterson, Music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky (Theme and Variations from Suite No. 3 for Orchestra), Costumes by Theoni V. Aldredge, Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Sarah Lane, Daniil Simkin, and the Company. Presented by arrangement with the George Balanchine Trust.

Here was the final ballet of the evening, and a preview for the all-Tchaikovsky/all- Balanchine program. Two of ABT’s most sparkling dancers, both Soloists, Sarah Lane and Daniil Simkin, lit up the stage with electricity and effervescence. They led the Company in the Finale of this Balanchine gem, and it was a fashionable and fitting way to end the Gala. Their dervish spins and youthful chemistry added extra energy to the completion of an eclectic and lengthy program. Theoni Aldredge’s tutus and Tchaikovsky’s luscious score made the ambiance fizz; time to crack open the champagne.

Kudos to American Ballet Theatre, kudos to tonight’s three Conductors, Maestros Wilkins, LaMarche, and Barker, and kudos to all the performers, musicians, and technical staff for this grand Spring Gala 2009.

Veronika Part in
Courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor
©The George Balanchine Trust

Nina Ananiashvili in
"Waltz Masquerade"
Courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at