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American Ballet Theatre: Opening Night Spring Gala 2011
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American Ballet Theatre: Opening Night Spring Gala 2011

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American Ballet Theatre

Opening Night Spring Gala 2011

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,
Clinton Luckett, Nancy Raffa
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
James Timm, Director of Marketing and Brand Management
Susan Morgan, Manager of Press and Online Media

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 16, 2011

(Read More ABT Reviews)

At tonight’s Opening Night Gala, Kevin McKenzie, as always, greeted the House, along with Caroline Kennedy, the Gala Chair, and Rachel S. Moore, ABT’s Executive Director. Listening to them, I was imagining, for future Galas, a film montage of past Galas and retired and renowned luminaries from the Company in memorable, sensational appearances. I do think the Gala program would be enhanced with more history and celebration of the Company, itself, rather than an endless array of short clips from the repertory of the coming season, with a few from past seasons. Tonight’s program of twelve ballets, or ballet excerpts, with one intermission, seemed fragmented and generic. I would love to see an homage to past Galas, a bit of Baryshnikov, a bit of Bocca.

The Bright Stream (2003, Act I Waltz): Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, Staged by Tatiana Ratmansky, Libretto by Adrian Piotrovsky and Fyodor Lopukhov, Music by Dmitri Shostakovich (“The Bright Stream”), Costumes by Elena Markovskaya, Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Alexandre Hammoudi and the Company.

Tonight’s first of two excerpts from Alexei Ratmansky’s The Bright Stream, its Waltz, was danced by Corps member, Alexandre Hammoudi, with a Corps ensemble, led by Eric Tamm and Arron Scott. Ormsby Wilkins conducted with brilliantly defined rhythms. Actually tonight’s Gala is bookended by two Bright Stream segments, certainly in honor of Ballet Theatre’s Artist in Residence, Mr. Ratmansky. The music swelled on twirling dervish, with Elena Markovskaya’s stylish costumes and white caps. Yet, the score is not one of Shostakovich’s most melodic, and the initial experience was more esoteric than evocative, for a Company steeped in romantic ballets.

Karelia March (World Premiere): Choreography by Raymond Lukens, Music by Jean Sibelius (“Karelia Suite”, Third Movement), Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Level 7 students of the JKO School at American Ballet Theatre.

Raymond Lukens, with the JKO School at Ballet Theatre, as well as the NYU Master’s Degree in ABT pedagogy, choreographed a lovely piece for the students. It’s easy to see that JKO Principal, Franco De Vita is especially diligent in maximizing the potential of these budding ballet stars. Sixteen dancers performed this work to Sibelius’ third movement suite, conducted by Ormsby Wilkins. Students were enthusiastic, poised, and balanced, with stage presence and tight timing. They were on Level 7, so close to making important career decisions. I’m sure many will realize their loftiest dreams, and all should see themselves on illustrious stages worldwide. This was an inspired and professional performance.

Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux (1960, Grand Pas de Deux & Coda): Choreography by George Balanchine, Music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, Conductor: David LaMarche, Performed by Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg.

Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg are two of the most charismatic, charming, and compelling Principals at Ballet Theatre. With the equally charismatic Conductor, David LaMarche, in the pit, Ms. Murphy and Mr. Hallberg wowed the crowd in sparkling surprises. Both dancers were radiant and powerful, a seasoned partnership on view. There were lifts, dizzying spins, and photo finish flourishes that rang true to Ballet Theatre’s dazzling reputation. To add to the excitement of this performance was a coda, as Ms. Murphy’s longtime partner, Principal, Ethan Stiefel, found her backstage, and, on bended knee, proposed with a ring. This was a pre-planned, backstage event, and Ms. Murphy’s fans are ebullient.

The Nutcracker (2010, Grand Pas de Deux): Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, Music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, Costume Design by Richard Hudson, Assoc. Designers: Justin Arienti and Mauricio Elorriaga, Conductor: David LaMarche, Performed by Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes.

Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker is performed in Brooklyn at Christmas time, and I missed it last season. I wish this ballet could join Spring repertory, to share this engaging ballet with inveterate Manhattanites. Veronica Part is a warm, vibrant, expansive dancer, one I love to watch. I remember seeing her once on David Letterman, and her real life personality matches her warm stage presence. And, there’s no warmer partner than Marcelo Gomes. Together in this Holiday story ballet they were incandescent. David LaMarche once again conducted, bringing out elements of musical fantasy in Tchaikovsky’s score. I do plan to see this full ballet this December, will venture out to Brooklyn and its Academy of Music, and plan to use the BamBus.

Majisimo (Company Premiere): Choreography by Georges Garcia, Music by Jules Massenet (“Le Cid”), Costumes by Georges Garcia, Conductor: Charles Barker, Performed by Paloma Herrera, Jose Manuel Carreño, Xiomara Reyes, Reyneris Reyes, Lorena Feijoo, Nelson Madrigal, Lorna Feijoo, Joan Boada.

Majisimo was a thrilling new highlight offered this Season. Its music is from Massenet’s “Le Cid”. Georges Garcia, from Cuba, offered this decades old but fascinating work to Ballet Theatre, in honor of Jose Manuel Carreño’s upcoming Farewell, end of June. The ensemble of ABT Principals, Mr. Carreño, Paloma Herrera, and Xiomara Reyes, was expanded with international stars, two from Boston Ballet (Lorna Feijoo and Nelson Madrigal), two from San Francisco Ballet (Lorena Feijoo and Joan Boada), and one from Miami City Ballet (Reyneris Reyes). Charles Barker conducted this bristling operatic score. Especially effective was the lighting, showing dancers in black silhouette, as well as snapping fans and Spanish-infused poses. Soon we saw dancers in solo, partnered, and ensemble formations, including Mr. Carreño’s signature backward leaps and twirls. Ms. Herrera’s multiple spins that went on forever were equally enticing, and Ms. Reyes’ effortless pirouettes drew accolades. The visiting performers seemed lost in the shuffle.

Swan Lake (1877, Moscow; 2000, ABT, 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, Alexandre Hammoudi, and the Company.

After intermission, remarkably, Paloma Herrera was back onstage, starring in one of Ballet Theatre’s iconic Pas de Deux, from the Swan Lake Act II lakeside scene. She was partnered by Alexandre Hammoudi, who did not seem primed for this lead. There are advantages of showcasing Corps dancers, but Siegfried is too important a role to entrust to a somewhat bland performer, who dances with the affect of background ensemble. Ms. Herrera is a show-stopper, and she requires a dynamic leading partner. Among the female Corps swans, Melanie Hamrick, Zhong-Jing Fang, and Skylar Brandt caught my eye, with exceptional, airy luminosity. David LaMarche kept the score poignant, and Ms. Herrera drew us in, generating anticipation of the full-length version.

Splendid Isolation III (2007): Choreography by Jessica Lang, Music by Gustav Mahler, Costumes by Elena Comendador, Lighting by MK Stewart, Conductor: Charles Barker, Performed by Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky.

A few years ago Ms. Dvorovenko and Mr. Beloserkovsky performed this theatrical work by Jessica Lang, and it was just as theatrical and stunning tonight. The Mahler score surrounded the audience with rapture and resonance, conducted by Charles Barker. Ms. Dvorovenko stands still, her bare back to audience, with an expansive, long white dress covering much of the stage. Throughout the choreography, Mr. Beloserkovsky (Ms. Dvorovenko’s real life partner) emotionally wraps himself in the material, then winds her up like a top, winding the material as well. The dress itself is the third star of this ballet, a tribute to Elena Comendador.

Swan Lake (1877, Moscow; 2000, ABT, Act III Pas de Deux & Coda): Choreography after Marius Petipa, Music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, Costumes by Zack Brown, Conductor: Charles Barker, Performed by Michele Wiles and Cory Stearns.

Michele Wiles is always an impassioned and evocative dancer, but Cory Stearns, now a Principal, lacks stage presence. He’s attractive, poised, well timed, attentive, but he’s overly self-conscious in dynamics, with little depth of the dramatic story line. The Act III Pas de Deux and Coda is the most riveting in this ballet, always the watershed moment, as Odile executes her 32 fouettés in rapid fashion, also enticing Siegfried to believe that this is his beloved Odette, only in black costume with seductive, evil intent. Unfortunately, he acted confused, rather than tormented, fascinated, rather than bewitched. Charles Barker conducted this propulsive score with bounce, but it was Ms. Wiles who captivated my attention, with sizzling solos and wild abandon.

Manon (1993, Act I Pas de Deux): Choreography by Kenneth MacMillan, Music by Jules Massenet, Costumes by Nicholas Giorgiadis, Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes.

I certainly hope the full-length Manon will be presented next season, as it’s not in this season’s repertory. Who can forget Ferri and Bocca in this sumptuous ballet some years ago? Tonight Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes danced the Act I Pas de Deux, one of the most theatrical in ballet. The Massenet score, conducted by Ormsby Wilkins, never sounded batter, and, so far, this was, overall, the best excerpted performance. There’s no lack of depth or drama in this duo, and their seasoned partnering allowed for extra improvisational flourishes. Ms. Vishneva was feathery light and entrancingly energized. Mr. Gomes was bold and impulsive, impassioned and thrilling.

The Sleeping Beauty (2007, Act I, Rose Adagio): Choreography after Marius Petipa, Music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, Costumes by Willa Kim, Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Alina Cojocaru, Jared Matthews, Sascha Radetsky, Gennadi Saveliev, Isaac Stappas.

Seeing Alina Cojocaru in the Sleeping Beauty Rose Adagio, with Aurora shifting between four Princely suitors, sometimes dancing with long-stemmed roses, sometimes just balancing endlessly on one toe, I knew I had to see her in the upcoming full-length version. Ms. Cojocaru, a Guest Artist this season from the Royal Ballet, is flawless, risk-taking, elevated, muscular, awe-inspiring. Her legs lift to her head, and balancing moments seem like minutes. She was the one Guest Artist tonight that I longed to see more of. The four Princes moved with somewhat generic style, but this is a special showcase for the Ballerina, and Ms. Cojocaru lived up to its ideal and more.

Lady of the Camellias, 1978, a ballet by John Neumeier based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils, Pas de Deux from Act II ): Choreography by John Neumeier, Staged by Kevin Haigen and Victor Hughes, Music by Frederic Chopin, Costumes by Jürgen Rose, Pianist: Koji Attwood, Performed by Julie Kent and Cory Stearns.

Neumeier’s Lady of the Camellias is one of Ballet Theatre’s most sumptuous, set to a Chopin piano score. Julie Kent was partnered by Cory Stearns, and, unfortunately, Roberto Bolle, her past partner in this work, was not here. Mr. Stearns, once again, could use some training in theatrics, to exude the appropriate attitudes, emotions, conflicts. He seemed statuesque, shallow, self-absorbed. Ms. Kent was ravishing, as always, throwing herself into the role, but seemed caught in the absence of Mr. Bolle’s past aura. Koji Atwood was piano soloist, with mastery of the Chopin oeuvres.

The Bright Stream (2003, Excerpt): Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, Staged by Tatiana Ratmansky, Libretto by Adrian Piotrovsky and Fyodor Lopukhov, Music by Dmitri Shostakovich (“The Bright Stream”), Costumes by Elena Markovskaya, Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Xiomara Reyes, Alexandre Hammoudi, Isabella Boylston, Daniil Simkin, Craig Salstein, Clinton Luckett, Susan Jones, Roman Zhurbin, Maria Riccetto, Misty Copeland, Jared Matthews.

For the closing Bright Stream bookend, again conducted by Ormsby Wilkins, the lead cast of characters in this comedic Russian ballet expanded on the ACT I Waltz, also featured in tonight’s opening excerpt. Xiomara Reyes, Alexandre Hammoudi, Isabella Boylston, Daniil Simkin, Craig Salstein, Clinton Luckett, Susan Jones, Roman Zhurbin, Maria Riccetto, Misty Copeland, and Jared Matthews were introduced in their numerous roles, but, somehow, this segment did not draw me in. I look forward to the entire work, for more understanding and illumination. As a closing work, I would have preferred something more dynamic, outsized, and melodic or electric.

Joan Boada, Lorna Feijóo, Nelson Madrigal,
Lorena Feijóo, Reyneris Reyes,
Xiomara Reyes, Jose Manuel Carreño
and Paloma Herrera in Garcia's "Majisimo"
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Irina Dvorovenko in Lang's
"Splendid Isolation III"
Courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

Alina Cojocaru in the "Rose Adagio"
from "The Sleeping Beauty"
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

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