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American Ballet Theatre: 75th Anniversary: Spring Gala 2015
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American Ballet Theatre: 75th Anniversary: Spring Gala 2015

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American Ballet Theatre

75th Anniversary: Spring Gala 2015

Excerpts of the Following:
Billy the Kid, Fancy Free, Rodeo
Black Tuesday, Push Comes to Shove
Fall River Legend, Les Noces, Pillar of Fire
The Bright Stream, Manon, Swan Lake
La Bayadčre, Sinfonietta, The Leaves are Fading
Piano Concerto #1, Etudes, Giselle
La Sylphide, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux
Le Corsaire, Don Quixote
Theme and Variations, Grand Finale

At the
Metropolitan Opera House

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Rachel S. Moore, Chief Executive Officer
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Ballet Masters: Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova,
Clinton Luckett, Nancy Raffa, Keith Roberts
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
James Timm, Director of Marketing and Brand Management
Susan Morgan Taylor, Manager of Press and Online Media

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 18, 2015

(Read More ABT Reviews)

(See a Conversation with Conductor, David LaMarche, on this Season’s Ballet Music.)

Conductors: Ormsby Wilkins, Charles Barker, David LaMarche

Nobody puts on a Gala, like American Ballet Theatre, and, on its 75th Anniversary, we saw excerpts of no fewer than twenty-three ballets! The full list is above. Additionally, there were several speakers, pointing out elements of American culture in the culture and repertory of the Company. I would have liked to see a fuller series of historical dance film clips and slides, with fewer live performances, just to savor the original Ballet Theatre gestalt. Yet, thankfully, many of the excerpts were of never-seen or rarely-seen works. Billy the Kid, choreographed by Eugene Loring, to an Aaron Copland score, brought out Grant DeLong and Zhiyao Zhang, plus an ensemble of sixteen Corps dancers. The piece was severe, but historical and iconic. I noted that the cast entered the stage, evocative of positioning of the Shades scene from La Bayadčre. In Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free, the same three Sailors we saw last week, once again appeared. Herman Cornejo, Cory Stearns, and Marcelo Gomes recreated their cartwheels and shoulder walks. They enjoyed their “throw the rolled gum wrapper” contest, and just played with the audience.

Xiomara Reyes, who dances her Company Farewell in Giselle, next week, thankfully reprised last week’s Cowgirl role in Rodeo, with the full cast returning for the Saturday Afternoon Corral scene. The actor, Joel Grey had introduced this Agnes de Mille gem. This time, Roman Zhurbin was Head Wrangler, Craig Salstein was Champion Roper, and Leann Underwood was the Ranch Owner’s Daughter. Paul Taylor’s Black Tuesday was mounted, on a rare sighting on the Met stage, with Daniil Simkin dancing in the song, “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?”. He had an ensemble of eleven cavorting under the bridges of New York, but he never looked of despair or destitution. This piece calls for a bit of nuance. Mr. Simkin danced it with his usual, athletic staccato fervor. The following work, a highlight of the evening, was Herman Cornejo and Company in Twyla Tharp’s Push Comes to Shove, danced to Haydn’s Symphony No. 82, 4th mvmt. With propulsive hat tosses and jazzy, urban flair, the audience reacted with adoration. The full-length work should be revived, and soon. Skylar Brandt and Sterling Baca caught my eye.

Gillian Murphy re-imagined her role as The Accused, in Agnes de Mille’s Fall River Legend. With Luciana Paris, as Her Step-Mother, Duncan Lyle as Her Father, and Roman Zhurbin as Her Pastor, Ms. Murphy was stoic, gesturally tormented, and theatrically riveting. At one point, in rejection from her step-mother, she leaped into Mr. Zhurbin’s arms. Another rare icon was Jerome Robbins’ Les Noces, the Second Tableau. The recorded, infamous, Stravinsky score pulsated within the religious rite. This was a dance for only the Groom (Jonathan Klein), His Parents (Stella Abrera and Thomas Forster), and the Matchmaker (Sterling Baca). In Pillar of Fire, also seen on last week’s Repertory nights, I finally was rewarded with the casting of Devon Teuscher as Caroline, partnered by Her Lover, Cory Stearns, with Melanie Hamrick in the role of Caroline’s fiancé’s former mistress. Three Corps dancers joined the ensemble. As in this role last year, Ms. Teuscher was sensuous and sublime, with Mr. Stearns yearning and filled with ardor. The following work, Alexei Ratmansky’s The Bright Stream, brought back Daniil Simkin for what was an actual, comedic role. He was a bride en pointe, with Clinton Luckett joining in on the fun.

As fortune would have it, there was a vigorous and divine performance next, by Julie Kent, who will also dance her Farewell in a few weeks, but in Romeo and Juliet. Tonight, Ms. Kent danced the most gripping Pas de Deux of Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon, partnered by Marcelo Gomes. To the swelling, Massenet score, Ms. Kent slid en pointe across Des Grieux’ bedroom, to be lifted, carried, embraced, tossed, and twirled. The crowd exploded in thrilling acclaim. If it’s spring, it’s Swan Lake, and tonight was no exception. Misty Copeland gave a preview of her upcoming debut as Odette-Odile, dancing an Act IV Pas de Deux with James Whiteside as Siegfried, in Kevin McKenzie’s choreography, after Petipa and Ivanov. Patrick Ogle was von Rothbart. The female Corps appeared, this time as swans. I could not imagine how rapidly the costume changes were occurring backstage. Ms. Copeland danced with affecting poise and balance. And, after intermission, the female Corps was back as Shades in the iconic scene from La Bayadčre. The Corps was flawless, eloquent, and tightly synchronized. Shifting to the third movement of Jiří Kylián’s Sinfonietta, scored to Janacek, an ensemble of three women and three men performed this lyrical work.

Kevin McKenzie, the Company’s Artistic Director, and Rachel Moore, the Company’s CEO, greeted the audience warmly. Mr. McKenzie spoke of Ballet Theater’s past and future leaders, designers, and choreographers, honoring Oliver Smith, a former scenic designer and Co-Director of ABT, for the past, and Alexei Ratmansky, the Company’s Artist in Residence, for the future, among others. At various interludes, retired dancers, like Susan Jaffe, also gave informative talks, adding to the three-hour length of the Gala. But, a three-hour ballet Gala is a balletomane’s dream. Antony Tudor was represented a third time tonight with a Pas de Deux from The Leaves are Fading, music by Dvořák, danced by Hee Seo and Cory Stearns. Ms. Seo’s performance was a bit shaky, perhaps due to the number of appearances, shifting roles. But, never shaky, Alexei Ratmansky’s Piano Concerto #1, 4th mvmt. was astounding, with Christine Shevchenko, Skylar Brandt, Calvin Royal II, and Gabe Stone Shayer catapulting, spinning, leaping, and smiling warmly. Harald Lander’s Etudes was led by Gillian Murphy and Joseph Gorak, showing off the Company’s athletic virtuosity. An ensemble of eleven joined the leads in this abstract ballet about the development of skill and style. They could not have cast the piece better.

At this point, with the clock ticking, and eight excerpted ballets to go, including the Grand Finale, each solo, duo, or group of performers, no longer needing to change, remained onstage following their own performances, making for a very, very busy visual. The female Corps returned, yet again, for a scene of Wilis in an Act II excerpt from Giselle. This is a stunning scene, replete with rows of white-costumed and silky-winged Wilis, in tiny hops on one foot. Leading the Corps, Maria Kotchetkova and Stella Abrera were both captivating. The Adolphe Adam score was breathtaking. The Wilis remained onstage as James Whiteside, in kilt and billowing white shirt, danced a solo Variation from Bournonville’s La Sylphide. His elevation, energy, and ebullience were remarkable. The next solo was by Paloma Herrera, the third Ballet Theatre Principal, who will dance her Farewell next week, in Giselle, like the Principals, Ms. Reyes and Ms. Kent. Ms. Herrera danced a solo Variation from Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. As this would be her only performance, and a brief one, before her Farewell, she received much adulation.

One more time, Daniil Simkin returned for the program’s third solo in a row, Ali the Slave’s Variation from Le Corsaire, music by Adolphe Adam. He leapt about in circles, spun like a top, and threw himself on the stage, throwing his head and torso back. After all Mr. Simkin’s performances tonight, it would have been better served to feature a Soloist or Corps dancer here. Hee Seo, likewise, came out for her own solo, Gamzatti’s Variation from La Bayadčre. At this point, we’d seen Ms. Seo in numerous roles, and a Corps dancer or Soloist would have been refreshing. A Pas de Deux for Isabella Boylston and Cory Stearns was next, from Don Quixote. This was the lush wedding dance, with its fish dives and Kitri’s leaps into Basilio’s arms. The Company was driven, at this point, keeping the momentum flowing. The grand Polonaise from Balanchine’s Theme and Variations followed, with all the performers since Etudes, making a wall of dancers, in a variety of costumes, rear stage. Sarah Lane and Joseph Gorak led a large Company ensemble with aplomb. Here, Ms. Lane was filled with abandon and artistry. Mr. Gorak, well suited for her, is a rising star, and, together, they seized the stage.

The Grand Finale, with all performers returning for a bow, was scored to Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty, which will soon be seen here, in a new production by Ratmansky. The Company leaders, speakers, and renowned, retired Company dancers (unfortunately anonymous and unannounced) joined onstage for several bows. Kudos to Maestros Wilkins, Barker, and LaMarche, for their multitude of vibrant, orchestral scores. And, kudos to American Ballet Theatre for 75 extraordinary years.

Scene from "Push Comes to Shove"
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes
in the "Manon" Pas de Deux
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Misty Copeland and James Whiteside
in "Swan Lake"
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Alumni Paul Sutherland, Ruth Ann Koesun, Edward Verso
and the Company and Alumni at the Gala Curtain Call
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

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