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American Ballet Theatre Stage Door Fans: Fourth Annual Reunion
- Offstage with the Dancers

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The American Ballet Theatre Stage Door Fans

Fourth Annual Reunion

(ABT Website)

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
August 20, 2006
Originally Published on

August 20, 2006, at Amarone, a bustling Italian restaurant in the theater district, 9th Avenue, between 47th and 48th Streets, over a Sunday lunch of antipasti, fresh pastas and succulent seafood, Italian wines, iced cappuccino, fruit sorbets, and tiramisu, again a big step up from former ABT Stage Door interviews, huddled within the sweltering stage door garage area. I was once again joined by Marianne Stegeland, Lois Kirschenbaum, and Tommy Ng. Adam Jagusiak was traveling abroad.

REZ: Aren't we lucky to finally be meeting in broad daylight! A far cry from those annual, hot late nights, under the cavernous Met Opera House. Tony has a superb menu here, and we have all afternoon to reminisce on ballet. I brought ABT programs from each ballet to help jog our memories, as the ballet season ended a month ago. Let's start with the new Kudelka Cinderella. I loved the music (one of my favorite Prokofiev scores) and the sets, and I hope to see Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes dancing together often.

Group: It was a thrill to see Guillaume Coté. He may be collaborating with Kevin (McKenzie) in the near future. After all, Julio (Bocca) just retired, and some soloists (Anna Liceica and Erica Cornejo) left. And, Marcelo has made great strides this year. Angel (Corella) was switched last minute to Guillaume, who originated the role (the Prince) in Canada. Maybe they'll find a donor for a contract for Guillaume. Angel will, by the way, be appearing with the Met Opera in a brief ballet by Wheeldon in La Gioconda. Angel dances around the world.

REZ: We always get sidetracked. That's OK. Back to Cinderella.

Group: The beginning is too slow. The pas de deux in the second and third acts were good. It didn't have the fairy tale charm (of former choreographies). No tutus! We liked the Kirov version better. The step-sisters should be men. The step-mother is better as a man, too. The tipsiness of the step-mother made her look like an alcoholic.

REZ: But, don't forget that fantastic pumpkin that slowly descended. It was magical in its own way. And, yes, Guillaume was a new star to watch. I agree, "Why don't they bring (Eugene) Onegin back? Yes, it's a fabulous ballet, so romantic and impassioned. Let's go to Jeu de Cartes and the other Stravinsky ballets.

Group: Julio was a high point as the Joker. So daring and funny. Apollo was just seen so much at City Ballet, and they do it so well, what's the point? It's lost its freshness. Petrouchka is beginning to show its age. Poor Julio. Last year, as Petrouchka, he hit his head on the wrong part of the wall, and instead of going through it, he got a headache.

REZ: I saw Julio as Petrouchka, and he looked so sad. Naturally, we tried to see him in everything, this being his retirement year, so sad, so soon. But, he was so resilient, so talented in everything. Julio puts 150% of himself in every dance, every moment. He's the quintessential pro. Where was Carlos Acosta this year? I saw him as Apollo, and that was it.

Group: He was in Boston for Manon with the Royal Ballet.

REZ: Now, Giselle. I can't survive a season without Giselle. And, there were a few seasons, I recall, that skipped Giselle.

Group: Vishneva was superb. But, her costumes were too big, and she sometimes slipped out on top, a costume malfunction.

REZ: I noticed Victor Barbee had numerous roles, this season.

Group: Because Guillaume Graffin left. He shared many of the "older" roles.

REZ: Let's discuss the Giselle highpoints.

Group: Definitely when Julio took off his blue slippers and left them at the grave, after his last Giselle. We cried. Nobody has ever done anything like this in the history of ballet. The ballet always ended with Albrecht walking toward the audience, from Giselle's cemetery cross, as the curtain falls. This time he walked toward stage right rear, leaving his slippers at her grave. We almost died. What a class act!

When Julio danced in Giselle, while the Wilis tried to push him back over the edge of the forest, he literally hopped over and over with two legs frantically kicking mid-air. He threw his whole body into it. It was incredible. Plus, Herman and Erica Cornejo (brother and sister) were dynamite in the Peasant pas de deux. They are two of the most talented dancers and both great in character parts. And, Gennadi (Saveliev) as Hilarion was fantastic.

REZ: I saw Julio and Xiomara (Reyes) twice in Giselle, the same week. I was having separation anxiety over his looming retirement. Xiomara is perfect in this role. She's so light and effervescent, so ingénue. When she was betrayed by Albrecht, you could "feel the pain". What about Le Corsaire?

Group: The coup de grace is Angel as the slave, Ali. He is always SO exciting. And, David (Hallberg) was dashing as Conrad. He literally flew around, leaping so high. It's a great role for him. (Marianne) "I took guests to Corsaire, and they liked the third act best, all synchronized with dancing children".

REZ: I loved Paloma as Medora and Xiomara as Gulnare. Herman as Lankendem was so theatrical. I only saw Corsaire once this time, and Act II is always worth the entire event. Does anyone realize there are 32 fouettés in this ballet? Not just in Swan Lake? And, speaking of Swan Lake?

Group: The four Cygnettes dance was the best ever, this year, and the pas de trois in Act I. Of course, Swan Lake is never the same without Nina (Ananiashvili). We hear a rumor that she'll come back next season, after having the baby, and dance with ABT again.

REZ: Swan Lake is another ballet I can't live without. I saw (Diana) Vishneva and (Jose Manuel) Carreño one night and (Paloma) Herrera and Corella the other night. For some reason, Corella seemed on top of his form, with more chemistry in this partnership than in the other. Carreño just didn't seem so impassioned this time, but his dancing was muscular and bounding, as always. He has so much stage presence. Of course, Paloma's and Angel's Black Swan pas de deux was worth every second, and they added lightning and thunder to the action. Let's say something about Sylvia.

Group: Here's the consensus. We would all like Sylvia switched for Onegin, with more charisma in the dance. Sylvia's music is majestic, very orchestral. It's a lot of arrows flying around.

REZ: Speaking of campy, San Francisco Ballet's Sylvia by Mark Morris was not campy enough. Mark Morris is famous for his wit and edgy style, and his Sylvia was much too restrained. Like a ballet that's not quite a ballet. I liked his last act best. Romeo and Juliet?

Group: Last year Julio retired from a couple of roles, and Romeo was one. Hallberg is growing into Romeo. He's new in the role, a mature, two-dimensional character. Conrad is a one-dimensional character, easier to perform. He's developing theatrical depth. He's very elegant, but he was a bit too restrained, inhibited. Maybe nervous. As a new Principal, he has so much to prove, whereas, when he was a soloist, the bar wasn't so high. He needs time. He has huge potential.

REZ: And, every year, the ballet scores, particularly Giselle, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, and this year Cinderella swirl in my head, each ballet replacing the former's music. When I go to sleep, when I wake up, all during ballet season. I keep reliving the ballets through the internalized music. I have never had this effect with Sylvia or Le Corsaire or Stravinsky ballets. Not even with this year's Manon. So, now we come to Julio's farewell dance, Manon. I had been shocked that there was no farewell Swan Lake, but, then again, there was no Nina the past two years. It's a taxing ballet, especially Act III.

Group: He knew his body best. There's less dancing it seems for the male partner in Manon, but so many passionate lifts and so much carrying. Julio "went out" with (Alessandra) Ferri. Where Nina and Julio had finished each other technically (in Swan Lake), Ferri and Julio had natural charisma and bonding. They had asked for Manon for years; they had originally danced this ballet together at ABT in 1993, and here it was again.

This was a great partnership. Ferri will still dance with Julio here and there, until he completely retires. Maybe next year will be her last, too. We hope not. This duo was like (Carla) Fracci and (Eric) Bruhn, with huge chemistry. (Marianne) "I rescued Carla Fracci once, as she was trying to go backstage to meet Julio, and the guard didn't know her".

REZ: So, some new great partnerships to watch?

Group: Marcelo and Julie, Angel and Xiomara.

REZ: I sat behind Ferri's husband and daughter at the farewell and then bought his book. The photos of ABT dancers are surreal, exquisite. I'll never forget the thousands of curtain calls, with Julio draped in the Argentine flag, drinking an Argentine beer! What a scene! This kind of excitement happens so rarely. Maybe not again for years. I remember Nureyev standing there, the same way, with stomping and fluttering programs. We need more stars.

Group: Don't forget Angel's Ali. (Marianne) "Angel once told me, "If I just want to spin and jump I can do that in class'. He throws himself into each dance". (Vladimir) Malakhov has charisma. He has a special relationship onstage with Vishneva. And, of course, Herman Cornejo, who so far hasn't received story ballet leads, the princely roles. He could be partnered with Xiomara or Sarah Lane.

REZ: Tell me some more up-and-coming dancers to watch.

Group: In addition to Sarah Lane, Stella Abrera, Zhong-Jing Fang, Melanie Hamrick, Craig Salstein, to name a few.

REZ: I've been watching Craig Salstein for years, and he has so much bravura potential. Maybe he'll become princely too. As the Joker in Jeu de Cartes and even as one of the sailors in Fancy Free last fall, he was outstanding.

Group: Gillian (Murphy) was superb as Myrta in Giselle and in so many of her roles. We really should mention Melissa Hayden, whom the ballet world just lost. Balanchine had created Cortège Hongrois just for her at City Ballet where she danced for almost 25 years. Maybe there's a video.

REZ: Speaking of videos! Here's a subject to explore. All the ballet videos for sale are so old. There are gorgeous ballets from the 60's, 70's, and 80's. Then what happened? I'm sure the Argentine press videotaped Julio's retirement farewell; I know it was taped. But what about all the other performances? How can we get copies of videos? Were they taped or just for in-house purposes? This is a huge loss to balletomanes. Who wouldn't even pay $100/tape for a special, memorable event? Slightly more than a ticket?

Group: Maybe at NY Library of the Performing Arts. It's too expensive to tape these days, with so many union issues. There was a mixed bill taped in the 90's. Maybe they'll tape ballets that are staged for a particular dancer, like Sylvia for Gillian or Rodeo, but then they'd have to bring Erica (Cornejo) back from Boston for this. (She just joined Boston Ballet). (Lois) "I have watched a three minute tape of Maya Plisetskaya's Dying Swan from 1992, 300 times". (Tommy) "I played an aria from Lohengrin 100 times".

REZ: My favorite tape is one of just Nureyev and Fonteyn, about the partnership and dances. There's none that I know of for Julio and Ferri. Imagine a video of their Manon, their Romeo and Juliet, and one more of Julio and Nina in Swan Lake. What we would pay for this!

Tommy: A counter-high-point: No Nina for Valentine's Day!

Marianne Stegeland works at Social Security administration and volunteers at ABT and the cabaret scene. Lois Kirschenbaum retired from the International Rescue Committee for re-settlement and education. Tommy Ng is a cardiologist at Deborah Heart and Lung Center in NJ. All of us are balletomanes.

Prosciutto, Mozzarella, and Tomato Appetizer

Photo courtesy of Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower

Homemade Fettucine in Tomato Wine Sauce with Shrimps and Lobster

Photo courtesy of Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower

Roberta, Marianne, Lois, Tommy

Photo courtesy of Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower

Tommy and Marketa

Photo courtesy of Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower

Homemade Coconut Sorbet

Photo courtesy of Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower

Homemade Tiramisu

Photo courtesy of Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower

Lois with Her Iced Cappuccino and Whipped Cream

Photo courtesy of Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower

Tony, Amarone Proprietor, with Roberta, Marianne, Lois

Photo courtesy of Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower


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