Valentine's Day Stars
of the 21st Century International Ballet Gala
As galas go, this year's installment of this annual winter event was a fast-paced, reasonably entertaining affair, and it was certainly valuable as an opportunity to see leading dancers from foreign companies that almost never have New York seasons anymore. Things moved along at a brisk pace, and there was only one performer who had to cancel; Dmitri Gudanov of the Bolshoi was unable to appear, which meant Svetlana Lunkina performed only once rather than twice, and had a substitute partner (National Ballet of Canada's Guillaume Cote) for the "La Sylphide" pas de deux. There is something innately depressing about sitting in the New York State Theater with the empty orchestra pit yawning below, and the recorded music used was not always the best in terms of tempo and texture.
We got some of the requisite warhorses: pas de deux from "Giselle," "Don Quixote," "Le Corsaire" but not from any of the Tchaikovsky ballets (although the composer's music was briefly heard accompanying the staged final full-cast curtain call that was identified in the program as a "Defilé"). At the end of the evening, the score was Roland Petit 3, Balanchine 1, in terms of how many of their works were performed. Each pair of dancers performed two numbers except for the two American pairs—presumably as a gesture of home-team generosity to the visitors.
The home-grown couples were ABT's Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo, in the ever-so-slightly-cheesy "Diana and Acteon" pas de deux.. It was interesting to see the admirably pure and touchingly un-flashy Cornejo in a role that Jose Manuel Carreño has pretty much owned at ABT in recent years. Cornejo doesn't have the good-natured macho quality that Carreno brings to the role and its loincloth-like costume, but he generated a significant "wow" factor by his admirable freedom and creativity in the air. That beautiful quality of suspension that made his "Spectre de la Rose" such a triumph was again at play, and twisted his body into corkscrewing shapes and assumed seemingly impossible air positions with an air of calm enjoyment. Reyes was her usual demure self—that seems to be the only performance mode she has, eternally demure, and it doesn't make for a particularly interesting performance. She took great care to make her huntress' arm positions (miming the shooting of a bow and arrow) look very clear, and she did toss off her fouettés in the coda with gracious, fluent ease, alternating singles and doubles, raising her arm above her head for each double.
The other American pair was a cross-company duo: NYCB's Alexandra Ansanelli and ABT's Angel Corella. They performed "Le Corsaire," which is of course familiar territory for him and unfamiliar ground for her. She was a bit cautious, but certainly gave herself over to the experience and seemed to enjoy this distinctly more old-fashioned style of ballet. For some reason, during her fouetté sequence, she gradually moved through facing each of the four directions, which looked a little ungainly. Corella blazed through this chestnut with touching fervor and sharp, thrilling brilliance. Now that he is in mid-career (can it really be ten years since he first lit up ABT's stages?!), his stage presence has more weight and intensity. He incorporated any number of dazzling tricks into his solo passages, including what I think of as the Baryshnikov-patented corkscrewing pirouettes, which he did flawlessly.
The one Balanchine item on the program was the "Rubies" pas de deux, performed by the Kirov's Diana Vishneva and Andrian Fadeev. She reached for all the extremes in the choreography's shapes and taffy-like pushing/pulling sequences, and gave a tough, invigorating performance. But where was all the wit and sass that are build into this piece? Patricia McBride used to positively glow in it; Vishneva was serious and purposeful. Fadeev is an appealing blond, compact dancer, but the jazzy extremes of this work did not yet come naturally to him; it was a performance where you felt him working diligently and attentively. It's always fascinating to see dancers from the Kirov taking o Balanchne roles; in this case, although the choreography was very well executed, some of the quintessential flavor of 'Rubies" wasn't there.
Former San Francisco Ballet principals Lucia Lacarra and Cyril Pierre, now with the Munich Ballet, performed two works by Petit, with whom both of them danced early in their careers. The duet from his well-known "Carmen," which closed the first half of the evening, has not been seen a New York stage in some time. It's hard these days not to look silly strutting around in the black stylized, slightly naughty teddy the heroine wears. Lacarra was hardly the fiery, earthy heroine—a force of nature— that one associates with the opera. She lacks allure, and here, strutting around for Don Jose's benefit, she came across as a would-be-coquette. Petit's quirks, like having the man dance a solo to the famous Habanera, and giving him over-emphatic bullfighting gestures to snap into hard and often, make the man's role a busy, changeable one, taking on aspects of both of the central men in Carmen's tale.
The same duo performed Petit's "La Prsionniere" pas de deux, in which she is first discovered lying at the base of a large, swooping curtain of white fabric. She rises and joins him in a moody, atmospheric duet to Saint-Saens, and during the final notes, she returns to her prone position and the fabric cascades down to envelop her. Lacarra and Pierre gave it a fervent, fluent performance.
The Paris Opera Ballet was represented by an Italian ballerina and a Swedish-born Sicilian danseur, Eleonora Abbagnato and Alessi Carbone. The choppy pas de deux from Petit's "L'Arlesienne" proved mystifying as a gala entry; it's quietly focused and probably has dramatic resonance that don't come across when taken out of its full context. Later in the evening, wearing costumes that featured unflattering two-tone shorts, these two performed "Kazimir's Colours," by Mauro Bigonzetti, and gave a persuasive reading of its close, twisty partnering.
It was strictly traditional fare for the Royal Ballet's golden girl, Alina Cojocaru, and her regular partner, the Danish-trained Johan Kobborg. Their Giselle" pas de deux featured some awfully slow tempos, and they had to work to conjure up the atmosphere of ct II'd romantic danger on the bare stage, but they gave a beautiful, heartfelt performance. I have yet to see Cojocaru in a complete Giselle, but this seems an ideal role for her. Her delicacy and tremulousness, and the sensitivity of her phrasing, all work perfectly here. Kobborg was not the most dashing of Albrechts, but he held his own. They returned to give a refined, tasteful "Don Quixote" pas de deux, in which she wore a striking and elegant long-sleeve crimson tutu. It was an exciting "Don Q," but not one where you feel the dancers are pulling out all the sotps and trying to whip the audience into a frenzy.
The limpid, expressive Svetlana Lunkina was to have performed Vladimir Vasiliev's "Paganini Pas de Deux" if her partner had not had to withdraw from the program. So we did to see her until the second half, when she and Côté captured the delicate charm of "La Sylphide," if not always its effortless buoyancy of the Bournonville choreography. He has a warmth and appeal, and he danced with bold eagerness, and always showed tender attentiveness to her. (One wonders, since they were suddenly in desperate need of a James, whether the gala's producers considered turning to one currently working at this very theater—Nikolaj Hübbe.)
Vishneva and Fadeev gave a lovely, spontaneous performance of balcony scene form Lavrovsky's "Romeo and Juliet." It did not feel old-fashioned, even though it has a reticence compared with some later versions, and it pulsed with the onrushing, tremulous expansiveness of young love, the rapture and discovery they are experiencing.
The gala included one very different and powerful work: the second half opened with the Martha Graham Ensemble performing Yuriko's riveting staging of "Steps in the Street' (from the 1936 work "Chronicle"). Not only was this radically different work made to look all the more potent, profound and humane when seen amid an evening of showpieces, but it was thrilling to see the 12 women, on their severe but pliable black dresses, twist and slice through the ample space of the State Theater's stage. This almost unbearably intense, highly concentrated work is amazingly bold in its asymmetric patterns and the ferocity with which the women perform, and its honesty and urgency and reach up to grab your insides.