One Kind of Dance

Late spring and early summer are considered by some to be the high point of the New York dance season, and the reason is simple: New York City Ballet is having its spring season at the New York State Theater and American Ballet Theatre is dancing across the plaza at the Metropolitan Opera House. It's heaven for balletomanes (despite all their complaints about particular dances and dancers), though not necessarily so celestially epiphanic for lovers of other kinds of dance. Balletomanes have no such problem, because they define dance as baller, and only tolerate modern dance to the extent that it's balletic.

So when I titled this entry "one kind of dance," I meant ballet. My next dance posting will be about some events of a different dance order, at Jacob's Puillow, Bard College and the Lincoln Center Festival. Not ballet, maybe not all heavenly, but definitely all dance. By my definition.

I didn't go to much City Ballet this season. Only the gala, which offered both of the season's choreographic premieres on one program. So I can't report on the rises and falls (figuratively, not just literally) of City Ballet's fine dancers, their fidelity and infidelity to Balanchine, their revelations of Peter Martins's good judgment (rarely credited) and lapses (amply detailed). And since I've already written about the two premieres, it's on to American Ballet Theatre.

I wound up going to six programs, chosen to suit my enthusiasms and agendas. So again, I can't comparatively rate the different dancers who undertook Giselle or Odette/Odile. For that you need a) a lot of time devoted solely and obsessively to ballet, b) an accommodating press department, and/or c) the ability to worm your way in through other, more devious or amusing means. So I missed the opening gala (which included a solo piece d'occasion by Alexei Ratmansky for Nina Ananiashvili) and the two first week-long bills, devoted to "Balanchine/Tchaikovsky" and "Le Corsaire." I even had to miss Ananiashvili's company farewell, in "Swan Lake," which I much regret. It is very hard to be a balletomane when you have a life.

So what DID I see, you might ask? Well, first there was the all-Prokofiev bill, highlighted by Ratmansky's first ballet for the company as its new artists in residence (stolen out from under Martins's nose, since Ratmansky had been a frequent guest choreographer at City Ballet and almost wound up in residence there). Ratmansky seems fascinated by reviving and rechoreogaphing lost Soviet "classics," like his charming "Bright Stream." "On the Dnieper" proved a kind of bodice-ripping melodrama, full (too full, for its length) of plot and incident. That said, Ratmansky has a gift, better seen in his ballets for City Ballet, and "On the Dnieper," on the night I saw it, was sumptuously danced by Jose Manuel Carreno, Diana Vishneva and, on a slightly more prosaic but still appealing level, Hee Seo. Also on the Prokofiev bill were James Kuldelka's "Desir," which was generic and slight, and Balanchine's "Prodigal Son," of interest for an honorable impersonation of the title character by Daniil Simkin, ABT's latest young Soviet leaper, and Irina Dvorovenko, who's good at being a vamp.

"Giselle," the next week, and "La Sylphide," the week after, served to showcase another Soviet import (and presumably one who will graduate from guest to principal), Natalia Osipova. When she was here with the Bolshoi three years ago, she charmed as a soubrette. This season she took on two similar Romantic roles, long white tulle and deathly ethereality with pining male mortals obbligato. She was better as Giselle, with a truly remarkable ability to propel herself upwards and float without apparent effort. To my taste she lacked soul, of the Carla Fracci variety. But her partner, David Hallberg, is soulful to the max, in the Erik Bruhn manner, with loads of technique, too. Osipova was less convincing as Bournonville's (and Bruhn's, since his staging was used) sylph, again for her failure to tug at the heart while dazzling the eye with her jumps. She's short, which may rob her of some willowy grace but which makes her a match for Herman Cornejo. Cornejo's character-dancer compactness did not translate well as James, and he made a most unconvincing Scotttish nobleman. Mikhail Baryshnikov could make you forget his small size; Cornejo, for all his dazzling gifts, cannot. (For the record, "La Sylphide" was preceded by a pleasantly anodyne performance of Paul Taylor's "Airs.")

Another highlight of "Giselle" was Veronika Part's imperious Myrta, and a couple of weeks later, newly promoted this season to principal, she did Odette/Odile in "Swan Lake." Part can seem stolid, but she has a grandeur about her, and she's a noble beauty. Her "Swan Lake" was pretty terrific, with the two halves of the character even more sharply contrasted than usual: Odette (perhaps excessively) pained and suffering, Odile all vamping flash a la Dvorovenko. (Part also took on Lady Capulet in "Romeo and Juliet," that role in Kenneth MacMillan's version with the overwrought, Italianate lamentation over the corpse of her son; she was certainly overwrought, but not entirely convincing as such.). I had not seen Roberto Bolle before, and he was good, though he's handsome enough that he could dispense with the silly grin he affected throughout Act I. ABT still has a lot of wonderful male dancers, but Bolle fits in well enough.

My final two ABT outings were "Sylvia" and "Romeo and Juliet," both with Vishneva. She doesn't overwhelm everyone, but she does overwhelm most of us, though neither of this season's performances of the classics effaced her Giselle three years ago. "Sylvia" may be a slight ballet, dramaturgically, but it has a great score and some great moments, like Sylvia's hunting-horn entrance, as Alastair Macaulay nicely described. Vishneva seemed to be having fun, though she lacked the Amazonian, slinky-siren appeal of Michele Wiles, whom I unfortunately missed this season. Ethan Stiefel made a properly wan Aminta and Jared Matthews, who's good at heavies (cf. his Hilarion in "Giselle," although there Abrecht is hardly a shining hero, either, at least in the first act), was a nicely gruff, grumpy Orion.

What makes Vishneva special is her ability to combine a controlled, malleable body and superior, expressive technique with dramatic skills. I found her Juliet a little too stagily girlish at first, and hectic in the love scenes, though maybe MacMillan's choreography and Marcelo Gomes's stalwart but unpoetic partnering had something to do with that. But in the last act, in the crypt, she really came into her own, with all that grand, Soviet-style imploring to the heavens serving MacMillan and Prokofiev well.

A word about Frederic Franklin, recently turned 95 and still a most convincing master of mime. He was Prince Siegfried's tutor in "Swan Lake" and Friar Lawrence in "Romeo," and he was spry and sprightly and acute as both. ABT nicely honored him at a subsequent "Swan Lake." He's a living bit of ballet history, moving even to a mere ballet lover (as opposed to balletomane). Can't wait for the celebrations five years from now.

Next posting: On to other kinds of dance....

July 18, 2009 1:07 PM | | Comments (0)

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by John Rockwell published on July 18, 2009 1:07 PM.

Pina Bausch and the Definition of Dance was the previous entry in this blog.

The failings of arts journalism, in print and on the internet is the next entry in this blog.

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