High Season

The ballet whirlwind is upon us: American Ballet Theatre is now firmly ensconced at the Met, while New York City Ballet continues to perform three ballets a night a few steps across the plaza. And that’s not all: Ballet Nacional de Cuba, led, still, by the nearly-blind Alicia Alonso, will visit the Brooklyn Academy of Music for four days starting June 8, and the Royal Danish Ballet is headed to the Koch Theatre for a run that begins on June 14.

A.B.T. got things started with a gala performance consisting mainly of excerpts from the season, as it usually does around this time of the year. It seems churlish to complain about these events, but they are seldom as fun as they sound, and tend to underserve both the choreography and the stars they are meant to glorify. Is there any comparison between seeing the Rose Adagio within the context of “Sleeping Beauty” and seeing it presented as a stand-alone bit, a demonstration of a ballerina’s ability to balance on one leg over and over again? Still, Alina Cojocaru, who is once again on loan from the Royal Ballet, managed to spin some of her magic, with her delicate frame and almost waif-like smile. She paused for an extra beat before one of her suitors—I believe it was Isaac Stappas—as if thinking “I’ll take this one!” And yes, her balances were flawless, though she held them longer last year when she danced “Sleeping Beauty” with José Manuel Carreño, and probably will do so again when she dances it with Herman Cornejo on June 8. I await that performance with great anticipation.

Another whiff of poetry blew across the stage with the pas de deux from the first act of Alexei Ratmansky’s “The Nutcracker” which premièred last December at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The duet has a little introductory phrase that quiets the mind, and allows for the imagination to be awakened: the two dancers walk side by side and stand with their chests turned skyward, heads back. In the context of the story, they are taking delight in the falling snow, but there is also a second, deeper meaning: they are entering a state of grace. The effect seemed magnified by the enormous, bare stage of the Metropolitan Opera House. Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes’s interpretation had also grown since last December—Part, in particular, danced with an urgency and emotional openness that brought a lump to my throat. That is not to say that there weren’t bumps—there often are, where Part is concerned—but they were the price to pay for the lush, slow-motion swoons and the ripples of emotion through her back, the whoosh of her body rushing across the diagonal toward her partner (she is one of the few dancers who really appears to rush forward, rather than simulate acceleration). It must be said that Gomes is a heroic partner—he can fix any wobble and generally save just about any ballerina from herself, with enormous grace. He dances with an enveloping warmth and generosity of spirit, which were again called upon later in the gala, during the acrobatic bedroom pas de deux from “Manon.” There, he danced with Diana Vishneva, who was all shivers and rapturous desire. Vishneva is one of the few ballerinas I’ve seen who does not seem to perform steps; she rewrites the dance every time she rushes onstage, and what you get is an outpouring of whatever she’s feeling at the moment, call it Vishneva-ness.

There were two pas de deux from “Swan Lake” –both accompanied by a rather unconvincing solo violin–and one from John Neumeier’s “Lady of the Camellias” in which Cory Stearns was forever lifting, carrying, and lowering Julie Kent, or rolling around with her on the floor. It must be said that Kent’s beauty and heightened vulnerability onstage serve her well, as does Stearns’ natural dignity and boyish intensity. The pièce d’occasion trotted out for José Manuel Carreño, called “Majismo,” was made in 1965 for the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. It was exactly what one might have expected. The cast here featured an impressive cadre of Latin dancers—all but one (Paloma Herrera) Cuban. Four men and four women in Spanish-style outfits showed their stuff—super-fast turns! Big jumps!—while also snapping their fingers, handling fans, or doing some simulated zapateado. Xiomara Reyes and Herrera were particularly fiery (a series of lightning-fast chainés from Reyes elicited an eruption of applause), but we didn’t see enough of Carreño, except for one of his spectacular decelerating turns that stop on a dime. Every time he does it, I wonder: “How’d he do that?” I’ve seen other dancers try to imitate this trick, but no-one can do it like José Manuel, which is one reason why so many people will be so very sad when he retires at the end of the season. Talk about panache. Now it’s onto a week of “Don Quixote,” the highlight of which will probably be two performances by Alina Cojocaru and José Manuel Carreño on May 20 and 23. And then there’s the visiting star, Polina Semionova, who will make her début with the company at the May 21 matinée of Don Q, alongside David Hallberg.

But enough about the gala. The following night (May 17), New York City Ballet offered a triple bill consisting of Balanchine’s “Divertimento No. 15,” Jerome Robbins’ “Opus 19/The Dreamer,” and Peter Martins’ “Fearful Symmetries.” “Divertimento,” with its elegant music by Mozart and its bouquet of ballerinas—five, to be exact—is airy, refined, and feminine in the extreme. The current cast is not ideal—it lacks charm, or the illusion of graceful esprit that one hears in the music. Janie Taylor is the only one who seems to lose herself in the music.

I wrote recently about Gonzalo García’s beautiful interpretation of Robbins’ “Opus 19/The Dreamer” so I will simply say that it is still one of his best roles at City Ballet. His sense of poetry, and the modesty of his stage manner—which allows the role to shine through him, rather than the other way around—elevate this ballet, which might otherwise be several degrees too earnest. Add to that his legato phrasing, the way each movement leads powerfully into the next so that every moment feels weighty and resonant. I’d be interested to see him dance “Opus 19” with a ballerina other than Wendy Whelan, someone less well-known, like Lauren Lovette or Maya Collins from the corps. Both have a touch of mystery which might add a new dimension to this meditation on the relationship between the poet and his muse.

The evening’s closer was Peter Martins’ “Fearful Symmetries,” from 1990, set to John Adams’ eponymous score. I think it is one of Martins’ best works: driving, athletic, and sleek, like an impressive machine. The dancers—three main couples, three male soloists, and a corps of fourteen—glide, jump, and turn in high-speed diagonals across the stage, crossing and re-crossing, or spinning toward the center only to shoot outward again. They throw one leg into the air, either in a semi-circle from back to front, or up into a bent-leg position (attitude) that seems to thrust their bodies even further. They hold their arms almost straight, like athletes, with the fingers stretching outward. The point is to cover as much space as possible, and to never allow the momentum to falter, just as the music chugs on, with new instruments entering into the mix but with little fluctuation in dynamics or intensity. The streamlining of the steps (and lack of development of any kind) leaves space for interpretation, and thus the various personalities of the performers emerge. All of the dancers were new to the work, and they seemed to relish the challenge. Teresa Reichlen was cool and slightly amused; Sara Mearns smoldered, unleashing her powerful legs with a sizzling voluptuousness; Amar Ramasar gave free rein to his gleeful boyishness, which, for once, seemed totally appropriate; Anthony Huxley was composed and introspective while cutting through the air in figures of marvelous precision. If “Fearful Symmetries” feels very much of its time—there is certainly more than a whiff of Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room” about it—that’s ok too.

Marina Harss is a translator and dance writer in New York City. Recent translations include Elisabeth Gille’s ”The Mirador” and Alberto Moravia’s ”Two Friends.” Her dance writing has appeared in The N ...read more

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