Metropolitan Opera House, New York, NY; May 21(m), 2014
American Ballet Theatre’s Metropolitan Opera House season consists mainly of full length ballets. The Met is a huge theater and classics such as ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Giselle’ are needed to fill the 4,000 seat venue. Usually, however, ABT throws in a program or two of one act ballets. Such is the case with the May 21st matinee. The program is called a Classic Spectacular and consists of ‘Theme and Variations’, ‘Duo Concertant’ and ‘Gaite Parisienne’. ‘Theme and Variations’ and ‘Duo Concertant’ are both choreographed by George Balanchine. The afternoon ends with Leonide Massine’s ‘Gaiete Parisienne’.
I have probably seen ‘Theme and Variations’ more times than any other ballet. It is danced regularly by both the New York City Ballet as the finale of ‘Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3’ and by ABT on its own. ‘Theme and Variations’ was choreographed by George Balanchine for ABT in 1947. At Wednesday’s matinee the cast is led by soloist Sarah Lane and principal Daniil Simkin. In ‘Theme’ Lane’s footwork is both sparkling and clear. As petite as Lane is her manner in ‘Theme and Variations’ is that of the grandest ballerina.
As the lead male dancer in ‘Theme’ Daniil Simkin shows off wonderful leg beats and a thrilling double air turn/pirouette combination. His partnering of Lane is much more secure than when I saw him in ‘Theme’ with Isabella Boylston last November. The demi-soloists – Gemma Bond, Misty Copeland, Devon Teuscher and Stephanie Williams perform flawlessly.
The second piece of the afternoon is Balanchine’s ‘Duo Concertant’. ‘Duo’ is set to music by Igor Stravinsky. There are only two musicians, a violinist and a pianist. Both perform on the stage. Nothing much happens during this work. During close to half the ballet the musicians play while the two dancers, Paloma Herrera and James Whiteside, stand and watch them. Also Stravinsky’s music is very slow. Like many Balanchine/Stravinsky ballets ‘Duo Concertant’ is an acquired taste. Maybe I need to see it more times so I can get this work.
The afternoon ends with the delightful ‘Gaiete Parsienne’ which was choreographed by Leonide Massine in 1938 to Offenbach’s famous music. The ballet is set in a French nightclub at the end of the 19th century. The audience is introduced to various characters who both work in the nightclub and visit it as guests. As the ballet begins a flower girl and a glove seller, both lovely young ladies, are setting up their wares. A rich Peruvian arrives and commences to flirt outrageously with the glove seller.
Next a young Austrian baron makes his way into Gaiete Parsienne. As soon as he sees the beautiful glove seller he falls in love with her. Then soldiers enter the nightclub. La Lionne, the reigning French celebrity of the day, appears next accompanied by the Duke and the Lady in Green.
The young Austrian baron gathers up his courage and seeks out the Glove Seller. At that exact moment an officer tries to kiss the Glove Seller. The envious Baron attacks the officer and soon there is an all out fight at the nightclub. The Glove Seller is very impressed with the Baron’s gallantry. She and the young Austrian dance a romantic waltz together and declare their love for each other.
Then the divertissements begin. The highlight of these is the famous can-can. As the ballet ends the Glove Seller and the Baron are embracing. The Peruvian, who tried so hard to win the attentions of the Glove Seller, is left alone.
Veronika Part is lovely and sweet as the Glove Seller but she does not come across as the type of woman men fight over. Jared Matthews’s Baron is an attentive partner for Part. His acting, however, is rather bland. The standout of the work is Craig Salstein. His Peruvian is witty, sexy and a superb dancer. The can-can girls are just terrific. I could see them kick up their heels the whole afternoon and evening too.
All in all it was a wonderful afternoon at the ballet.