Ekaterina Kondaurova and Semyon Chudin in the pas de deux from Diamonds.  Photo © Siggul/VAM

Ekaterina Kondaurova and Semyon Chudin in the pas de deux from
George Balanchine’s Diamonds.
Photo © Siggul/VAM

David H. Koch Theater, New York, NY; April 17, 2015

Jerry Hochman

The final performance in this year’s YAGP programming was one of its periodic special events – an evening devoted to David Hallberg and the artistic legacy he acquired and upon which he built his career. In terms of professional performances, and like the previous night’s gala, it was somewhat uneven, but there were several superb performances, and one that was memorable.

At the outset, David Hallberg himself must be saluted. He curated the program, selecting an eclectic set of dances that were worth seeing even if not always successful, and his ‘performance’ as master of ceremonies was one of the evening’s highlights. He addressed the audience many times throughout the evening, introducing the dancers, explaining his connection to their companies, sprinkling his remarks with anecdotes that revealed as much about him as a person as they did about him as a dancer. And unlike other gala presenters, he spoke with authority, passion, and obvious intelligence, highlighting those qualities that together comprise an outstanding ballet dancer, qualities that he acquired from his formative relationships with these companies and dancers appearing. Clearly, his talents extend beyond his ability as a danseur. Curiously, Hallberg did not recognize any nurturing he may have received as a member of American Ballet Theatre (as opposed to ABT’s Studio Company). Even more curious, a solo performance by one ABT dancer was added to the program, via a last minute program insert, seemingly as an afterthought.

By far the finest performance of this program, and perhaps of many seasons, was Mariinsky Ballet’s Yekaterina Kondaurova in the pas de deux from George Balanchine’s Diamonds. Purists may argue that her portrayal was too romantic, but the essence of the ballerina role is not an ice princess, or a Swan Queen cousin, but regality tempered by irresistibility; perfection just beyond reach, but never beyond hope of reaching. Kondaurova not only executed the steps perfectly, but exuded a palpable quality of radiant intensity that came from within rather than from any extraneous body movement or facial gesture – just by the suppleness of her body and the warmth in her eyes. I vaguely recall seeing Suzanne Farrell performing Diamonds, and she could not help infusing a degree of sensuality into her portrayal. Kondaurova’s performance was the closest to Farrell’s of any I’ve seen since. And when Semyon Chudin (who also excelled) knelt at her side at the pas de deux’s conclusion, he was not simply her cavalier, but her worshipful supplicant – as was the enraptured audience.

Tokyo Ballet in Maurice Béjart's Bhakti III.  Photo © Siggul-VAM

Tokyo Ballet in Maurice Béjart’s Bhakti III.
Photo © Siggul/VAM

The evening’s performances began with an unfortunate repeat of the pas de deux from The Pharoah’s Daughter, performed by the same Bolshoi dancers, Evgenia Obraztsova and Semyon Chudin, who danced these roles the night before. Even the removal of the ‘Egyptian backdrop’, which required the viewer to focus solely on the two dancers, failed to make the dance look any better. Surely these two dancers would have been able to perform something different for this occasion – and in fact the original listing indicated that they would be performing an excerpt from the recently resurrected Marco Spada. No reason was given for the change, which was made with enough advance notice to be correctly referenced in the program.

Much better was a solo by ABT’s Veronika Part (whom Hallberg noted went “in the other direction” – from Russia to ABT). Lar Lubavitch’s Scriabin Dances is a whirling. passionate dance by a woman in black, who is at first defeated, and eventually emerges triumphant. No one dances pathos like Ms. Part; she was triumphant even before the choreography required her to be.

The first half of the program concluded with the dancers from the Tokyo Ballet (its star ballerina Mizuka Ueno, and seven male dancers led by Kazuo Kimura) in the U.S. premiere of Maurice Béjart’s Bhakti III. Although his reputation is secure, Béjart’s work has not received the exposure it deserves here, where awareness is often limited to knowing that his company at the time (Ballet du XXe Siècle) is where Ms. Farrell exiled herself after temporarily leaving NYCB, or to viewing his version of Bolero, which I saw in New York performed by Maya Plisetskaya and (to my recollection) his star male dancer, Jorge Donn. Béjart infused overt eroticism and sensuality (at times androgynous) into his pieces, which increased the curiosity and alienation factor, but he was ahead of his time.

Bhakti III is in the usual Béjart mold. It’s kitschy, but fascinating. It begins with the look of erotic (at last to a Western eye) tantric art, with the female deity, her back to the audience, entwined around a male deity such that he is hardly noticeable, in apparent sexual union, surrounded by lesser deities or supplicants. The ballet proceeds from there to bring this tantra to life, with the lead dancers striking familiar, iconic religious poses, then suddenly elaborating and translating the poses into passionate dance. At one point, the lead dancers temporarily separate themselves from the group, and the piece becomes a bewitching mating ritual. Bugaku cross-polinated with Astarte. Bhakti III is not an Indian dance, and doesn’t pretend to be. And it goes on too long. But, bathed in red lighting and vividly executed by Ms. Ueno and Mr. Kimura, I found it to be an interesting and beautifully performed curiosity.

Untitled by Pontus Lidberg, performed by the ABT Studio Company.  Photo © Siggul/VAM

Untitled by Pontus Lidberg, performed by the ABT Studio Company.
Photo © Siggul/VAM

The second half of the program fared less well. David Hallberg himself commissioned a new work for ABT’s Studio Company, where he began his career, called Untitled. It’s lyrical and lovely, with costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung that match the ethereal feel of the piece, and the young dancers, unnamed in the program, did a fine job with it. The ballet seems to strain for some meaning – particularly as the dancers assemble in a beautiful heap when the piece ends – but there isn’t any. It looks nice, but goes nowhere.

The Australian Ballet was represented by Amber Scott and Rudy Hawkes in the U.S. premiere of Unspoken Dialogues, by Stephen Baynes. The dancers executed beautifully, with Scott being particularly impressive, but the unspoken dialogues that comprise the pas de deux – essentially mixed-messages that cause the relationship to ebb and flow and push and pull depending on the man’s level of interest in any given moment – look as unsatisfying, choreographically, as the meaning they’re supposed to convey.

The evening concluded with a bevy of six Mariinksy dancers, led by Kondaurova, in another U.S. premiere: Choreographic Game 3×3 by Anton Pimonov. While it’s somewhat enjoyable to watch the dancers having fun with it, the piece is superficial, and leaves no lasting impression.

For Jerry Hochman’s report of the YAGP Finals, click here.

For his report of the YAGP Gala, Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow, click here.