Roman Zhurbin, Misty Copeland and Craig Salstein in Rodeo.  Photo Marty Sohl

Roman Zhurbin, Misty Copeland and Craig Salstein in Rodeo.
Photo Marty Sohl

Les Sylphides, Jardin aux Lilas, Rodeo

Metropolitan Opera House, New York, NY; May 13(m), 2015

Colleen Boresta

American Ballet Theatre began the New York phase of their 75th anniversary year by dancing works the company performed in their very early days.

When ABT danced their first performance in 1940, they opened with Les Sylphides. Choreographed by Michel Fokine to music by Frederic Chopin, it is often considered the first abstract ballet.  It is still a splendid work with the choreography fitting the music seamlessly.

All the dancers were wonderful at Wednesday’s matinee, but some dancers stood out. In the Prelude, Veronika Part was absolutely glorious. She was so ethereally graceful and fragile that she truly became a sylph (fairy). In the Mazurka, Stella Abrera impressed with her immaculate grand jetés. Her upper body was wonderfully pliant and she showed off her lovely rippling arms.

As the only male in the piece, Joseph Gorak captivated the audience with his magnificent line and his soaring leaps with the softest of landings, reminding me of a young David Hallberg. He and Abrera had real chemistry when they danced together.

Jardin aux Lilas (Lilac Garden), choreographed by Anthony Tudor for Ballet Rambert in 1936, was also first performed by ABT in 1940. It is the story of a young girl on the eve of her wedding to a man she does not love, and it is a masterpiece. Tudor saw clearly into the souls of the four central characters.

The dancers were all first-rate in their dancing and especially in their acting. As Caroline, the central role, Xiomara Reyes was heart-breaking. I found myself hoping she would run off with her military officer lover but that was not to be. Thomas Forster’s interpretation of that lover was rich with loss and longing. As Caroline’s fiancé Alexandre Hammoudi was cold and unfeeling. He came to life, however, when he saw an episode from his past the night before his wedding. In that episode, Christina Shevchenko was both sophisticated and still desperately in love with him.

Agnes De Mille’s Rodeo, set to a commissioned score by Aaron Copland for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1942, was first danced by ABT in 1950. It is the story of a tomboyish cowgirl who wants to both succeed in a man’s world and win her man. The man she ends up with, however, is not the man she originally wants. The music and dance are a perfect fit.

As the Cowgirl, Misty Copeland was total perfection. She did not put a foot or hand wrong. Even better, she lit up the stage each time she appeared and her comic timing was spot on. I am beginning to think more and more that she should be promoted to principal dancer. There was also a sense that the whole cast were so happy for her success, even the conductor, who kissed her on the cheek at the curtain call. It was thrilling to see.

As the Champion Roper, Craig Salstein showed off his great comic chops. His tap dancing was very exciting especially considering that he had to perform without music. Roman Zhurbin and Lee Anne Underwood were charming as the Head Wrangler and the Ranch Owner’s Daughter. Zhurbin is a first-rate character dancer. I don’t think there is any character role he can’t perform splendidly.