David Koch Theater, New York, NY; November 2(m) and 10(m), 2013

Colleen Boresta

American Ballet Theatre has just completed their New York Fall season, this year performing at the David Koch Theater instead of City Center.  In these two weeks, ABT showed the variety of their repertoire and the excellence of all their dancers – principals, soloists and corps members.

When ABT danced their very first performance in 1940, “Les Sylphides” was on the program.  Choreographed by Michael Fokine to music by Frederic Chopin, “Les Sylphides” is often considered the first abstract ballet.  I was able to see it twice this Fall – at the November 2nd and November 10th matinees.  The same dancers were featured at both performances, but what a glorious cast it was.  All the performers are magical and they really show the poetry of Fokine’s choreography with every move and gesture.

Some dancers do stand out.  Veronika Part is absolute perfection in the prelude.  She is so ethereally light and delicate that she really becomes a sylph (a fairy, a spirit).  In the mazurka Polina Semionova amazes the audience with her glorious grand jetes.  Her beautifully undulating arms speak volumes and her hops on pointe in the pas de deux are magnificent.

As the sole male in the piece, Cory Stearns shows off his impeccable line as well as his soaring leaps with the plushest of landings.  As good as Semionova and Stearns are in their solos, they are truly captivating when they dance together.  They are so well mated that they dance as one enchanted being.  I hope “Les Sylphides” is just the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership for Semionova and Stearns.

ABT also danced more contemporary works during their 2013 Fall New York season.  I saw “Clear” at the November 2nd matinee.  It is a ballet created by Australian choreographer, Stanton Welch, to music by Johann Sebastian Bach.  “Clear” is an exciting piece which shows off the virtuosity of ABT’s male dancers.  Marcelo Gomes is absolutely amazing as he performs the most astounding male fouettes I have ever seen.  Calvin Royal III and Blaine Hoven inspire in a duet where Hoven echoes Royal’s fabulous arabesques.  Jared Matthews tosses off double air turns with incredible ease.  I find the repeated chest thumping annoying, but it does not take away from the power of Welch’s ballet.

I have probably seen “Theme and Variations” more times than any other ballet.  It is danced by both the New York City Ballet as the finale of “Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3” and by ABT on its own.  “Themes and Variations” was created by George Balanchine to Tschaikovsky’s score in 1947.

I saw performances of this landmark work at both the November 2nd and the November 10th matinees.  The November 2nd cast was led by Isabella Boylston and Daniil Simkin.  Boylston dances the role with speed, precision and clarity.  She is often criticized for a lack of fluidity in  her upper body, but the ballerina part in “Theme and Variations” is a lower body role which beautifully complements Boylston’s strengths.  At the November 2nd matinee the soloist performs with a grandeur that is absolutely essential for this Balanchine work.

In his solo dancing Daniil Simkin displays wonderful leg beats and a great double air turn/pirouette combination.  Unfortunately the very slight dancer needs to work on his partnering.  During the coda of “Theme and Variations” I am afraid Simkin is going to drop Boylston.

On November 10th newly appointed principal dancer, James Whiteside, shows himself to be an assured partner for Paloma Herrera.  He also tosses off effortless multiple air turns.  There is a natural flow to Whiteside’s dancing and every movement is elegant.   I look forward to seeing Whiteside perform with ABT for many years to come.

I usually find Paloma Herrera at her best in soubrette roles like Kitri in “Don Quixote” and Swanilda in “Coppelia”.  So while she handles the technical challenges of the ballerina part in “Theme and Variations” with aplomb, Herrera lacks the sense of grandeur so necessary to this role.  At both performances of “Theme and Variations” the corps and the demi-soloists are perfection.

I am delighted that ABT performed Frederick Ashton’s “A Month in the Country” during their Fall season at the David Koch Theater.  After seeing the Royal Ballet dance this ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1981, I longed to see ABT’s production of the work.  My wish finally came true in May of 2013 when the main roles in this work were danced by ABT’s Hee Seo and David Hallberg.  Last Sunday I got to see a whole new cast dance Frederick Ashton’s glorious masterpiece.

“A Month in the Country” is a 44-minute condensation of Ivan Turgenev’s five act play.  It is set to music by Frederic Chopin.  The ballet takes place in the 1850s at the Russian country home of Yslaev and his wife Natalia Petrovna.  Natalia is a jaded woman who enjoys getting presents from her husband and dallying with her admirer Rakitin.  The family also includes Natalia’s and Yslaev’s young son Kolia and their teenaged ward Vera.

Beliaev, a good looking, charming young man, is hired as a tutor for Kolia.  All the ladies in the country home fall under his thrall – Natalia, Vera and even the maid Katia.  Beliaev is a naïve young innocent who does not fully understand his power over women.  When Natalia finds Vera confessing her love to the teacher, she slaps her in a fit of jealousy.

At that moment Beliaev realizes how Natalia feels about him and he declares his love for her.  Vera overhears this conversation and tells Yslaev of Natalia’s duplicity.  Natalia downplays Vera’s claims by reminding her husband that their ward is only a silly young girl.  Rakitin insists, however, that both he and Beliaev leave the country house so the family can heal.  Beliaev returns for a brief instant to caress the ribbons on Natalia’s gown.  Then Natalia is left entirely alone.

ABT has again produced an impeccable version of Ashton’s “A Month in the Country”.  The scenery and costumes by Julia Trevelyan Oman are gorgeous.  Chopin’s music complements Ashton’s choreography seamlessly.

This cast is as incredible as when I saw Ashton’s ballet last May.  As Kolia, Daniil Simkin looks and acts like a spoiled eight year old.  His spins, leaps and turns are amazing.  Gemma Bond’s Vera is a young girl full of hormones and dreams.

Guest artist Guillaume Côté, is a sensational Beliaev.  Both his acting and his dancing fit the role beautifully.  By the end of the ballet, the tutor has truly fallen in love with the older, sophisticated Natalia.  With the help of her admirer, Rakitin, Beliaev matures enough to know that a relationship between himself and Natalia can never be.

Julie Kent gives a beautifully nuanced portrayal of Natalia.  I can see everything she is thinking and feeling through her gestures, movements and facial expressions.  At the very end of the piece, her stark loneliness brings a tear to my eye.

I hope ABT dances Frederick Ashton’s “A Month in the Country” for many years to come.  I am also looking forward to more Fall seasons at the David Koch Theater.