Metropolitan Opera House, New York, NY; July 1-3 and 6, 2013.
American Ballet Theatre’s 2013 Met season ended with consecutive weeks of performances of Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Sylvia”, and of the Kevin McKenzie/Gelsey Kirkland/Michael Chernov (‘after Petipa’) production of “The Sleeping Beauty”. This review addresses performances of both ballets. Why review the two sets of performances of two different full-length ballets in one review? Because although Ashton choreographed “Sylvia” in 1952, there are clear (at least clear to me) relationships between “Sylvia” and Romantic ballets in general and “Giselle” in particular, and between “Sylvia” and Petipa ballets in general and “The Sleeping Beauty” in particular, that made me wonder whether there was a connection between “Sylvia” and those ballets beyond what may have been a product of Ashton’s routine exposure to them and normal artistic osmosis. For that reason, putting the reviews of “Sylvia” and “The Sleeping Beauty” together seemed appropriate (albeit just a little wordy). [Frankly, it also was a convenient way to make my discussion of “Sylvia” a little less stale.]
But before I delve a bit deeper into the ballets and the performances, I must highlight, at the outset, Sarah Lane’s knockout performance as Aurora this past Wednesday afternoon. Ms. Lane is a tiny dancer, but in this performance she was huge. I’ll describe her performance, and others, in greater detail below, but Ms. Lane’s Aurora, in addition to being a well-deserved (and long awaited) personal triumph for her, is a shot across the bow to anyone who still thinks that ABT’s home-grown dancers do not merit the casting opportunities in full-length leading roles at the Met that are routinely offered to guest artists. If Ms. Lane’s performance finally convinces ABT management and (perhaps more importantly) its financial backers that growth from within may be more valuable than growth by acquisition, it would – almost – have been worth the wait.
I must confess that I appreciate “Sylvia”, but don’t really like it. The production received its world premiere with the predecessor of the Royal Ballet in 1952, and was known then to have been a ‘garland’ (as described by critic Clive Barnes) for the Royal’s prima ballerina and Ashton’s muse, Dame Margot Fonteyn. [I doubt that Mr. Barnes’s use of the word ‘garland’ was intended to reflect a connection between “Sylvia” and “The Sleeping Beauty”, but who knows?] After a relatively brief period of success, the ballet disappeared from the Royal’s repertoire. Ashton reportedly had planned a revival, but these plans were cut short by his death in 1988. The piece was eventually revived by the Royal in 2004, and this revival received its ABT premiere in 2005.
I reviewed “Sylvia” in some depth at that time, and again in connection with Diana Vishneva’s performance in 2009. I described the ballet then as being too fussy, too busy, too silly; too modern to be classic, and too old-fashioned to be modern. And although I’m warming to it somewhat based on the performances I saw this year (the way one warms to a strange, eccentric relative who brings nice presents when he comes to visit), I appreciate its choreographic gifts, but it’s still a little weird.
But perhaps my reaction to “Sylvia” is a reflection of the ballet’s artistic heritage. Ashton did not invent “Sylvia” out of whole cloth. On the contrary, it’s origins place it firmly on the cusp (in real time) of those ballets to which it bears such a striking resemblance. For all its contemporary-looking choreography, Ashton’s “Sylvia” is a creature of a transition period in 1876, as well as a transition period in the early 1900s. [Obviously it’s also a product of Ashton’s choreographic impulses and whatever artistic soup existed in 1952. Although it’s tempting to try to develop an artistic context for Ashton’s dizzying choreography, including perhaps a comparison between Balanchine’s direction and Ashton’s (and where “Monotones” I and II, two of my favorite Ashton pieces, fit in), I’ll save that discussion for another day. Suffice it to say that Ashton deserves the credit (and the criticism) for the new combinations of 1952.]
Originally titled “Sylvia, ou La Nymphe de Diane,” the ballet was first choreographed in 1876 by Louis Merante to Leo Delibes’s score, and premiered at the Opera Garnier in Paris. This Paris Opera Ballet version (the original original) was presented in Russia at various times until a new version was created in 1901 by Lev Ivanov and others. Ivanov changed the title of the ballet to “Sylvia.” [My information is derived from various internet sources, and particularly from documented references in several different Wikipedia articles.]
These dates place the original “Sylvia” directly in the transition period toward the end of Romantic ballet and Petipa, both before and after “The Sleeping Beauty.” It’s no wonder, then, that the setting for Act I of Ashton’s “Sylvia” looks a lot like your standard operating Romantic woodland glade where strange and mysterious things take place, that the ballet’s Amazon-nymphs bent on killing any man who cross their path resemble the Willis in “Giselle,” that Act II looks like an alternate version of the pirate’s lair in “Le Corsaire” (originally presented in 1856 in Paris, 1858 in Russia, and which had its first Petipa revival in 1863), and that Act III resembles both the final act of “Coppelia” and the final act of “The Sleeping Beauty”, lite (The Goats in “Sylvia” are the Cat and Puss n’ Boots; Persephone and Plute are Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf). [The connections are not only the product of its timing. Delibes had previously composed the score for “Coppelia” (which is considered by many to have been the last ‘Romantic’ ballet), and would later create the score for the ‘Jardin Anime’ sequence in “Le Corsaire,” the score for which was originally created by Adolphe Adam, who had previously composed the score for “Giselle.” Delibes was a student of Adam.]
There are also connections that may be more curious than substantive. The original 1890 Aurora, Carlotta Brianza, was also the first to perform the original (the original original) “Sylvia” in Moscow in 1892; and the original 1890 Prince Desire, Pavel Gerdt, was the man who presented (and probably made revisions to) the Ivanov “Sylvia” in 1902 after Ivanov’s death. [Gerdt also portrayed Orion in the Ivanov/Gerdt production.] Whether this Ivanov/Gerdt production incorporated any references to The Sleeping Beauty is not known (at least by me), but what is known is that excerpts from the Ivanov/Gerdt production found their way into a tour by Anna Pavlova, one performance of which Ashton attended in when he was 13 (he may also have attended another Pavlova performance in London when he was a slightly older teenager) and which, reportedly, inspired him to create (or re-create) “Sylvia.” We also know that Ashton regarded “The Sleeping Beauty” as a template for classical ballet, and that he danced various character roles in the Royal Ballet’s production of it.
But enough of this. I don’t pretend to be a ballet historian, at least not yet, and if this discussion proves anything, it’s probably that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
I may not like it very much, but ABT’s production (essentially the Royal’s 2004 revival, staged by Christopher Newton) is gorgeous, with original scenery by Robin and Christopher Ironside and additional designs by Peter Farmer. And even though parts of Ashton’s choreography, intricate though it may be, look too contrived and busy to me, parts are extraordinary, particularly Sylvia’s solo in the Act III pas de deux (to Delibes’s pizzicato music).
Ms. Murphy’s Sylvia was every bit as triumphant in the run’s opening performance on June 24 as was her initial portrayal eight years ago. If anything, she’s lightened the mood – and the less seriously the stage action is taken, the more accessible and endearing the ballet becomes. Ms. Murphy’s performance was complemented by Marcelo Gomes’s warm-hearted Aminta and Cory Stearns’s cold-hearted Orion. But to this viewer the most impressive work at this performance was done by Daniil Simkin as Eros. While Mr. Simkin has difficulty portraying nobility, he has no such problem portraying a god. [That he didn’t have to partner anyone was a side benefit.] The role fit him like a glove.
We tend to take Ms. Murphy’s excellence for granted. Not so with Polina Semionova. Ms. Semionova is still relatively new to the company, and while her technical ability is secure, her characterization is less so, and to this viewer her performances have run the gamut from competent (Kitri) to bland (“Symphony #9”) to superb (Odette/Odile). But she came to life with Sylvia. [Ms. Semionova had debuted in the role earlier in the week.] Not only was Ms. Semionova on the mark technically, but she seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself, in the manner of Ms. Murphy and Diana Vishneva (who was not scheduled to dance Sylvia this season, but whose 2009 performance was stellar). And although she took the choreography seriously, she didn’t take the ballet seriously, and her fun was infectious.
Of the remaining leads at this June 28 performance, Roberto Bolle was a super Aminta – by that I mean that even though he was portraying a shepherd, one knew that underneath the peasant garb was Mr. Bolle’s usual Superman. While this may make his Aminta somewhat less genuine-looking than Mr. Gomes’s, the power he projects made his Aminta heroic. [It also made Eros’s arrow superfluous – how could Sylvia not have been smitten on sight?] Jared Matthews was a vigorous and virulent Orion. All appeared to be having great fun – except for Arron Scott as Eros, who to this viewer took his role too seriously, and lacked the power and poise of Mr. Simkin.
Mention should also be made of Orion’s slaves, who perform the strangest dance in the piece (as if the characters in Balanchine’s “Tea,” in his Nutcracker, had had their roles re-choreographed by aliens with a strange sense of humor). These roles demanded precise (and deadpan) execution. Julio Brigado-Young and Kenneth Easter on Friday, and particularly Grant DeLong and Mr. Scott on Monday, were fabulous.
“The Sleeping Beauty”
ABT’s production of “The Sleeping Beauty” appears to be unchanged from the substantial 2010 tinkering with the production that premiered originally in 2007. [The length of time that the scrim containing Indiana Jones-like bones trapped in the forest growth appears in view seems to have shortened, but at this point I may just be getting more used to it.] What has changed is the company’s comfort level – as a whole, the piece has a lived-in look analogous to that of a well-worn but much loved book of fairy tales. It feels ‘right’ now, and, like Mr. McKenzie’s production of “Swan Lake”, by and large it moves with a contemporary sensibility. And even though consistently tandem execution would have looked better, the smashing Prince-and-his-friends introduction to Act II almost makes up for the ponderous Prologue and any residual Petipa dead space.
And I must retract one of my prior criticisms of the initial production. In this version, the ‘fairy tale’ divertissements in Act III are reduced to only ‘the Cat and Puss ‘n’ Boots’, ‘Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf’ and Cinderella and Prince Charming. [The slack is taken up by the added divertissements for the Fairies.] These divertissements are further compressed to little more than walk-ons, with a little bit of cat play, a little bit of wolf play, and a predominance of ethical refereeing by Cinderella and the Prince. That is, the Prince, at Cinderella’s urging, and with the assistance of the two cats, convinces the Wolf to stop being a wolf and to be a nice guy to the little girl in red. It seemed silly to me when I first saw it, and confusing for those used to the more extended, more typical, and less politically correct variations.
But in a recent review of New York City Ballet’s production of “The Sleeping Beauty” (the NYCB version does the Red Riding Hood/Wolf divertissement the standard way), I suggested that the Wolf’s abduction of a little girl should be reconsidered, given contemporary sensitivity to the issue: it simply wasn’t funny anymore. But I hadn’t recalled that, essentially, ABT’s new version had already done just that. I don’t know if there’s a better way to accomplish the same thing (other than by simply eliminating the Red Riding Hood/Wolf divertissement entirely), but at least the ABT version anticipated that issue and addressed it.
I saw all but one of “The Sleeping Beauty” performances. Overall, the company looked very good, and with few exceptions, the performances by the leads and featured dancers were excellent.
If there was a common denominator among the Auroras, it’s that (with one exception) the performances improved to a greater or lesser extent following the conclusion of the Rose Adagio, and with the partnering provided by their respective Prince Desires.
I found Paloma Herrera’s Aurora (Monday), at the beginning of Act I, to be surprisingly tense-looking for a role that she’s performed many times. When she entered she seemed ‘tight’ to me, with her upper body somewhat compressed in appearance and her movement parameters somewhat restricted. She executed a satisfactory Rose Adagio, but it didn’t compare favorably to the more confident portrayals I’ve seen previously. And she maintained an unvarying expression throughout. Following the Rose Adagio, Ms. Herrera began to relax. Her Act I solo was significantly better, and her performance improved further in Acts II and III, when she could rely on her partner, Marcelo Gomes.
Hee Seo’s performance on Tuesday, her debut in the role, was promising, and better than her falling off point during the Rose Adagio would indicate. As I’ve previously observed, Ms. Seo is not the strongest of dancers (at least not yet), and that, coupled with natural debut nerves, easily explains her tentativeness at the outset of her performance. However, almost immediately after falling off point, Ms. Seo recovered and concluded the Adagio with a near perfect final balance. Her performance showed more security from that point forward, improving still further when she could rely on her Prince Desire, Vadim Muntagirov, for support (although Ms. Seo did not appear to have the same confidence with Mr. Muntagirov that she had with Mr. Gomes in her “Swan Lake” debut two weeks earlier).
But, similar to her Odette/Odile, to me Ms. Seo’s technique was secondary in significance to her characterization. Her technical ability will either grow or it won’t, but Ms. Seo’s natural delicacy and engaging presence is difficult to invent and took her performance to a higher level. Ms. Seo dances with understated grace, even when she looks like a deer caught in the headlights (which she frequently did). At one point, I watched as she breathed deeply – and even that breath was understated and graceful. [Ms. Seo doesn’t breathe in oxygen so much as she inhales inspiration.] And more than any of the other Auroras (except Ms. Lane), Ms. Seo was a believable sixteen year old. [Mr. Muntagirov, whom I had not previously seen, is one of ABT’s guest artists. He is tall and lanky, with technical ability that commands respect, and he did a fine job partnering Ms. Seo. But Mr. Muntagirov exudes confidence that at times looks overbearing and off-putting, particularly next to Ms. Seo’s natural sweetness.]
Wednesday evening’s Aurora was guest artist Maria Kochetkova (replacing the injured guest artist Alina Cojocaru). Ms. Kochetkova delivered a commendable performance, doing a fine job with the Rose Adagio and her Act I solo. But although she varied her facial expressions appropriately, her characterization lacked the flair she gave to her Odette/Odile a couple of weeks earlier, and any semblance of excitement. [Mr. Cornejo’s Prince Desire, on the other hand, was the equal of his Siegfried. Very nicely done.]
Saturday’s Auroras were Xiomara Reyes in the afternoon, and Veronika Part in the evening. Both have performed the role previously, and their experience and confidence showed. Except for Ms. Lane’s performance, their Auroras were the week’s highlights.
Ms. Reyes did a fine job in all respects, and became energized by her partnership with ‘exchange artist’ Alban Lendorf, a principal with the Royal Danish Ballet. Her Rose Adagio was good, her Act I solo was very good, and her Acts II and III were superb. My only concern about her performance is a personal one – to this viewer, Ms. Reyes’s Aurora was more mature-looking than Aurora should be. [Mr. Lendorf’s debut as Prince Desire with ABT was an auspicious one. Physically he is a compact dancer, but not hyper-developed. And, at least based on his Prince Desire, he doesn’t rely on tricks. He’s classier than that – he’s more remindful of a Mikhail Baryshnikov, for example, than an Ivan Vasiliev. His execution is clean as a whistle (unlike those danseurs who readjust their tours landings to appear to have landed perfectly – like a baseball catcher who moves his glove into the strike zone after catching a wayward pitch to try to convince the umpire to call a strike – Mr. Lendorf landed his tours in perfect fifth, every time), his acting was more than adequate (though he had a tendency to be handcuffed to a template – as in the vision scene, when his positions were always in lockstep with those of the Lilac Fairy who was escorting him through the forest), and he has an engaging quality that is in marked contrast to guest artists who frequently appear to be full of themselves. But most important, he can partner! His stage relationship with Ms. Reyes appeared to have been either very well-rehearsed, or intuitive. Either way, it was quite remarkable. ABT should be concentrating on developing its male dancers, not importing guests. But if a guest (or pseudo-guest member of the company) must be considered, for whatever reason, Mr. Lendorf should be at the top of the list.]
Veronika Part and Mr. Gomes are known quantities. Both are extraordinary dancers, and superb interpreters of their roles. At the closing night performance, Ms. Part was slightly less than perfect in the Rose Adagio (as were all the Auroras except perhaps Ms. Lane), but was stellar in everything else. And when Mr. Gomes partnered her, Ms. Part positively glowed – she had no worries at all, and acted and danced the ecstatic and regal 16 year old princess to the hilt. [I’ll address Mr. Gomes a bit more below.]
Which brings me to Ms. Lane’s Wednesday matinee performance.
This was not Ms. Lane’s debut in the role. Some five years ago, as a new soloist (after joining the company as an apprentice in 2003, and becoming a member of the corps in 2004, she was promoted to soloist in 2007), Ms. Lane was given the opportunity to dance Aurora. I saw that performance, and recall that it was perfectly appropriate for a new soloist debut in a principal role, and very promising. Indeed, the only criticism I recall having was that she wore a pasted-on smile throughout (a typical indication of nerves and inexperience).
After that performance it appeared that lead opportunities for Ms. Lane inexplicably dried up. I’ve heard tons of anecdotal explanations, but this has been a recurring and disturbing pattern at ABT – with rare exception, opportunities given are quickly taken away for no apparent reason, leaving no chance for the dancer to grow into roles. During the subsequent revival seasons of “The Sleeping Beauty,” Ms. Lane was not assigned the role at all. Last year, she virtually disappeared (I’m aware of no injury), assigned almost exclusively to featured roles that she’d performed for years.
So the opportunity given her to perform Aurora again, for the first time in five years, was in effect a re-debut. I am not privy to Ms. Lane’s thoughts, but the pressure on her must have been enormous.
If she felt pressure, however, it didn’t show. Ms. Lane was ‘on’ from the minute she hit the stage, with technique as clear as crystal. She danced freely, with a relaxed but broad carriage, fully stretched leaps, and sparkling footwork. Her unassisted pirouettes en pointe, with doubles and triples, were flawless. And she was the only Aurora of the six I saw who was secure enough in the Rose Adagio to lower her hand gently to her suitors, rather than in haste as if her balance depended on it. [The full-house audience started applauding even before the final balance.] And the extraordinary execution continued through the subsequent Act I solo, with perfectly executed turns and transitions.
But technical purity and consistency were not the only components of her performance. Ms. Lane’s demeanor in Act I was every bit the sixteen year old – not just because Ms. Lane is short and pretty, but because of her natural expressiveness and her intelligent characterization. Unlike most of the other Auroras, she didn’t look like she was acting (though she clearly was). Gone was the pasted-on smile that had marred her debut five years earlier. Her facial expression changed appropriately, her phrasing modulated, and her characterization was filled with nuance. For example, after Carabosse presents her with the spindle, Ms. Lane’s Aurora pranced with joy at the unusual gift. They all do that. And when the King tried to take it from her, she wouldn’t give it up. They all do that. But Ms. Lane didn’t just say no – for an instant she became daddy’s little girl trying to get what she wants (approval to keep what she has) from her doting father. The image took only seconds, but it was refreshingly endearing (and related to the sweet tease quality she brought to her role in Alexei Ratmansky’s “Chamber Symphony” earlier this season).
Things changed slightly in Acts II and III. Ms. Lane’s performance was still glorious, but to this viewer it appeared to be slightly less secure, as if she did not have total confidence in her partner. [She’s been there before, and her concern was warranted.] Her Prince Desire, Mr. Simkin, did fine on his own (except for his affected ‘noble’ bearing, which I’ve discussed previously in connection with his Prince Siegfried), but he was at best a satisfactory partner, and at worst one whose lack of partnering ability ran the risk of adversely impacting the entire performance. In partnered turns, he almost lost Ms. Lane. Twice. Not because he wasn’t keeping her straight (which is a different problem, and may simply require a quick spatial readjustment), but because his arms created too much space and he let her list off center, and then had to quickly rein her back in – indicative to me of a loss of concentration, as if he was thinking about his solo rather than his primary job, which is to make his ballerina look good.
But Mr. Simkin’s partnering difficulty appeared to have little impact on Ms. Lane. Although not quite as spectacular as her Act I, Ms. Lane’s Acts II and III were beautifully done. Coupled with her Act I, hers was the most successful overall performance of the week, because it was so good, and because so much depended on it. Under the circumstances, Ms. Lane’s Aurora was not only a brilliant performance, but an extraordinarily gutsy and courageous one.
It also was a reflection of the caliber of ABT’s home-grown dancers. With rare exception, in every opportunity given to ABT’s soloists and corps dancers in featured roles, they excelled.
Highlights of the featured roles portrayed by soloists are as follows: Yuriko Kajiya was impressive both as Princess Florine (Wednesday matinee) and particularly as the Lilac Fairy (Wednesday evening, Saturday matinee), and Stella Abrera gave her usual wonderful performance as the Lilac Fairy (Tuesday, Wednesday matinee; Saturday evening). Of the various Princess Florines, to this viewer, Misty Copeland’s performances (Tuesday; Saturday evening) were the most balanced between bravura and finesse – her Florine conveyed strength, as well as abundant grace and elegance. Ms. Copeland also did a fine job with the Fairy of Valor (Monday, Wednesday evening).
Isabella Boylston excelled in multiple roles: Her strength and aggressive stage presence as Princess Florine (Monday, Wednesday evening) complemented that of her Bluebird, Ivan Vasiliev, and compared to his forced athleticism, her Florine looked refined. [Mr. Vasiliev, whose portrayal looked more like a ‘bullbird’, showed his usual power, but none of the finesse and elegance that a Bluebird requires. And although his kick to the back of his head at the conclusion of the pas de deux was spectacular, he looked like a goat rather than a bird (but it would have been dynamite had it been injected into the ‘goat’ variation in Sylvia).] Ms. Boylston also excelled as the Fairy of Fervor (Tuesday; Saturday afternoon) – at least in the Prologue, and her ‘cameo’ as the Cat (Saturday evening) nearly stole that performance.
Of the women members of the corps in featured roles, Gemma Bond’s Fairy of Charity (Monday, Wednesday matinee and evening, Saturday evening) was superbly executed, and was performed with particular warmth. Ms. Bond has been consistently fine all season in the few featured opportunities she’s been given. Stephanie Williams’s debut (Tuesday; Saturday matinee) was also very well done, and quite remarkable for a dancer who did not join the company until last year. [Ms. Williams, whom I highlighted at the beginning of this season as a dancer to watch, has considerable potential. She is an unusually vivacious performer, but also conveys an engaging quality that is surprising in a dancer who also projects a high level of self-confidence, as Ms. Williams does. I tend to leap forward and picture a dancer in different roles, just on instinct. Several years down the road, I can see Ms. Williams dancing Odette/Odile with ABT.]
The role of the Fairy of Sincerity (the first Fairy to perform solo in the Prologue in this production) appears to me to be particularly difficult. Slow to point of appearing ponderous (it is usually the least audience-appreciated of all the ‘Fairy’ roles), it is an unforgiving variation. There’s no place to hide any technical error. Melanie Hamrick excelled in the role (Monday, Wednesday evening, Saturday matinee). Ms. Hamrick has been with the company a long time, and has progressed to the point where she should be assigned more meaty roles. But I found even more remarkable Katherine Williams’s debut in the same role (Wednesday matinee; Saturday evening). Ms. Williams (this one), has been with the company roughly five years, and her crystalline execution and focus have been a consistent hallmark of her performances throughout. Even doing non-featured roles in the corps, she’s obviously engaged and involved not just in the steps she’s supposed to do, but in the character she’s supposed to be. [Even at the corps level, there are characters – although the acting by these corps characters frequently comes across as the equivalent of background noise that is comforting to hear but which is otherwise ignored.] But where other corps dancers competently but dutifully go through the usual acting motions, Ms. Williams appears to live them (as she did as a Garland dancer observing the King condemn, and then pardon, those involved in the spindle scandal that opens Act II). She seems to ‘feel’ more strongly than others, and this feeling is transmitted directly to the audience as real, rather than feigned concern.
Contrary to the Fairy of Sincerity, the Fairy of Joy is always an audience favorite, because she’s…well, joyous. Luciana Paris did her usual fine job (Monday, Wednesday evening, Saturday matinee). [Like Ms. Hamrick, Ms. Paris has been with the company a long time, and deserves to assay more substantial roles.] But Christine Shevchenko (Wednesday matinee; Saturday evening) showed that the Fairy of Joy is not the sole province of diminutive dancers. Ms. Shevchenko is a relatively tall dancer, and necessarily she gave the Fairy of Joy a different perspective. She wasn’t just joyous in a cute way, she was joyous in a regal, mature way. It was a magnificent portrayal, and another excellent performance from Ms. Shevchenko this season.
The male soloists I saw in featured roles didn’t fare quite as well: Jared Matthews’s Bluebird (opposite Ms. Kajiya) had the proper elegance and sufficient technical facility, but lacked the technical brilliance necessary for a stellar performance (I saw no discernible leg beats, for example), and Sascha Radetsky (opposite Ms. Abrera) started off unimpressively, as if pacing himself too much, but concluded with flourish. [I later learned that Mr. Radetsky may have been nursing a minor injury.] Of the male corps dancers in featured roles, Joseph Gorak as Bluebird (Tuesday, opposite Ms. Copeland) delivered the finesse and elegance that Mr. Vasiliev lacked the previous and subsequent nights. On Saturday evening, the role was taken by Blaine Hoven (also opposite Ms. Copeland). Mr. Hoven is still rough around the edges, and his performance was appropriately deliberate – but he has a very clean line and his portrayal was earnestly and competently done.
Martine van Hamel and Nancy Raffa reprised their roles as Carabosse, and did their usual fine jobs (Ms. Raffa was somewhat more aggressively, and appropriately, nasty). Victor Barbee has a lock on the role of King Florestan, and was typically impressive, but Roman Zhurbin grew stronger in the role as the week progressed and was very good as well. Karen Uphof was a stunning and sophisticated Queen, and Kate Lydon in the same role exuded particular warmth.
I must also acknowledge performances in important, but non-featured roles that are frequently overlooked. Of the four prince/suitors of Aurora, the most critical is the Russian Prince, who appears to be charged with making certain that his Aurora gets through the partnered portions of the Rose Adagio satisfactorily. Mr. Hoven did a fine job on behalf of both Ms. Lane (and looked relieved that Ms. Lane didn’t need his help) and Ms. Reyes, as did James Whiteside opposite Ms. Herrera and Ms. Kochetkova. But Vitali Krauchenka’s work merits special mention. Mr. Krauchenka never gets star billing, but he seems to be everywhere at once. He did a superb job as the Russian Prince opposite Ms. Seo and Ms. Part, but he also appeared as Gallison, the prince’s aide, in the evening, and Saturday evening), and as Prince Charming, competently performing whatever role he was assigned.
The ABT orchestra, under the leadership of Charles Barker (Monday, Wednesday matinee) and Ormsby Wilkins (Tuesday, Wednesday evening, and Saturday evening) sounded quite good (as it did in Sylvia), and the brass, which has frequently been problematic all season (and in prior years as well), got it together as the week progressed. But I found Mr. Barker’s somewhat more expedited pacing preferable to Mr. Wilkins’s, whose conducting pace made the Prologue move even slower than it already does. Moreover, while the visual punctuations matched the musical punctuations when Mr. Barker conducted, the music was consistently behind the visual punctuation points when the conducting was under Mr. Wilkins’s baton.
Finally, I must again acknowledge Marcelo Gomes. Mr. Gomes routinely injects something surprising into a ‘final-performance-of-the-season’ or a ‘farewell’ performance that makes that particular performance different and special (and great fun to watch). Although there didn’t appear to be much room for ad libbing in “The Sleeping Beauty,” suddenly, in the Act II vision scene, there it was. As he and the Lilac Fairy entered the boat that would transport them to the sleeping princess, Mr. Gomes became a fairy tale tourist, converting the sober and dutiful ‘quest to find his princess’ into a fairy tale magical mystery tour, excitedly observing every change in seemingly monotonous forest scenery, smiling and oohing and ahhing as the boat moved through the forest – with the characteristic twinkle in his eyes. All he needed was a camera. And he was so carried away by the touristy moment that at a couple of points he looked ready to grab his tour guide (Ms. Abrera) and hug her. It was priceless.
Mr. Gomes is also unquestionably the Derek Jeter of the Company; the Captain. During the second ‘company’ curtain call, I saw Mr. Gomes turn his back to the audience, and say something to the assembled dancers behind him with his arms raised as if to tell them to stay back. Of course, I don’t know what he said. But immediately thereafter, when the dancers moved toward the audience to bow, Mr. Gomes moved forward with Ms. Part, holding her left hand in his right hand – which is standard procedure. But for this ‘walk-up’, he also placed his left arm around Mr. Hoven’s shoulder, as if acknowledging his fine performance as Bluebird, and then, as he walked Ms. Part toward the audience, he took Ms. Copeland’s hand and held it high with his left hand and escorted her toward the standing audience as well, as if saluting her and reminding the audience that she gave a wonderful performance too. Ms. Copeland looked stunned, and thrilled. I have no doubt that this moment was engineered by Mr. Gomes, and my guess is that if it had been physically possible, Mr. Gomes would have similarly acknowledged the efforts of everyone on stage.
During the ensuing front-of-the-curtain curtain calls where featured dancers typically receive special audience acknowledgement, the Fairies are supposed to walk out as a group. At this closing night performance, however, the only Fairy to walk out to audience applause was Simone Messmer, whose final performance with the company this was, and who deserved the special accolade. Ms. Messmer had danced the Fairy of Valor (as she had earlier in the week), with her usual flair, and in my opinion had her best season overall. Whether because of any particular performance change, or just by no longer having to be concerned about internal evaluations and being passed over for roles, she danced freely, powerfully, and exquisitely all season. I don’t know whether Mr. Gomes was responsible for Ms. Messmer’s solo curtain calls as he was for his outreach to Mr. Hoven and Ms. Copeland, but it would not surprise me. It’s something he would have done.