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Friday, December 22, 2017

Met's Hansel and Gretel is a Full Course Delight

The cast of Hansel and Gretel take a bow
I've come to accept that the Met opera seasons are like a curate's egg. You can't expect a consistent level of quality and inspiration anymore. But once in awhile, you might stumble upon a totally delightful performance. And such was the case with their holiday presentation of Hansel and Gretel. Despite a mid-performance substitution (Tara Erraught, the production's Hansel, sounded wan in the first two acts and was replaced after intermission by Ingeborg Gillebo) the overall performance was one of the best things I've seen the Met do in, well, quite awhile.

Erraught and Oropesa, photo @ Marty Sohl
Many of the Met's "holiday presentations" are slightly formulaic -- it's as if the Met knows that with NYCB's Nutcracker and Radio City Music Hall's Rockettes not many of the December tourists want to sit through a heavy three+ hour opera. But this revival of Engelbert Humperdinck's lovely work (the music sounds like a Wagnerian operetta) had a very strong cast. For one, Lisette Oropesa returned to the Met after nearly four years away. During that time she has sung Lucia di Lammermoor and La Traviata to great acclaim and her voice reflects it -- the sweet, fluttery soprano I remember has grown in both volume and body and now has more warmth. I think she's hitting her prime as a singer. BUT she has not outgrown Gretel. In fact her portrayal of the determined heroine was just awesome in every way. She was not "cute," but more of a tiny, determined terror and thus a formidable opponent of the witch. Her spastic dancing was delightful, and vocally she was superb -- soaring high notes, extended trills, and an intrinsic musicality that allowed her to make the music both funny and beautiful. Come back soon Lisette!

Siegel and Oropesa, photo @ Marty Sohl
Tara Erraught as Hansel was overpowered both vocally and dramatically by Oropesa but as she was unwell it's understandable. Ingeborg Gillebo carried the performance to the finish line and for that we can be grateful. It's unfair to compare her to Erraught who was sick but Gillebo had a pleasing, light mezzo that blended well with Oropesa. The rest of the cast was strong. I don't like tenor witches but veteran character tenor Gerhard Siegel worked well with the material. Dolora Zajick as the mother unleashed her still impressive voice. Too bad her English was complete mush -- without supertitles I never could have made heads or tails of what she was singing. Quinn Kelsey's sturdy, healthy-sounding baritone made a good impression as the father and he had excellent diction, no supertitles needed. The opera's most magical moment might be the Sandman's aria, and Rihab Chaleb sounded lovely. I wish I could say the same about Hyesang Park's rather nervous, charmless Dew Fairy. Donald Runnicles led a wonderful account in the pit -- he kept the right balance of the light and dark in Humperdinck's score. Enough Wagner and enough operetta present to make this, as I said, a Wagnerian operetta.

Children dreaming of food, glorious food, photo @ Marty Sohl
Richard Jones' production is another reason for the evening's success. The surreal, terrifying production puts the "grim" back into the Grimm fairy tales. This is not Disney. At the same time it has enough heart to make this appropriate as a family affair. I was sitting next to a family with a delightful young boy who was entranced. In one of the opera's best moments the children are put to sleep and they dream of a glorious feast with candelabras. It was a stark contrast to their hand-to-mouth reality and the quiet way the curtain descended on the children's dream had as much quiet power as Parsifal's Good Friday scene.

So if you are in New York, consider going to this revival of Hansel and Gretel. It's not just a holiday confection. It's a full meal's worth of opera. Performances run through January 6.

Here's a delightful clip the Met posted on its youtube channel:

Gomes as Widow Simone
In other news, the shocking downfall of many of the most prominent men in, well, the country has extended to Marcelo Gomes, the beloved veteran star of ABT. In a tersely worded statement ABT announced that Gomes resigned after an investigation was launched into allegations of sexual misconduct that occurred eight years ago. I'm in total shock -- Gomes has been the rock of the company, beloved by audience and colleagues, and not a whiff of scandal ever touched him. I can't believe I inadvertently caught his final performance on the Met stage -- at Veronika Part's hastily organized farewell he danced Ratmansky's Nutcracker Pas De Duex. I knew that he couldn't dance Onegin or Albrecht or Romeo forever, but I was looking forward to seeing him dance for many years to come as he had transitioned so well into character roles -- his Widow Simone was an absolute hoot. Details of the investigation are vague. For now I'm sad that I might never see one of my favorite artists dance again.

So I look for good news, something to show that good things still happen in this world, and I found it -- this emotional reunion of Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas. Basketball fans know about their long, painful estrangement and all the reasons. But to see the two of them reconcile warms the heart. Just see the way Isiah cries into his face when Magic apologizes for hurting him -- that's love. Happy Holidays and may 2018 be a better year for all.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Nutcracker Season: Sweets Amid Turmoil ...

The blindingly beautiful Snow Scene, photo @ Paul Kolnik

This year I went to an unprecedented seven (!!!) NYCB Nutcrackers. Don't ask how it happened, it just did. First of all, when I bought the tickets to the Nutcracker, I just wanted a happy, uncomplicated experience. But then, well ... #metoo happened to NYCB. It's AD Peter Martins was accused of sexual harassment and abuse and took a leave of absence from both SAB and NYCB. The charges turned more serious with accusations of physical abuse. I hope the board acts quickly to fully investigate these charges. With that being said I admire the company even more for carrying on with their level of professionalism and high standards amidst the turmoil.

There is an element of comfort food to Nutcracker season. Every year I laugh at the funny, skittish mice, I marvel at the beauty of Balanchine's Snowflakes, I go squishy at the adorable bunny pulling the tail of the Mouse King, blah blah blah. I also revisit my favorite dancers. So it's not surprising that I saw Sterling Hyltin/Andrew Veyette as the SPF/Cavalier twice, or Tiler Peck's Dewdrop twice, and made room for Ashley Bouder's Dewdrop as well. These are portrayals I know and love, and returning to them year after year is soothing and thrilling at the same time. It's remarkable how these dancers know how to transmit their magic in every performance.

But Nutcracker season is also a season of discovery, and I discovered so many previously-unknown desserts that I can't live without now. Just a run-down: Teresa Reichlen's Sugarplum Fairy, Emily Kikta's Coffee, Harrison Coll's Candy Cane, Preston Chamblee's Mother Ginger, India Bradley's Harlequin, and much more.

So here is a run-down of the six (!!!) casts I saw:

Cast #1:
Hyltin and Veyette, Emily Kikta as Coffee
(Conductor: Litton) SUGARPLUM: Hyltin; CAVALIER: Veyette; DEWDROP: LeCrone; HERR DROSSELMEIER: Suozzi; MARZIPAN: Pollack; HOT CHOCOLATE: Wellington, Scordato; COFFEE: Kikta; TEA: Hoxha; CANDY CANE: Huxley; MOTHER GINGER: Chamblee; FLOWERS: Brown, Gerrity; DOLLS: E. Von Enck, Bradley++; SOLDIER: Ippolito; MOUSE KING: Sanz; FRAU & DR STAHLBAUM: Sell, J. Peck

Sterling Hyltin and Andrew Veyette are probably my favorite Nutcracker pairing right now and they were their usual excellent selves, but the whole performance had a jittery quality as if the dancer were still getting the Nutcracker muscles to kick in. The discovery of this performance was Emily Kikta's Coffee. FINALLY, someone knows how to maximize this variation. Kikta's body helps -- she's extremely tall and curvy and most resembles Gloria Govrin, the originator of the role. Kikta's Coffee actually elicited gasps from the audience when she did that split and big backbend where her head touched her feet. And she even did the bent leg pirouettes in the finale. Another highlight: I loved Preston Chamblee's Mother Ginger. Probably the funniest that I saw. Megan LeCrone (a sub for Ashly Isaacs) was a Dewdrop without a jump, and thus made almost no impact in this role. India Bradley who is a brand-new apprentice was a very charming Harlequin. She's a real beauty as well.

Cast #2:
SATURDAY MATINEE, DECEMBER 2, 2:00 PM (Conductor: Sill) SUGARPLUM: Reichlen; CAVALIER: Janzen; DEWDROP: LeCrone; HERR DROSSELMEIER: Villalobos; MARZIPAN: Villwock; HOT CHOCOLATE: Kretzschmar, Applebaum; COFFEE: Lowery; TEA: Ippolito; CANDY CANE: Coll; MOTHER GINGER: Bolden++; FLOWERS: Manzi, Wellington; DOLLS: C. Von Enck, Staker; SOLDIER: Kayali; MOUSE KING: Knight; FRAU & DR STAHLBAUM: Sell, J. Peck

LeCrone, Reichlen, Janzen on top, Sarah Villwock as Marzipan
Teresa Reichlen has danced Sugarplum Fairy for many years but up until this season I'd never seen it. When I finally saw her and Russell Janzen they were so beautiful I decided a return trip was immediately necessary. Reichlen's Sugarplum Fairy was as regal as I'd expected, but I wasn't expecting so much sweetness and fun. From the moment she bourreéd onstage with that pink dress and wand I knew she was going to be special in this role. In the grand pas de deux initial nerves (shaking hands were a dead giveaway) were quickly calmed by the attentive partnering of Russell Janzen. In the final promenade with all those tricky hand-changes Reichlen did something I've never seen her do -- she turned towards the audience with a happy grin right as if to say "I got this." Sure enough, Russell kneeled and she snapped out her arms and held a beautiful, long-held balance that had the crowd roaring. I never saw Tess's SPF before, and now I can't live without it. Her and Janzen have a great partnership.

Another highlight was the Marzipan of Sarah Villwock. This variation is so difficult I rarely actually enjoy it as all I see is a ballerina grimly chugging through it without much joy. Villwock handled all the demands (the pirouette hops on pointe, the gargouillades) with a smile on her face. Harrison Coll's Candy Cane variation EXPLODED with huge jumps that the crowd loved.

Cast #3:
Mearns, Angle, and Peck
SATURDAY EVENING, DECEMBER 2, 8:00 PM (Conductor: Capps) SUGARPLUM: Mearns; CAVALIER: J. Angle; DEWDROP: T. Peck; HERR DROSSELMEIER: Villalobos; MARZIPAN: Segin; HOT CHOCOLATE: Wellington, Scordato; COFFEE: Mann; TEA: Kayali; CANDY CANE: Suozzi; MOTHER GINGER: Chamblee; FLOWERS: Brown, Adams; DOLLS: E. Von Enck, Bradley++; SOLDIER: Hoxha; MOUSE KING: Sanz; FRAU & DR STAHLBAUM: Anderson, Walker

I haven't seen Sara Mearns' Sugarplum Fairy in seven years -- back then I didn't regularly go to the Nutcracker and I thought she was pretty great. Upon a revisit I think her performance has many admirable qualities. Mearns certainly knows how to dance big. Everything was more swoony, more dramatic, just more with her. Every facial expression could project to the nosebleed sections. This can be exciting: in the moment when the Cavalier does a series of pirouettes with the ballerina ending with a long cambre with her backbend facing the audience, Mearns' backbend was, well, more bendy than the other Sugarplums. She's compulsively watchable and always compelling, even if sometimes I thought she was dancing Swan Lake. Jared Angle was a less-than-exciting dancer in solo variations but a very skillful partner and made all of Mearns' extravagant movements seem totally coordinated.

The highlight of the evening was seeing Tiler Peck's incomparable Dewdrop. Her speed and attack are phenomenal. She's so secure that she now plays with the role -- she adds off-center, blindingly fast pirouettes and somehow by the end of the pirouette she's back in a plumb line and holding an obscenely long balance. The audience applauded every entrance and exit. Her joy, freedom and expansiveness in this role are exquisite. She makes the Waltz of the Flowers (often a very pretty, pink dainty moment) blaze with excitement.

LeCrone, Hyltin, Veyette, Peck, Coll
Cast #4:
WEDNESDAY EVENING, DECEMBER 6, 7:00 PM (Conductor: Sill) SUGARPLUM: Hyltin; CAVALIER: Veyette; DEWDROP: T. Peck; HERR DROSSELMEIER: Villalobos; MARZIPAN: Pollack; HOT CHOCOLATE: Sell, Dieck; COFFEE: LeCrone; TEA: Kayali; CANDY CANE: Coll; MOTHER GINGER: Knight; FLOWERS: Hod, Phelan; DOLLS: Hutsell, Domini++; SOLDIER: Ippolito; MOUSE KING: Knight; FRAU & DR STAHLBAUM: Wellington, la Cour

Nutcracker #4 was maybe the dream cast. As a sign of how this was the Nutcracker for ballet nuts, four of my obsessive balletomane friends were at this performance. Sterling Hyltin's Sugarplum Fairy was more radiant than the performance earlier in the season and her dancing was freer.   She is simply the company's best Sugarplum in terms of characterization-- she's exactly the charming, benevolent fairy you'd want to meet in the Kingdom of the Sweets. Technically she is so masterful at showing the audience what she can do rather than what she can't. She's petite and sparrow-like but her dancing has majesty and grandeur from the way she fully stretches out her limbs. Super fast multiple pirouettes are not in her DNA, but in the coda she artfully hid this by starting the pique turns very slowly and then accelerating in her ménage around the stage so by the time she hit the wings she was flying.Andrew Veyette partnered her beautifully AND did wonderful, clean pirouettes a la seconde in the coda that ended in a perfect fifth position.

Tiler Peck's Dewdrop had an uncharacteristic slip at the end of the Waltz of the Flowers but it was one moment in an otherwise wondrous portrayal. Other shout-outs: Harrison Coll continues to be awesomely exciting as Candy Cane. It's rare to see such a tall guy do the hoop variation so well. He's bar none my favorite male corps dancer right now. Ghaleb Kayali was the cleanest of the Teas that I saw. As a sign of times, the Chinese pointed "fingers" are now gone from this variation. Magical performance, the type to make you float out of the theater on a cloud.

Woodward, Finlay, Kikta, Reichlen and the Marie and Prince
Cast #5:
THURSDAY EVENING, DECEMBER 7, 7:00 PM (Guest Conductor: McPhee) SUGARPLUM: Woodward; CAVALIER: Finlay; DEWDROP: Reichlen; HERR DROSSELMEIER: Suozzi; MARZIPAN: King; HOT CHOCOLATE: Phelan, Appelbaum; COFFEE: Kikta; TEA: Schumacher; CANDY CANE: Alberda; MOTHER GINGER: Bolden++; FLOWERS: Anderson, Gerrity; DOLLS: C. Von Enck, Staker; SOLDIER: Villalobos; MOUSE KING: Knight; FRAU & DR STAHLBAUM: Sell, J. Peck

Between Nutcracker #4 and #5 the shit really hit the fan. Peter Martins took a leave of absence as he became the latest high-profile leader to be accused of sexual harassment and abuse. And the tension was palpable among the dancers; for the first time, I felt like they were simply getting through the performance. Indiana Woodward is a lovely dancer with a winning smile and charm for days, but her Sugarplum was surprisingly earthbound. The partnering between her and Chase Finlay was tentative, and as a result the Grand pas de deux lacked that special magic that Tchaikovsky's music demands. Finlay had a sudden flub at the very end of his pirouettes in the coda. Tess Reichlen's Dewdrop is a joy to watch -- very different from the gyroscopic superwomen like Tiler Peck and Ashley Bouder. With Tess you just delighted in her huge jumps and queenly persona.

With that being said, Emily Kikta's Coffee is the best I have seen in, well, forever. It was even more astonishing the second time around, as I noticed how she alone among the Coffees moved her body slowly and sensually to the music. It was about more than shaking those bells. In the coda she again did those bent leg pirouettes (all others I saw simply did arabesques and a renverse). And I saw a different Marie/Prince tonight. Maria Kashvili and Tenzin Niles were smaller and ... well, sadder than Alex Eliza Grayson and Aaron Plous. Kashvili and Niles weren't the happy, bubbly children that this production usually favors. But somehow with the company currently without a leader and everything so up in the air, it felt appropriate.

Reichlen and Janzen, Ashley Bouder, and Robert La Fosse with Marie and Prince
Cast #6:
WEDNESDAY EVENING, DECEMBER 13, 7:00 PM (Conductor: Sill) SUGARPLUM: Reichlen; CAVALIER: Janzen; DEWDROP: Bouder; HERR DROSSELMEIER: La Fosse+; MARZIPAN: Pereira; HOT CHOCOLATE: Pollack, Knight; COFFEE: Manzi; TEA: Kayali; CANDY CANE: Ulbricht; MOTHER GINGER: Chamblee; FLOWERS: Anderson, O. MacKinnon; DOLLS: E. Von Enck, Bradley++; SOLDIER: Hoxha; MOUSE KING: Sanz; FRAU & DR STAHLBAUM: Wellington, la Cour

Nutcracker #6. My last. What a joy it was to see the company still so strong a day after more serious allegations of physical abuse were reported in the NYTimes. For one, Tess Reichlen and Russell Janzen's second performance together was superior to their first. They were even more beautiful and magisterial as the Sugarplum Fairy and Cavalier. In the first performance Janzen stumbled out of his turns in the coda; there were no such bobbles tonight. Reichlen's Sugarplum is very different from Hyltin's sweet, bubbly confection, but it's just as valid of an interpretation and technically she was superb. Her variation had crisp footwork, surprising speed, and a real sense of authority. She does a double pique turn before the lunge into penchée in that tricky sequence. As a side note, Reichlen and Hyltin were the only SPF's I saw to do the bidirectional double pirouettes. It's a small detail that becomes very big once you see a SPF that does the turns in both directions and realize how much more musical it looks.

The performance was also distinguished by Ashley Bouder's Dewdrop. Bouder's Dewdrop is one of those modern classic portrayals that highlight all that can be done with this role.The height she gets on her jumps is astonishing -- she leaps high over the flowers and always looks like she's "sprinkling" them with some water. She doesn't do those off-balance pirouettes that have become a Tiler Peck specialty but again, Ashley's Dewdrop astonishes year after year, performance after performance. And after she came back from maternity leave she seems less in a hurry to show off, so her performances now have a soft glow to them. Daniel Ulbricht's Candy Cane is another remarkably consistent, excellent portrayal. Preston Chamblee's Mother Ginger continues to scene steal in the best possible way.. Erica Pereira was a very technically secure, charming Marzipan.

BUT the biggest game-changer of the evening was Robert La Fosse returning as Drosselmeier. He alone among the Drosselmeier's I saw this season understood that this role is not simply about wearing an eyepatch and twirling a cape. There has to be humor and a touch of the eccentric in him. His interactions with the children have to display genuine warmth -- constant eye contact, real affection in the body language. Watch the video of Mr. B as Drosselmeier to see how much you can work with this role. The party scene can truth be told be somewhat of a snoozer without a Drosselmeier to really run the party. Well tonight La Fosse showed the kiddos how it's done.

Cast for my 7th Nut
ETA: I unexpectedly attended a 7th Nutcracker.
Cast #7: SATURDAY EVENING, DECEMBER 23, 8:00 PM (Conductor: Capps)SUGARPLUM: Hyltin; CAVALIER: Danchig-Waring; DEWDROP: Bouder; HERR DROSSELMEIER: Villalobos; MARZIPAN: Pereira; HOT CHOCOLATE: Pollack, Nelson; COFFEE: Lowery; TEA: Kayali; CANDY CANE: Ulbricht; MOTHER GINGER: Chamblee; FLOWERS: Hod, O. MacKinnon; DOLLS: C. Von Enck, Staker; SOLDIER: Ippolito; MOUSE KING: Knight; FRAU & DR STAHLBAUM: Anderson, la Cour

Yeah, yeah, yeah. My 7th Nutcracker was a different experience -- I was sitting in the fourth ring. In a way if you want to see Balanchine's corps patterns it's the best place to sit -- you can see the geometry of ALL his formations. In the second ring, for instance, you couldn't tell that the whole Land of the Sweets line themselves in a triangle shape to greet Marie and the Prince. Unfortunately you also notice the mistakes more -- for instance in the Snow Scene there was one snowflake who was not quite in sync with her other snowflakes. In the orchestra you'd never notice. In the fourth ring it's the only thing you see. The performance had several highlights: I was seeing Adrian Danchig-Waring dance for the first time since his devastating injury last year, also thought Ashley Hod and Olivia Mackinnon were the best flowers I saw of this run. Savannah Lowery didn't have the sensuality of Emily Kikta but she was incredibly strong and she DID do those bent leg pirouettes. Erica Pereira's Marzipan -- wow! Wonderful performance from her. And of course Ashley Bouder and Sterling Hyltin's performances are always worth watching.

The real stars of the show -- the SAB students
Nutcracker would be nothing without the adorable SAB students who populate this production, as well as the tireless apprentices who chug through one snow scene night after night without showing any fatigue. Ben Griffin's Fritz stole the party scene with his holy-terror portrayal. The 8 Polichinelles handled the surprisingly intricate choreography (full of glissades and jumps) like pros every night. Even when the Angels take a spill (I saw it happen twice) it's cute to see how quickly they recover. It's important to remember how foreign the idea of having children dance for large chunks of the evening was when the ballet premiered. Critic John Martin said: "The indisputable fact is that it is an inferior ballet ... There is very little dancing in The Nutcracker. To make matters no better, it is played largely by children."

More than 50 years later these thoughts seem almost sacrilegious. The enduring appeal of Mr. B's Nutcracker is that it is a children's tale, told from a child's viewpoint. Even the mice are childlike rather than truly scary, and their cheerleading of the mouse king along with their heartbreak when the mouse king dies adds a very touching element to the story. In one of the saddest moments of an otherwise joyous ballet a mouse drags the Mouse King's sword offstage, face wracked with sobs. Marie and the Prince's happiness is tempered by the grief of these very cute, likable animals. And the audience eats it up year after year. They applaud every night when the Nutcracker takes off his costume and the Prince comes forward to bow to the audience in tendu. The moment has as much heart-stopping beauty as all the dancing scenes. Mr. B's Nutcracker still warms the heart and touches the soul. It is his eternal Christmas present. And in times of turmoil for NYCB, it's a reminder that the ballet company that Mr. B built is stronger than any one person. It's now an American institution.

And so after Nutcracker #7 I swear I am done. For one thing, my credit card can't afford another Nutcracker. But it was worth every second (and penny) -- my bank account might be empty but my heart is full.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Once On This Island; RIP Dmitri Hvorostovsky

Alex Newell and Hailey Kilgore, photo @ Joan Marcus
The revival of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's Once On This Island has been getting insanely good word-of-mouth in early previews. I went to see what the fuss was all about last night. First of all, Circle in the Square is exactly the right theatre for this show. The boxed-in seating allowed director Michael Arden to make the entire set an "island." The pre-show involved the cast milling about a sand-and-water-filled set complete with goats and chickens. The ceiling of the theater had bunches of laundry lines. They obviously were trying to recreate the feel of a real Caribbean island. A little cheesy, but it worked.

The island set
The story is simple and sad: it is about Ti Moune, a peasant orphan who falls in love with Daniel (Isaac Powell) after she saves his life after a car crash. She tenderly nurses him until he is well enough to return to his home. She impulsively decides to follow him into his world. Unfortunately Daniel is separated from Ti Moune by not just class but race -- he is descended from the French colonial rulers, and their love story can only be a fleeting fling. Ti Moune is given an impossible choice: save herself or save Daniel. The predictable heartbreak ensues. This musical is really "Little Mermaid in the Caribbean With a Touch of Colonial Racism."

Hailey Kilgore
The revival is strongly cast. It is anchored by Hailey Kilgore's radiant portrayal of Ti Moune. Kilgore makes Ti Moune an absolutely enchanting wide-eyed romantic. She runs onstage, and we love her. She sings "Waiting For Life" (the I Want song), and we want what she wants. She dances, and we want to go onstage and dance with her. She weeps, and we weep. She has a beautiful voice, and an unaffected, winning stage presence. It's an amazing performance.

Here she is in a snippet from "Waiting for Life":

Actually the whole cast is strong. The ageless Lea Salonga is still beautiful in both voice and face as Erzulie, one of the island goddesses. Merle Dandridge is terrifying as Papa Ge, God of Death. Kenita R. Miller got huge applause as Ti Moune's adopted mother. Alex Newell's "Mama Will Provide" was a big hit with the audience. The story is framed by a little girl named Emerson Davis who was adorable. And Isaac Powell is believable as the kind of callow playboy who nonetheless harbors real feelings towards Ti Moune. The final farewell of Ti Moune and Daniel was heartbreaking.

Cast of OOTI, photo @ Joan Marcus
Another strength of the production is the choreography by Camille A. Brown. There is a real attempt to imitate the easygoing, natural rhythms of Caribbean music and dance. Perhaps the greatest moment is Ti Moune's dance in front of Daniel's society. She is in red high heels, and she cannot dance in them. She kicks off the shoes and does an exciting, seductive dance that obviously titillates the upscale crowd. In one moment she shows Daniel's society what they can never have -- this freeness and generosity of spirit.

But, but, but. If this show had limited itself to being a wistful fable of love found and lost again, the charming, colorful score might have been enough. However, the story actually takes an extremely tragic, bleak turn at the end. And Flaherty's score simply does not have the depth to convey the tragedy that is built into the musical's book. I mean, think of the opera Rusalka (which has an almost identical storyline). Rusalka has lasting power because Dvorak's score always underlines the tragedy of the story. If a musical wants to break our heart, the music has to do the major legwork. Think Carousel. West Side Story. Or, in more recent times, Dear Evan Hansen and Fun Home.  In Dear Evan Hansen songs like "Waving Through a Window," "For Forever," and "Words Fail" made the audience feel Evan's pain and loneliness. Fun Home ended with the heartwrenching "I'll Fly Away" with all three Alisons singing to Bruce Bechdel. People around me were sobbing. Flaherty's score is wonderful in conveying Caribbean local flavor, it has enough melancholy to carry the love story, but when it comes to the heartbreak and tragedy that make up the last third of the show, the music simply does not take us there. "A Part of Us" and "Why We Tell the Story" seem like weak attempts to finish the show.

Would I recommend Once On This Island? Absolutely. It's a fun theatrical experience. But the musical I think was intended to be more than "fun." It was intended to be a heartbreaker. And Flaherty's score didn't break my heart.

What did break my heart was that last night when I came home from Once On This Island a friend of mine told me that things were looking very grave for Dmitri Hvorostovsky, the Russian baritone who has been battling brain cancer for over two years. I went to bed saddened. When I woke up I saw that he had passed away overnight. He was only 55. I last saw him in an emotional performance of Il Trovatore in September 2015. The ovation at his entry was so loud the orchestra had to stop completely. He gave us a beautifully sung Count di Luna. At the end of the evening the Met orchestra threw roses at him and his colleagues were standing back and crying openly. I never saw him perform again. I guess God wanted to listen to his voice. RIP to this magnificent singer and artist.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Brigadoon's Music Wakes Up Audiences; Thaïs Scorches

Kelli O'Hara and Patrick Wilson, photo @ Sara Krulwich

When New York City Center announced that the chief Encores! presentation of their season would be Lerner and Loewe's Brigadoon, tickets sold out so quickly that you would have thought the musical only came around once in a hundred years. Oh wait ...

Anyway tonight's performance was one of glorious highs and depressing lows. Let's start with the positive here: this was a lavish, fully-staged performance. They spent good money on this. It didn't have the feel of a semi-staged concert at all -- there were colorful costumes, enough props and some background projections to evoke the world of the Scottish highlands. This is a production that could transfer to Broadway with minimal adjustments. A few more sets (a ramp served as an all-purpose entrance and exit tool) and less amateurish projections and we'll have a great show.  Of course if it moved to Broadway it probably wouldn't have had the full orchestra of 30 players led by Rob Berman. The orchestra really played Loewe's score with love and they got the loudest applause of the evening.

Other highs: it is so good to hear Frederick Loewe's score really sung -- the MGM musical with Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse became an almost all-dance extravaganza, remade to fit Kelly's dancing skills and vocal limitations. But with the beautiful, soaring soprano of Kelli O'Hara as Fiona and other musical theater veterans in the lead roles, the music became the star, as it should be. "From This Day On" was absolutely glorious. O'Hara wasn't the only beautiful voice onstage. There was Stephanie J. Block who was very funny as Meg, the "earthy" girl to O'Hara's more romantic heroine. Block made the anti-love song "The Love of My Life" a show-stopper. Before tonight I had never heard of Ross Leiketes (Charlie). I certainly do now. Ny god, what a VOICE! "Come to Me, Bend to Me" became one of those melodies you just never wanted to end.

Fairchild and Esty, photo @ Sara Krulwich
Also excellent: Ex-NYCB principal Robbie Fairchild also stepped out of his wholesome nice-guy persona as the Jud-Fryish Harry Beaton. He scowled and sulked convincingly but his most expressive moment was the Sword Dance that ends Act One. Fairchild was able to make this number (which seems heavily derivative of the original Agnes de Mille choreography) a dance of rage and rejection. He's still finding his sea legs as an actor but this is a very promising start to his full-time theater career.

The mediocre: the Tommy (Patrick Wilson) and Jeff (Aasif Mandvi). I wonder what it would have been like had the originally announced Steven Pasquale not dropped out of the production. Wilson and Mandvi weren't bad but they were very bland and basic and just sort of there. Granted their characters aren't all that inherently interesting but they faded into the background. Wilson's lighter, grainy baritone couldn't match O'Hara's soprano and Mandvi was overpowered by Block. Sara Esty (Jean) was a good dancer but acting-wise was also vacant. It was good to have veteran actors like Dakin Matthews (who played Joe in Waitress) in smaller roles.

Asaf Mandvi, Patrick Wilson, Dakin Matthews and Kelli O'Hara photo @ Joan Marcus

And now the bad: this whole project was directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. And there's just no getting around the fact that I dislike his choreography. In the program there is a line that says "Original dances created by Agnes de Mille" but what I saw was a bunch of Wheeldon clichés -- the men with the women lifted at shoulder length and twirled over and over again, the usual sliding of women between the men's legs to be semi-dragged on the floor, the women somehow ending upside down with legs in the air. The one piece that seemed truly inspired by de Mille was the Sword Dance and that was by far the most thrilling dance set piece of the night. But the other choreography often looked like the same filler he used in An American in Paris.

One really tasteless number: the funeral dance of Harry. Patricia Delgado (Maggie) is a wonderful dancer -- I saw her when she was with Miami City Ballet. But she was in a brown rag dress that was looked half Martha Graham, half Mark Morris, and instead of a heartfelt dance of grief for the troubled Harry Wheeldon made her wriggle all over his body and of course her legs had to spread eagle in the air. This faux-modern dance concoction really took the viewer out of the Scottish village romance mindset. It stopped the show in all the wrong ways.

This show has a lot of built-in dancing and Wheeldon of course beefed up the dancing even more. But when the choreography is so uninspired I often just zoned out waiting for the next beautiful song to come up. Thankfully those beautiful songs did appear over and over again all evening. Lerner and Loewe's score deserves to be heard way more than once in a hundred years. I could listen to it every day. The story is quaint but charming, and really loops us into an earlier time, when such an unabashedly romantic score graced the Great White Way.

And also: now I know where Andrew Lloyd Webber got the opening melody to "Music of the Night."

Listen to "Come to Me Bend to Me." There's more than a passing, "accidental" resemblance.

Pérez, photo @ Chris Lee
A day later I make one of my increasingly rare trips to the Met. The opera: Massenet's Thaïs which isn't performed often despite having a drop-dead gorgeous score, a compelling storyline, and meaty roles for both soprano and baritone. When I arrived on the rainy night I saw a slip inserted into my program -- Gerald Finley was out, Bradley Garvin was in as Athanaël. Turns out Garvin has been singing comprimario roles at the Met since 1993, and has racked up 183 performances. His current assignment at the Met is the Commissioner in Madama Butterfly. But in life, when you get an opportunity to shine, some people seize that spotlight and that's what Garvin did tonight. He's a tall, handsome singer with a big, robust bass-baritone voice and if he had any nerves he didn't show it. He even added subtle details to his portrayal that one might expect of someone experienced in the role -- for instance, in Act 3, as he dropped Thaïs off at the convent there was a subtle shift in body language as you realized that the monk now wanted the reformed courtesan in a biblical way. His desperation as he begged for Thaïs in the final duet was palpable. At the end of the evening Ailyn Pérez pushed Garvin forward for another solo bow. Bravo. He killed it.

Bradley Garvin
The whole evening was actually way more inspired than I had expected. Ailyn Pérez in the title role has a pleasing, warm timbre and is sexy in a Rubenesque way. She isn't the Thaïs of my dreams but she was thoroughly competent and professional. One problem: her upper register is inconsistent -- the high C at the end of the first act was harsh and wiry. The high D in the famous Mirror Aria was sustained but the note was just sort of yelled. It didn't bloom. In the final duet she made those difficult ascents to high D but again, you got the feeling that she had reached the absolute ceiling of her voice and those notes were squeezed out rather than truly sung. The role requires a kind of gleaming upper register to make its full impact and Pérez doesn't have that. But I'm nitpicking. This is a more than creditable performance.

Borras and Pérez, photo @ Chris Lee
Jean François Borras sang the role of Nicias, Thaïs's libertine lover. Borras is that rare specimen on the Met stage: an idiomatic French lyric tenor. The role isn't big but it's always great to hear his stylish, unforced voice sing non-phonetic French. Now will the Met puh-lease bring him back for a FULL RUN of Werthers? David Pittsinger as Palémon was wobbly and hoarse.

But seriously? GIVE THIS OPERA A CHANCE. There's way more to it than the famous Meditation. I don't know why this opera hasn't been revived since the initial production with Renée Fleming but my god, it's a beautiful opera and the production by John Cox is delightlful in a kitschy sort of way. The orchestration is stunning -- it runs the gamut from the flighty, fanciful flourishes of Thaïs's life to some vaguely Middle-Eastern music to almost Wagnerian grandeur. Emmanuel Villaume's conducting emphasized the Wagnerian grandeur more than the delicacy of the score. This opera deserves to be heard. And this Met cast isn't perfect but they do justice to Massenet.

I mean isn't this gorgeous?

Saturday, November 4, 2017

People, Places and Things: When 12-Step Is Just the Beginning

Denise Gough and Barbara Martens
One of the most popular genres of autobiography is the addict-recovery memoir. The format usually follows a tight script: the promising beginning, the descent into drugs and misery, the harrowing "rock bottom" moment, and then the recovery process by which the addict finds strength from God. The result is usually uplifting and tidy. How engaging these books are depends on the narrator (and editor). My personal favorite addict-recovery memoir is Darryl Strawberry's Straw. Strawberry sounds like a very typical jock who muses about how much his batting average would have been had he "juiced" on steroids and described his ex-wife as "drama, drama, drama." The authenticity and lack of pretension is appealing. I also like Mike Tyson's memoir if only for the honest epilogue in which he admits that he hasn't recovered, is still an addict and working through issues.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Harvey Fierstein Double-Header: Torch Song Sings, Kinky Boots Still Has Sex In the Heel

Ward Horton, Jack DiFalco, Michael Urie and Mercedes Ruehl, photo @ Joan Marcus
I guess the 2017-18 is the season of Seminal Gay Theater revivals. In the spring a highly acclaimed London production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America is coming to Broadway. There was already much hysteria during the Ticketmaster pre-sale where good seats were going for well over $300. But if you want something slightly less lengthy and costly Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song Trilogy has been revised and shortened to Torch Song and is currently playing off-Broadway until December 9. I saw it this afternoon and highly recommend it.

The play spans the 1970's to 1970's and follows the life and times of neurotic, love-starved drag queen Arnold. David Zinn's sets are a wonderful recreation of that era. Michael Urie as Arnold has almost nothing in common with Harvey Fierstein on the surface. Fierstein was larger-than-life and LARGE, period. The androgynous, noodly-limbed Urie looks like a generic pretty boy. But Urie is like Fierstein a very engaging actor who has the ability to draw the audience into the drama the minute the curtains go up. Arnold's opening soliloquy immediately establishes him as a likable, funny, charismatic character. Someone we want to spend the next three hours with. An example of his wit: "An ugly person who goes after a pretty person gets nothing but trouble. But a pretty person who goes after an ugly person gets at least cab fare." Urie is also like Fierstein in that he's a fearless performer who will do anything to get a reaction. His simulation of a dark-room dive bar sexual encounter is hysterical.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Mariinsky's Dreamy La Bayadere

Tereshkina and Kim and Shades
A quick day-trip to D.C. yielded great rewards: an absolutely gorgeous performance of La Bayadere from the Mariinsky Ballet. Because of schedule constraints I could only see one performance but I'm confident I ended up with the best cast because, honestly, it's hard to imagine a greater Nikya and Solor today than Viktoria Tereshkina and Kimin Kim. They were awesome. Amazing. Stupendous. I could go on with the superlatives but I'm sure it will get boring fast, if it hasn't already gotten boring.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Band's Visit - It Wasn't Important?

Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalboub, photo @ Sara Krulwich
The Band's Visit, an off-Broadway musical that is now in previews on Broadway, begins and ends with the statement that an Egyptian banded visited the Israeli town of Bet Hatikva, but no one knows about it, because "it wasn't very important." Those words are meant ironically, as obviously, the whole musical is about the visit. But at the end of last evening's performance it also crossed my mind that, well, uh, it wasn't important. I admired many things about David Yazbek and Itamar Moses's adaptation of the 2007 film, but ultimately I didn't really care about the characters. The music (a charming mix of pseudo-Middle-Eastern pop and folk music) didn't really grab me. It was charming, it was pleasant, but, yeah, it wasn't important.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

NYCB Fall Season: Hello New Works, Goodbye Robbie

Fairchild in some of his best roles at NYCB
After two weeks of Swan Lake NYCB returned to its usual mixed bills. As is often the case the all-Balanchine program reaffirmed Mr. B's genius, the "Here/Now" program revealed which modern works had staying power and which didn't, and the "all-new" works were a mixed bag. NYCB said goodbye to two principals: Rebecca Krohn and Robert Fairchild.

First things first: the Balanchine triple bill of Square Dance/La Valse/Cortegé Hongrois showed that the state of the union of NYCB is strong. Square Dance is in good hands with the allegro technicians of Megan Fairchild/Anthony Huxley. La Valse is trickier -- it can become a cheesy Halloween horror show. But with Sterling Hyltin as the simultaneously delicate and demented socialite and Justin Peck as a hovering, creepy Death, that wasn't an issue. Cortegé Hongrois is not top-drawer Balanchine -- it's heavily derivative of both Petipa's Raymonda and Balanchine's earlier takes on Glazunov's score. Raymonda remix, basically. Sara Mearns and Tiler Angle were fine as the classical couple (the role taps into Mearns' imperiousness, which is one of her best qualities) but more surprising was the vigor with which Georgina Pazcoguin and Ask La Cour danced the "folk" czardas.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

NYCB Fall Season: 4 (!!!) Swan Lakes

NYCB Swan Lake, photo @ Paul Kolnik
When the 2017-18 season for NYCB came out last spring, I saw that the first two weeks of the season were devoted to Peter Martins' Swan Lake. I thought "Oh good, giving my wallet a break." This was one production I was in no hurry to revisit. I saw it once with Sara Mearns and that was enough. Or so I thought. Flash forward to September. I found myself buying tickets to see four (!!!) different Swan Lake casts. The struggle is real, y'all.

I still hate the production. I hate the mish-mash of Balanchine/Martins/Ivanov choreography in the lakeside scene. I hate the hideous decors by Per Kirkelby. I hate the mismatched green costumes in the first act. I hate the Jester. I hate the hilariously bad Russian dance in which one female dancer usually slinks as if doing a Middle Eastern belly dance. I hate the cold, non-sensical ending (Rothbart is defeated, but as dawn approaches Odette still goes back with her swans and Siegfried is alone). The only part of new choreography I like is the ballroom pas de quatre. The difference is now NYCB has such a strong roster of Odette/Odiles that I wanted to see what they could do with this iconic role. The casts I saw were: Reichlen/Janzen (Sept 22), Hyltin/Catazaro (9/29), Fairchild/Garcia (9/30), and Peck/Finlay (10/1). Yes, I really sat through this production three times in three days. God help me.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Opening Night Norma: Business as Usual

Opening night Norma, photo @ Ken Howard

Last night was one of my personal firsts: attending an opening night at the Metropolitan Opera. The opera: Bellini's Norma. I thought at the very least it'd be fun in a special occasion sort of way. Instead it was one of the most normal, average nights I've ever spent at the Met. It wasn't a bad performance so much as a terribly routine one.

The new production by David McVicar looked like something that was raided from old sets of Die Walkure. Norma's house looks a lot like Hunding's hut, and the centerpiece of the Druid command center was an enormous tree. I really thought Norma was going to pull a sword from the tree. The costumes by Moritz Junger were nondescript dark drapes for most everybody. It was a safe, inoffensive production for the most part, save some odd directorial choices. Why does Norma begin "Casta diva" by crawling on her hands and knees to the little treehouse platform, and why does she scurry under the tree to sing "Ah bello a mi ritorna"?

But the fault of last night's dull, unenthusiastic performance lies not with McVicar, as really, what CAN a director do with Norma? This is such a singer-centered opera. Very hard to make a regie-Norma. It was instead the flawed performances by ALL the principal singers that made this night not-so-memorable. No one's voice was working the way it needed to work to pull this opera off.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

My Last Day as a Cometeer

Dave Malloy as Pierre
So Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812 closed this afternoon. It was certainly not the ending fans of this show expected when it opened and was making millions per week. The demise of this musical has been endlessly discussed here, there, everywhere. Today I'll just talk about the thrilling, wonderful experience of being a Last Cometeer.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Theater diaries: Prince of Broadway, Government Inspector, and more

Government Inspector, photo @Carol Rossegg
Over the past week for whatever reason I've seen 5 shows. Two were revisits (The Great Comet, closing on September 3, and Groundhog Day) and three were new to me: The Play that Goes Wrong, Government Inspector, and Prince of Broadway.

Of all the shows by far the biggest highlight was Government Inspector. It's playing in the off-Broadway New World Stages theater. GO SEE IT BEFORE IT CLOSES ON AUGUST 20. Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's famous play had a synergy of great casting, direction, and production values. The whole evening had the audience in stitches. Gogol's satirical play has lost none of its bite and relevance -- the snobbery, ignorance, selfishness, and corruption of the public officials in the play could be transplanted to modern times without any adjustments.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Taming of the Shrew; Waitress Hat Trick

Katharina and Petruchio, photo @ Jack Devant

The Lincoln Center Festival chugged along with more Bolshoi Ballet -- this time they were dancing Jean-Christophe Maillot's Taming of the Shrew. After the excitement of Superjewels, this seemed anti-climactic. I went to see the opening night performance and while it was a perfectly pleasant way to spend a summer evening it's not something I'll rush to see again.

The ballet has some virtues. One, its brevity. With an intermission and the prolonged Russian-style curtain calls you were still out of the theater within 1 hr 45 minutes. Two, the score. The music is piecemeal Shostakovich which meant it was always listenable and often very fun. Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin (Bianca and Lucentio) have two calm, glamorous pas de deux that establish these two remarkable dancers as the foremost classicists of the company. The role of Hortensio is one of those Bolshoi bravura cameos that gets the entire crowd yelling, especially when danced with the explosiveness of Igor Tsvirko (seriously, wow! He has a pretty cool Youtube channel where you can see him dance other roles).

Friday, July 21, 2017


Original Jewels cast, photo @ Martha Swope
In 1967 George Balanchine decided to make a three-act plotless ballet. And then he hit upon marketing gold -- the three sections would be named after gemstones -- Emeralds, Rubies, and Diamonds. And voila! An indestructible cash cow was created. Jewels has in these 50 years filled the coffers of not just the NYCB but ballet companies across the world. It's a hit wherever it goes. Balletomanes love their jewelry and Diamonds are a ballet company's best friend.

Lincoln Center Festival decided to capitalize on Balanchine's foundation by creating a One Time Only (!!!) Event -- a Very Special Jewels in which each section was danced by a different company. Ticket prices were through the roof but the event sold out anyway. The Paris Opera Ballet took Emeralds, while the NYCB and the Bolshoi took turns swapping between Rubies and Diamonds. I attended the first two performances so I saw both combos -- NYCB Rubies/Bolshoi Diamonds and Bolshoi Rubies/NYCB Diamonds.

Seeing three different companies dance the three different sections of Jewels is sort of strange -- the ballet is supposed to be a display of company versatility. On the other hand, it is a One Time Only Event -- Superjewels. The audience absolutely loved it -- there were loud ovations after every ballet, audiences refusing to leave their seats until dancers came out for yet another solo bow. I have to remind myself sometimes that not everyone gets to see Jewels as often as those who live near NYC do and for those people it's a very special treat.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Veronika's Parting

Veronika receiving roses from the girls, photo @ Kent Becker

Part in three of her major roles: Mozartiana, Odette and Myrtha
This afternoon I attended an ABT performance that just a week ago didn't interest me at all. I have a real allergy to the way ABT does Balanchine and the program had one of his most sublime works -- Mozartiana. I wasn't in a hurry to see Gomes' AfterEffect, or the pas de deux from Ratmansky's Nutcracker. I did want to see Ratmansky's Souvenir d'un lieu cher but it was something I suspect will work better in a smaller theater.

So why, then, did I go? Actually, for a really unhappy reason: this was the last chance to see Veronika Part dance for ABT. She has been let go after 15 years with the company. When word got out that Part's contract would not be renewed, fans created an online petition that garnered over 500 signatures. Then things got a little crazy. A particularly vehement fan started hatching all sorts of plans which included booing BEFORE Mozartiana, staging a sit-in, throwing a tomato at Ratmansky (whom she compared to a Nazi collaborator), and other hare-brained schemes. In the end none of these plans came to fruition. The company's cold attitude towards Part was evident in this hastily planned "farewell" which was announced a few days ago. Contrast that with Diana Vishneva's lavish farewell in which she got promotional articles in the New York Times and the New Yorker, was surrounded by bouquets and confetti, feted by Kevin McKenzie and the rest of her ABT colleagues.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Divine Miss M(urphy) in Hello! Dolly, and Bandstand

So last night I saw Hello Dolly! with the Divine Miss M and didn't have to donate a kidney! Of course the Divine Miss M in this case was Miss M(urphy). Some people in the audience muttered that they wanted to see Midler (I guess the sign to the left didn't tip them off?). But once Donna Murphy stepped off that trolley and started singing, I think the entire audience was like "Bette who?" Donna really sang the living daylights out of a role that's often associated with divas of a certain age with a limited vocal range. She can belt, she can interpolate high notes, she can sing while doing all sorts of physical comedy, in other words she was absolutely amazing! It was one of the most joyous nights in the theatre that I've ever experienced.

It's not really fair to compare the rest of the cast to how they were in March. That was early in previews and they were still figuring out what worked, what didn't, and the comic timing. What I can say though is how much they've grown over the past few months. Everyone is funnier, more extroverted, more of an ensemble. The award for Most Improved goes to David Hyde Pierce, whose timing in his lines is now actually hilarious, and his singing has become more confident as well.
"Penny in my Pocket" didn't seem like an end-of-intermission filler. Kate Baldwin has also made Irene Molloy a lot sexier. I also really noticed the antics of Jennifer Simard as Ernestina Money a lot more. Even performances that were excellent in previews (Gavin Creel's Cornelius, Taylor Trensch's Barnaby, Beanie Feldstein's Minnie) were that much funnier last night.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Farewell Diana

Diana and Marcelo's curtain calls
Tonight ABT bid farewell to one of its most beloved artists. After the fraught finale of Cranko's Onegin the sold out crowd screamed and yelled their appreciation for Diana Vishneva. Her longtime stage partner Marcelo Gomes hugged and comforted her. Confetti streamed down from above, the stage was covered in flowers, ABT colleagues marched onstage with hugs and more bouquets, and Diana looked simultaneously sad and elated as she basked in the love of the audience. Oh yeah, Diana's husband also made an appearance. The Diana and Marcelo Lovefest Curtain Call Routine was dialed up an extra notch tonight. He swung her around in an embrace as confetti fell. He fell to his knees in obeisance and she fell to her knees in response. She cried, they kissed, they nuzzled. It's really the Show After the Show. Usually I find their routine cloying, but this was her farewell, so it was almost cute.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Sarah Lane's Swan Lake

Sarah Lane and Danil Simkin
Last night Sarah Lane made a last-minute substitution for an injured Maria Kochetkova in Swan Lake. This was Sarah's New York debut in the role, and after a banner season where she's triumphed in Ratmansky's Whipped Cream and Giselle, the buzz and anticipation in the sold-out auditorium was high. It was generally thought that if Sarah could bring down the house as Odette/Odile, a promotion to principal would happen.

Odette/Odile is not as natural of a fit for Lane as Giselle. Sarah Lane doesn't have a physique that screams "swan." She's petite and her limbs are beautifully proportioned but not elongated. Her extension is decent but without the height and dimensions she did not fit the aesthetic of the traditional Swan Queen. Also, she's a natural allegro dancer with fast limbs and quick footwork. (Whipped Cream took advantage of this to an absurd degree.) The drawn out adagio movements of Odette were sometimes clipped short -- no languorous poses. With that being said, it's remarkable what she was able to do as Odette. Her arms are soft and fluttery. Not the majestic flapping arms, but certainly boneless enough. She has a wonderfully flexible, pliant back. Her Odette variation was marvelous -- those sissones that seemed to scream "I want to be free!" along with a fast. exciting coda that established Odette's independent spirit. And as always with this dancer, there's this quiet intensity that is riveting to watch.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Spring Diaries: A Doll's House Part 2, SAB Workshop, Le Corsaire

Danil Simkin as Lankedem
Over this week I attended a mishmash of performances. They ranged from good to mixed to awful.

Let's start with the good: a fun, entertaining performance of Le Corsaire from ABT. This season at ABT the principal women have been falling like flies due to injury (currently, Isabella Boylston, Veronika Part, Gillian Murphy and Maria Kochetkova are on the DL list). What this has meant is lots of opportunities for soloists, and the 6/8 performance showcased the talents both of veteran soloist Sarah Lane (Gulnare) and the newer Skylar Brandt (Medora). These two talented ladies managed to grab attention away from the men, whose pirate's chest full of ballet tricks usually dominate the ballet.

Skylar Brandt is a winning combination of technique, charm, and beauty. She has a natural stage face -- her large eyes capture the light. Her technique is formidable -- in act one her solo had attitude turns followed by triple pirouettes. You can see how strong her core is during the lifts -- she was so solid and never moved from position. But she's not just about the tricks. She has lovely arms, beautifully tapered legs and feet. She's small but dances big. Her pas de trois with Herman Cornejo and Jeffrey Cirio showed off her elegant line and tasteful style. Her fouttés were centered and clean in form and she sprinkled some doubles in the sequence. Later she did some clean, balanced Italian fouettés. Her portrayal also had an ebullience and sincerity that made Le Corsaire much less of a circus than usual.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Gisellex3: Hello David! Bravo Marcelo! Brava Stella and Sarah!

Hallberg and Murphy, photo @ Kent G. Becker

I saw three (!!!) Giselles in ABT's spring season. And in a way, each Giselle was a celebration -- the first celebrated the return of a beloved dancer whom many feared was lost to injury forever. The second performance celebrated the 20th anniversary of a company treasure. The third performance celebrated a long-time soloist's chance to shine in the spotlight.

Albrecht was the last role I saw David Hallberg dance nearly three years ago. Then came the devastating injury. Every year balletomanes hoped to see him again and he didn't appear. He disappeared from social media, so much so that when he finally posted on Instagram again the caption read "emerging from the shadows." Turns out he has spent the last year in Australia for intense physical therapy. The May 27 performance of Giselle at the ABT was therefore the kind of event where you see as many dancers in the audience as balletomanes. I saw Sara Mearns, Tiler Peck, Joaquin de Luz, Allegra Kent, and a bunch of other former and current dancers all in the audience, cheering on this magnificent dancer.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Here/Now ends with a whimper; Little Foxes

Concerto DSCH with Bouder and de Luz, photo @ Paul Kolnik
A matinee performance on Saturday, May 20 (officially titled Here/Now No. 9) was perhaps the single most dispiriting afternoon I've ever spent at NYCB. The program presented six different works. By the end of the fourth week of the Here/Now festival the number of injuries was staggering -- every week had a multitude of casting changes.  The dancers, usually so chipper on social media, had resorted to venting and more venting. Georgina Pazcoguin's wry line "To those who fell, to those who made it (extra kudos) and to those ballets we will never see again..." pretty much summed it up.

Reichlen in Red Angels
The first work on this program was something called Red Angels. Four dancers in red unitards stood in four separate spotlights and gyrated for 10 minutes. It actually pained me to see Tess Reichlen and Preston Chamblee, both so gorgeous in physique, reduced to this sort of junk. Then we had Varied Trio, in which the talents of Sterling Hyltin and Taylor Stanley were wasted doing ... uh, I don't remember. That's how memorable the ballet was. But the worst was Myles Thatcher's Polaris, where 13 minutes felt like 13 hours in an excruciatingly boring ballet of nothingness. And of course there was the ubiquitous, cloying After the Rain. Of this long program (2.5 hours), only Barber Violin Concerto and Concerto DSCH had any choreographic value.