Ballet News Round Up

Ballet news that I am paying attention to today!

David Hallberg is out of ABT’s Spring Met season due to injury. Collective heartbreak for New York.

And speaking of ABT – last night was the world premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s new-old production of Sleeping Beauty in Costa Mesa, California! New-old as it’s based on historical documents and notation of Petipa in a reconstruction that has never been attempted before (and from most accounts differs substantially from existing productions of Sleeping Beauty at other companies including the Mariinsky’s relatively recent reconstruction). It premieres in NYC on May 29th. Costumes are by Richard Hudson (costume designer of Lion King on Broadway) and inspired by Leon Bakst’s 1920 designs for the famed Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes’ production of “The Sleeping Princess.”

In sad/dangerous news for ballet today…. Ballet San Jose needs $550,000 by March 14th to continue operations. They have been struggling financially for some time now. Here’s to hoping that they make it.

A brief sneak peak of An American In Paris is online! Chris Wheeldon makes his Broadway directorial debut and Robbie Fairchild and Leanne Cope play the lead roles. The dancing and overall production looks sublime. I am so excited for this!

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Giselle – Osipova

It’s no secret I’m a Natalia Osipova fan, but I’m recently obsessed with this video of her doing Giselle with the Royal Ballet. The lightness she brings to the solo and the frailty combined with that steely technique and uplifting arabesques make a lot of narrative sense to me. She connects the ghost of Act II with the earthly Giselle of Act I – the switch to the supernatural makes sense with this Giselle. It’s like she’s already barely connected to her earthly roots and her fragility makes her ultimate demise from heartbreak understandable. The whirl of pique turns at the end look like she’s about to take flight. One gets the sense that her mother worries about Giselle dancing not only because Giselle has a weak heart but that her passion itself is dangerous and Giselle is apt to push herself beyond her limits.

Her Wili-Giselle is just fantastic to behold. She truly seems to be otherworldly here and hovering in the air. It gives me chills how ghostly she looks.

The Royal Opera House has released this performance of Osipova as Giselle (with Carlos Acosta as Albrecht) on DVD and I am seriously considering getting it so I can enjoy the full story!

School of American Ballet Workshop

PBS broadcasted SAB’s most recent workshop and it is phenomenal. I would watch this over and over again if only so I can watch a high-quality video of Serenade, the first ballet these students perform in the video.

Serenade was on one of the earliest NYCB programs I saw after I moved to New York. Serenade, more than anything else I’ve seen, converted me to the Balanchine is genius camp. There is something almost spiritual about watching Serenade and it never gets old for me. Now I try to see it at least once every NYCB season because I can never get enough of it. From the majestic Tchaikovsky score to the floating blue tulle skirts, I have never seen anything depict the sheer joy and beauty of movement as truthfully and poignantly as Serenade. The shapes are so beautiful and the living, breathing, moving nature of beauty makes my heart ache without fail.

People often state there is no story, or they state that there are multiple stories. The interpretations of this piece of choreography abound. Personally, I see the entire work as both a visual masterpiece that represents the epitome of what ballet means to me – that beautiful aesthetic, both the languishing adagio movement and the quicksilver petit allegro – and also as a story of life through ballet. The moving picture at the end, the ascension to the heavens moving towards the light, provides a beautiful juxtaposition to the static pose at the beginning, corps dancers shielding their faces from the light. The first movement of the feet into first position marks the beginning, of every ballet class, of every ballet dancer’s training, the birth of the ballet dancer. The progression to that last picture of dancers walking away from the audience, girls bouree-ing on pointe, marks what looks like the end of class, end of a performance, end of a career, end of a life.

The students in the workshop do a wonderful job exhibiting the very specific Balanchine technique, but their youth is apparent in the sometimes tentative, sometimes unsubtle approach to the choreography. Still, it’s clear that they have bright futures in dance. And maybe some of those dancers will be on stage at the Koch theater keeping the Balanchine tradition alive at NYCB in the not too distant future.

Last ABT Nutcracker in NY

In honor of ABT’s last run of Nutcracker in New York City at BAM, here is a video back from its premiere year with some beautiful words from Ratmansky about the affecting Tchaikovsky score.

Ratmansky’s Nutcracker uses that music so beautifully, with such nuance, and the plot incorporates so much joy and humor that all combines for a fresh breath of air in the season of often stale Nutcrackers (not that the fanatic in me doesn’t love some part of them all). I saw the performance last Saturday with Hee Seo and Cory Stearns as the grown Clara and Nutcracker and loved the production all over again. I’m sad this gem of a Nutcracker is moving away to Southern California next year!

Mikhailovsky Don Quixote

I saw the Mikhailovsky Ballet’s last performance at the Koch Theater this past Sunday for their first U.S. tour. They performed Don Quixote with the indefatiguable Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in the title roles. The anticipation in the theater before they even stepped out on stage in the first act was palpable, and I had to keep myself from squirming in my seat as the curtain opened up on the company.

I had seen Osipova and Vasiliev perform Don Q with ABT back in their 2013 Met season, and so I had an idea of the fireworks to expect from these two. But nothing, not YouTube videos (like this one) or even memories of previous performances, can beat the magic of watching these two inhuman dancers enchant the audience in a live performance. Osipova was quicksilver and yet so clean – I felt that since I had last seen her she has been able to reach even higher levels in her performance and to imbue a role that can easily become trite with new assuredness and lovely cleanliness even at speeds that gave the orchestra quite a workout.

Vasiliev was with his usual Basilio swagger – the power of his leaps and the slight smirk on his face as he defied gravity and logic again and again only added to his persona and to the charged atmosphere in the theater. The audience gasped and shouted and clapped as he flew through the air, and he responded in kind, playing to our entertainment and disbelief. On the second of the two one-handed lifts in the finale of Act I, Vasiliev popped up onto releve, and shot out one leg in arabesque while Osipova fearlessly balanced in attitude derriere, supported only by one of Vasiliev’s hands on her hip, lifted straight over his head. It was mind-boggling and as the audience was still reacting to this feat, he ran straight to the front to whip off a double tour en l’air in passe before exiting the stage… throwing in a switch-leap amid our yells as the pair disappeared into the wings.

The pair has become known for their prodigious virtuosity and the ability to delight and amaze audiences with tricks such as these. What stood out to me on Sunday wasn’t just the inhuman feats that they were able to carry off, but the abandon that they danced with and the sheer enjoyment that they emanated. Kitri and Basilio flirted, pushed each other, conversed, and had a very real dynamic. Their relationship looked authentic and felt authentic. That commitment to the storytelling, down to the tiny facial expressions they made even while the spotlight was not on them added so much to the production.

The Mikhailovsky itself danced the production with abandon and no holds barred. The gypsy dances in the second act were the most exhilarating I had seen and felt. The pyrotechnics of the lead couple helped set the atmosphere, but when they were not on stage, the corps and soloists embodied that same fire and commitment to the story.

My thought (once I was able to collect them) after the performance was that this production of Don Quixote would surely not fail to move anyone whether balletomane or newcomer to the ballet. It is what live performance is all about. And I hope I get to see Osipova and Vasiliev again. They are at the peak of their careers, and Osipova especially appears to have grown to add a certain amount of exquisite delicacy to her usual fireworks.

Royal Ballet Don Q

Happy Friday! To celebrate and to transport myself from the bitter cold spell we’re having here in New York, I’m recalling sunny Spain. Carlos Acosta recently produced a new Don Quixote for the Royal Ballet and here is the Act I finale! (You can read the Royal Opera House’s highlight of this scene here.) Marianela Nunez and the whole cast of dancers exhibit such beautiful control. The bravura technique is so refined here without losing the casual swagger, nonchalance, and fun of the ballet.

I’m seeing Ivan Vasiliev and Natalia Osipova in the Mikhailovsky’s production of Don Q this weekend and can’t wait. They blew the roof off the Met the last time I saw them perform this with ABT two years ago. Their virtuosity makes for a spectacular and fiery experience but at some point (usually as you’re calming down in between acts) you have to wonder how much is too much? I think there’s a place for all of these Don Q’s and I’ll enjoy them all.