“Theme and Variations,” “Duo Concertant,” “Gaîté Parisienne”
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, New York
May 21, 2014 matinee
by Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2014 by Leigh Witchel
Even indoors, it’s hard to see stars in the daytime. American Ballet Theatre’s Classic Spectacular triple bill was performed at a matinee without the most bruited celebrities in its constellation. With a less brilliant glow, it was visible for what it actually was - a good, solid triple bill.
Herman Cornejo bowed out due to injury, and so Daniil Simkin partnered Sarah Lane in “Theme and Variations.” Zach Brown’s costumes, redesigned last season, dressed Simkin in ochre sparkles and braid. He seemed a steadfast brass soldier. Though the pace was brisk in the duet, he partnered Lane, and she still found the time to expand into her extensions. You won’t ever worry about Simkin; he’s going to make all the turns and tours, but white tight roles are not a perfect fit. His arabesque line takes an inward turn at the ankle.
Lane gave a well-mannered performance. Despite her size, she’s an expansive dancer rather than a chirpy soubrette. She has a secure axis and accurate legs, still, she had her hands full. One bobble in a turn threw her into a more protective frame of mind and she fidgeted at the end of her turns, never quite seeming to stick a finish. “Theme” is within her capabilities, but it felt like watching Jenifer Ringer do it a few years back. It’s good for a dancer to tackle a killer role, but that doesn’t make it her part. “Theme” takes both technique and – to quote a friend – swagger. You won’t make it with only one.
Paloma Herrera and James Whiteside’s take on “Duo Concertant” was softer than you might see across the plaza. The clockwork arm positions the two do early on in their dance didn’t bang out the ticks as aggressively.
Whiteside is the most Balanchinean of the current ABT principals. He’s built like a whippet: long lines, long face and a lightness to him as well as a sharp, varied attack. His accent is up and his weight is poised forward, but he can punch the beat hard. As he revolved under Herrera’s arms, he made every pose a flourish.
Whiteside and Herrera’s stage relationship was mirrored in the dancing. He offered his hand – she teased shaking her head. He didn’t even feign surprise, just paused a beat with the mildest hint of impatience, then asked again. He’d been through this with her. Herrera was unaffected as she skipped lightly or flicked her legs easily front; both dancers handled the final dumb show sweetly. The role takes Herrera back in time: as Whiteside’s muse, she’s a young girl who couldn’t possibly believe that she’d inspire poetry.
Massine’s “Gaîté Parisienne,” revived for the company in ’88 and in repertory for the first time in 15 years, is a good foil for the Balanchine ballets: character where they are classical. Made in ’38 for the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, the piece is a light nostalgic work with its origins in the music hall. Set to nostalgically familiar Offenbach, it purports to be a slice of life, chronicling a night on the terrace of a grand and bustling hotel, with barons, dukes, soldiers and tourists vying for the affections of the local beauties amidst the activities of ice cream vendors and perfume sellers. The whole thing ends, naturally, with a can-can.
The costumes by Christian Lacroix were the main attraction when ABT’s production made its debut 26 years ago but now, the more-is-more aesthetic – layers of fabric and riotous neon colors – says more about the 1980s than 1890s. Brown also designed these sets and his drop, with folds and folds of pink, white and red fabric, looks as fattening as buttercream.
The dancers performed gamely, but with a sense that they weren’t quite sure how to sell this thing. And they aren’t - it’s a style of ballet that hasn’t been made in their lifetimes.
As the Peruvian, Craig Salstein mugged broadly, miming an entire hunting scene in the back, but it livened up a sedate reading. Veronika Part’s glamorous glove seller was illogical but believable in her flirtatiousness; she was a hard-working girl who would dance with dance pretty much anyone. Jared Matthews looked the part of the romantic hero partnering her, and as a dancing master, Eric Tamm flaunted his extraordinary lines. He shared the role with Joseph Gorak; Gorak has purer lines, Tamm has more attack. Both stand poised to break out from the corps.
All three ballets were well danced, but homogenously; the Massine looks like the Balanchine. That would be less noticeable if ABT had a particular dance style of its own, but it’s always been “where the stars come out to shine.” Yet that’s as much a company identity as the Balanchine is to NYCB or impeccable schooling is to Paris. So if the company looks less itself on a quiet matinee, we can also see more of what it’s really made from.
copyright © 2014 by Leigh Witchel