|Stella celebrates 20 years with company, photo @ Kent G. Becker|
Last night Stella Abrera celebrated her 20 years with ABT with her company debut as Aurora in Ratmansky's Sleeping Beauty. She wasn't technically perfect, but she was exemplary, as she is in anything she dances. Abrera is one of the rare Auroras who grows in each act. In her birthday party she's bubbly and excited, in the Vision Scene seemed ethereal and elusive, and finally in the Wedding Scene she was regal and even a bit aloof.
Abrera is now 38 -- one wishes ABT would have allowed her to dance Aurora years earlier. As it is there were some concessions to age and time -- her Rose Adagio balances were not the longest and most secure (although she didn't really wobble noticeably) , and she seemed to have a few issues negotiating the petit batterie right before the start of the Rose Adagio. What sets Abrera apart from the rest of the ABT ballerinas is her almost Russian carriage in her upper body -- her soft arms, supple back, beautiful neck and shoulders. When she balanced on the clam shell in the Vision Scene her upper body had a freedom and elegance that made her look almost lithographic. Her other special quality is her unaffected acting. Abrera is never acting the part of the Prima Ballerina. There's a modesty, humility and charm to all her performances that shines across the footlights. People used to say the same thing about Margot Fonteyn -- that part of her charm was that she never took on any grand diva mannerisms.
At the end of the evening confetti rained down on her and many principals past and present came onstage to bring her flowers. Her path to principal was long, protracted and painful, and it was wonderful to see her soaking in the admiration from her colleagues and audience. Here's a clip of the curtain calls. Watch for Emma Belosserkovsky, the daughter of former ABT principals Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Belosserkovsky!
|Gomes and Abrera, photo @ Gene Schiavone|
One good thing about Ratmansky is his meticulous coaching/rehearsal methods and one can see the rewards in how well ABT now dances the Fairy Variations in the Prologue and the Precious Stones trio in the Wedding scene. They variations last night were given to long time and new corps members (Devon Teuscher as Candide, Luciana Paris as Wheat, Gemma Bond as Breadcrumb, Zhing-Yong Fang as Canary, Catherine Hurlin as Temperament) and all of them danced with a musicality and precision that was not always present in past ABT productions (and still isn't present in many ABT performances). As the Precious Stones Christine Shevchenko was a sparkling Diamond, and Stephanie Williams (Gold), Paulina Waski (Sapphire) and April Giangeruso (Silver) danced as if they were really sisters. Great unison. Ratmansky's Sleeping Beauty may not be the BEST production around (although comparisons are hard) but there's no doubt that he brought out the best in ABT, and that is what is important.
And so that's my ABT season in a wrap. I only attended 6 performances in the 8 week season and in retrospect I'm glad I did. ABT I'm starting to think is a company best taken in small doses. But it says something that by far the two best performances I attended were with Stella Abrera. As great as her Aurora was, her Lise in Fille mal gardee was one of the best nights I've ever spent at the ballet in recent memory. I'm so glad this beautiful ballerina is finally getting the starring roles she deserves.
Giselle and Nutcracker, which are both still in the Royal Ballet repertoire, and Sleeping Beauty, which is danced by some companies around the world. But in the early days he worked for Kurt Jooss, most famous for the anti-war ballet The Green Table, and then he worked for John Cranko at the Stuttgart Ballet and Sir Kenneth MacMillan at the Royal Ballet. He eventually became the director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet.
Wright's autobiography (co-written with Paul Arrowsmith) is one of those books which reveals that the narrator is not someone you'd like or want to know. Wright is an inveterate name-dropper (he goes on about the charm of Imelda Marcos), prejudiced (he says that he didn't connect with Sir Frederick Ashton because he waved at him in a "homosexual" way), passive aggressive (he claims to have "adored" Svetlana Beriosova but then goes into more than necessary detail about an unfortunate incident with Beriosova performing Anastasia intoxicated), and monstrously egocentric. Wright was for so long a #2 to greater ballet lights (John Cranko, Sir Kenneth MacMillan), and the whole book bubbles over with barely hidden resentment that he was never given the worship and adulation he considered his due. He matter of factly says that the only stagings of the "classics" he likes are his own. Consider this passage about Wright's attempt to sue Natalia Makarova when she staged Giselle and he considered some of the details she added to be "theft" --
"Rather than face another protracted legal wrangle I chose the higher ground and had to content myself with pointing out that if Natasha did not wish to make further modifications I would let the matter drop. After all, neither she nor I owned the ballet but we shared the same desire for it to continue to live for audiences today. I am, however, comforted by the fact that Natasha's production only had a few performances before it was dropped ..."
But as you might have imagined this book is also sort of fun if you like behind the scenes gossip. You get good anecdotes of Sylvie Guillem (who does not come across well), Rudolf Nureyev, "Madam" Ninette de Valois Deborah MacMillan, and so on and so forth in a who's-who of British ballet history. There's also some rather candid opinions on many ballets and choreographers (Wright dislikes the Petipa classics La Bayadere and Raymonda, and also has no fondness for any version of Romeo and Juliet, be it Lavrovsky's, MacMillan's, or Cranko's. He doesn't like MacMillan's Manon or Mayerling either. And don't even get him started on Wayne McGregor). You get behind the scenes detail about those early BBC films of ballets made by Margaret Dale. There's nuggets of information I had no idea about -- I didn't know, for instance, that the Jerome Robbins Foundation pulled the rights for the Royal Ballet to perform Dances at a Gathering because of what they considered over-acting by the dancers. And of course there are the bitchy one-liners that get a laugh: "Nadia Nerina was the only person who ever thought she was musical." Zing!
But overall so much ego on someone who's contributions to ballet are middling at best is not a good look, and you don't trust Wright, as so much of what he has to say seems riddled with an agenda. Arlene Croce once called him "Mr. Wrong." So many years later, that label is still apt. The more you read about him the more you dislike him.