There is absolutely nothing wrong with this kind of showboating in a ballet like Don Quixote. The choreography (a mix of Petipa and Alexander Gorsky) has long been a staple of ballet galas for its bravura requirements. Gorsky's choreography was designed to be a mix of folk dance and classical ballet at its most flamboyant. But (and here's the key): the performers have to look like they are having fun when doing these tricks and playing to the crowd. Last night's performance had this weird mix of every gala trick in the book along with a grimness that made the evening strangely joyless.
Maybe the issue is they've done this ballet too many times. It's been their calling card for years, and one can see why -- Osipova has the most buoyant jump, the greatest ability to squeeze as many revolutions as humanly possible within one rotational push, of any ballerina in her generation. Vasiliev's body type (short, stocky, with bulging, "juiced" thighs) precludes him from roles like Siegfried or Desire but does allow for him to barrel through vast spaces with Usain-Bolt-like speed and power. But even the greatest interpretations can turn stale and routine, and last night I felt like I was watching two performers who no longer had much interest in what they were presenting to the audience.
It started with Kitri's entrance. I last saw Osipova do this role live in New York in 2010, and I'll never forget the way she bounced onstage, waving her fan with a huge megawatt smile. When she jumped, she had a way of hanging in the air for a moment, as if suspended by invisible strings. Last night she entered through the same grande jete, but her face was sour and hard. This unhappy countenance persisted throughout the evening. Forget about "Kitri's friends" described in the program -- Osipova barely looked at anyone throughout the evening, including Basilio (Vasiliev). She jumped, she turned, she balanced, and in the fouette sequence she cranked out multiple doubles and ended with a quadruple pirouette. The technique is all there. But the joy (one of those intangible things that can really be transmitted from the performer to the audience) was totally absent.
Another thing: Osipova's most special ability is her ballon and elevation. This was best shown in the Dream Sequence, when she didn't jump across the stage, she floated. As I said, she seems to be suspended on invisible strings when she's in the air. But last night I noticed that more and more she foregoes the airy, lovely jumps for turns, turns, and more turns. Every variation now must end with a dizzying series of revolutions. She didn't try the head-grazing "Plisetskaya leap" that I've seen her try in every other Don Quixote performance.
Vasiliev doesn't have the extraordinary technique of Osipova. He's a sort of sloppy dancer, the kind who belongs in one of those "Stars of Russian Ballet" pickup tours, who changes the choreography to show off what he can do (huge Soviet-style barrel turns and split-leap jumps). Every time he danced he inserted some kind of crazy split leap/air turn, usually with the back tilted at an exaggerated angle. But it looked graceless. His posture is poor. He dances with slumped shoulders, bent knees, little turnout, and he doesn't have the stamina of Osipova, who I suspect could quite realistically dance back to back Kitris. After a big trick he will stop, pause for a long time, and then move onto the next big "variation." When he's turning Osipova during the supported pirouettes he squats his knees in a rather ugly way. He's not really musical either -- in the Act Three pas de deux variation he did a big split leap before the conductor started the music. Oops. He simply went back to his original place, the orchestra began playing, and he repeated the same big split leap.
But Vasiliev did have a kind of boyish fun that was more endearing than Osipova's peevish SuperwomanDancer. He had some good comic timing with various props -- a guitar, Kitri's fan, and in the key moment when he's pretending to be dead from a stab wound, he did a funny bit of grabbing Kitri while mimicking rigor mortis. But really, I think both dancers need to take a break from this ballet.
The rest of the company put on an above-average performance. Simone Messmer gave a beautiful, elegant, stylish reading of Mercedes. Why this dynamic dancer hasn't been given more roles is a mystery. Misty Copeland (Queen of the Dryads) I heard flubbed her variation of Italian fouettes on Saturday, but tonight the Italian fouettes were fine. She still has a rather leaden, heavy way of dancing that I dislike. Sarah Lane really has outgrown the role of Amour -- this is a role best given to an up-and-coming soloist. Their eagerness to sparkle in the brief variation is usually a joy to watch. Lane's Amour has become like Osipova and Vasiliev's portrayals -- ossified from repetition. Alexander Hammoudi really doesn't have enough over-the-top panache for Espada, and his arms and shoulders also get sloppy when he's tired. The flower girls at Kitri's wedding showed ABT's weakness -- Osipova herself got her "big break" dancing this variation. Skylar Brandt and Luciana Paris were simply okay. The corps de ballet as usual has no feel for the character/folk dancing that add the spice and charm to the paper-thin storyline and B-grade Minkus score.
The mime characters were excellent. Roman Zhurbin brought a gentle dignity to Don Quixote (here reduced to a walk-on role), despite the title. Alexei Agoudine brought out the most laughs of the night as Gamache, Kitri's stuffy suitor. Roddy Doble was funny as Kitri's father.
For all the bravura dancing, my overall reaction was a big "meh."