Total Pageviews

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.

This is Sarah Lane's season -- she's dancing with so much confidence and control. Her Gulnare was delightful. Her pas de deux with Simkin in Act One was wonderful. She did a beautiful series of backwards traveling changements and also held an extra long balance. She and Skylar were both beautiful in the Jardin Animé scene. The three Odalisques were mixed -- Cassandra Trenary as the first Odalisque was fast and crisp in the first variation, Katherine Williams charming in the second one, with those brisés but April Giangusero's Third Odalisque variation (a diagonal of pirouettes) didn't generate much speed or excitement and she fell awkwardly out of a final pique turn.

Now, the men: Herman Cornejo seems fully recovered from his injury, and his partnering of the petite Brandt was superb. Didn't think I'd ever see the day when Herman could do a Soviet-style upside down lift without any apparent effort, but I saw it tonight. His characterization of the pirate Conrad was full of his usual machismo and his cabrioles remain one of the 7 wonders of the ballet world. Jeffrey Cirio as Ali also has an impressive array of tricks, including a deliberately decelerating triple pirouette that ends with him sitting on the floor. But he doesn't really have the feline, exotic grace often associated with this role. Daniil Simkin as Lankendem has maybe the most impressive war chest and that's ironically his biggest limitation -- it's like he never developed out of that gala circuit mentality. But his Lankendem was funny and of course he ended with the obligatory 540. Craig Salstein (Birbanto) continues to be ABT's best character dancer followed closely by Roman Zhurbin (Pasha).

The production is colorful but garish -- the hot pink tutus in the Jardin Animé scene. And let's not get into the racism and misogyny in the story, which ABT matter of factly prints out in its program: "Dealers and buyers fill a noisy bazaar where slaved girls are being treated. Conrad and his men arrive as Lankedem, the owner of the bazaar, is selling girls." Yeah, better not think about the story too much.

A post shared by Sarah Lane (@sarahlaneps103) on

A week ago I saw the highly acclaimed A Doll's House Part 2. This quasi-sequel of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House got glowing reviews and is nominated for 8 Tony Awards, including Best Play, Best Actress, Actor, Featured Actress (two nominations), Best Director.  I didn't know quite what to expect.

Metcalf, Cooper and Houdyshell, photo by Brigitte Lacombe
It ended up being bar none the most disappointing theatrical performance this year. And maybe of all time? I really can't think of anything good about this play. Lucas Hnath's writing sounds like a womens' studies dissertation defense. The formula went like this: Nora presents her dissertation about freedom/marriage/empowerment, one of Torvald (Chris Cooper), Anne Marie (Jayne Houdyshell), or Emmy (Condola Rashad) challenge Nora on her thesis, and Nora defends her dissertation thesis some more. Wash, rinse, repeat for 1.5 hours. The whole time I wanted to scream "No one talks like this! You are not in academia!" By reducing Nora to a series of feminist tropes, it's taken all the complexity out of the Ibsen character.

I was also unimpressed by the acting. Laurie Metcalf projects a confidence that is fitting for the character but she's also one of those actresses who thinks shouting + exaggerated facial expressions + bug eyes = Acting. She made no attempt to temper her lectures with a conversational tone. It was just lecture, emote, lecture, emote, lecture, emote. Chris Cooper (Torvald) took the opposite approach which was mumble, make droopy eyes, mumble some more. Condola Rashad played Emmy as an automaton with a stiff, artificial speaking cadence. I don't know whether this was an accident or not but again, it made Emmy seem manufactured and not real. Only Jayne Houdyshell approached anything close a flesh and blood characterization. Boo. At least I got the tickets on TDF. Couldn't imagine paying full price for this stuff.

Darius Black, Mary Thomas MacKinnon, Roman Mejia, photo @ Paul Kolnik

The SAB workshop this year also didn't have the excitement and quality of last year's workshop. Part of it was the programming -- Christopher Wheeldon's Scènes de Ballet, Peter Martins' Hallelujah Junction and Balanchine's Scotch Symphony are not the most exciting works.  The Wheeldon is one of those "ballet class as ballet" works. The central motif is that there's a barre down the middle and on each side dancers are doing symmetrical moves, so it gives the illusion that they're dancing in front of a mirror. It involved 64 students. It's cute and harmless enough, but doesn't really showcase the talents of any individual dancers and Wheeldon doesn't develop or deepen this idea as the ballet progresses. A more creative choreographer might have had the dancers increasingly unhappy with their look in the mirror. Something. So this number ended up being both charming and tedious.

Hallelujah Junction is one of Martins' best works and it has plenty of opportunity for bravura dancing. In the evening performance Roman Mejia (son of Paul Mejia, Suzanne Farrell's ex-husband) wowed the crowd with various bravura steps and Mary Thomas MacKinnon (sister of NYCB corps member Olivia MacKinnon) and Darius Black were also impressive. The dancing was so exciting that Martins' Hallelujah Junction, became an audience hit (and Martins and "audience hit" rarely are ever in the same sentence). With all the cheering that went on during yet another bravura sequence Hallelujah Junction started to feel like a YAGP gala.

Domini and Zuniga, photo @ Paul Kolnik
Thankfully the program closed out with some Balanchine, even if its B-list Balanchine. Scotch Symphony has lovely costumes (pretty pink dresses for the girls, fancy looking kilts for the men), but the choreography just isn't all that interesting. Balanchine's corps work is usually masterful but here it was bland and unmemorable. The most amusing choreography is for a small girl dressed en travesti in mens' kilts  -- in yesterday's performance, the bubbly, fleet footed Amarra Hong. The central couple were Andres Zuniga and Gabriella Domini. There were definitely some performance nerves and awkward partnering moments but they're young. Domini has a winning, dignified stage presence and Zuniga has lovely petit batterie.

The SAB workshops are always worth attending. I hope next year's program will be more appealing.

2 comments:

  1. I have to admit I really felt the opposite regarding the Doll's House. I really appreciated that Metcalf really emphasized the character's anger and aggression and while I think she can be a bit in more naturalistic material, I actually this kind of stuff brought out the best things in her. And also I would be careful before just classifying her as an actress who does things in a particular way. She's done a lot of stellar work elsewhere. As for the play, I do think plays built around such concepts tend to run their courses before they end but I found much of the dialogues and debating here quite rigorous and engaging and not really reductive in any way. I think I fully understood Nora without the condescension of having been made to feel like she was totally victimized. And I thought the detail of the blocking was remarkable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know Metcalf has done wonderful work elsewhere but I thought as Nora she was way too Grand Dame Actressy. I know a lot of people loved this play though so obviously my reaction is the minority.

      Delete