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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Veronika's Parting

Veronika receiving roses from the girls, photo @ Kent Becker


Part in three of her major roles: Mozartiana, Odette and Myrtha
This afternoon I attended an ABT performance that just a week ago didn't interest me at all. I have a real allergy to the way ABT does Balanchine and the program had one of his most sublime works -- Mozartiana. I wasn't in a hurry to see Gomes' AfterEffect, or the pas de deux from Ratmansky's Nutcracker. I did want to see Ratmansky's Souvenir d'un lieu cher but it was something I suspect will work better in a smaller theater.

So why, then, did I go? Actually, for a really unhappy reason: this was the last chance to see Veronika Part dance for ABT. She has been let go after 15 years with the company. When word got out that Part's contract would not be renewed, fans created an online petition that garnered over 500 signatures. Then things got a little crazy. A particularly vehement fan started hatching all sorts of plans which included booing BEFORE Mozartiana, staging a sit-in, throwing a tomato at Ratmansky (whom she compared to a Nazi collaborator), and other hare-brained schemes. In the end none of these plans came to fruition. The company's cold attitude towards Part was evident in this hastily planned "farewell" which was announced a few days ago. Contrast that with Diana Vishneva's lavish farewell in which she got promotional articles in the New York Times and the New Yorker, was surrounded by bouquets and confetti, feted by Kevin McKenzie and the rest of her ABT colleagues.

I wasn't an unconditional Veronika Part fan. She's what I call a specialist -- she was divine in a few roles but not that diverse of a dancer. Despite her 1940's screen-goddess looks, the remote, stoic mask she often wore during performances verged on affectation. She was too mature to fit in Ratmansky's version of The Nutcracker and struggled with the Lilac Fairy variation in Ratmansky's Sleeping Beauty. I disliked her Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet -- way too overwrought. She looked like she was going to have an epileptic seizure. But at her best she was spellbinding.  I have fond memories of her in Swan LakeLa Bayadere, Myrtha in Giselle, the Fairy Godmother in Ashton's Cinderella, and she was just about the best thing in the otherwise tedious Golden Cockerel. She was also one of the few ABT ballerinas able to handle the controlled adagio of Ashton's Monotones. Her physical beauty always made her stand out onstage, and her powerful, expansive jump, trademarked "Russian" back and languorous way of dancing all cast a spell.

Part as Nikya, IMO her best role
Part in her early years at ABT suffered from inconsistency -- fast footwork or balances was never her strong suit. I remember a rather grim Sleeping Beauty where she struggled visibly during the Rose Adagio. Part was open about her frustration during that time period and considered leaving the company. But in 2009 things started to change. She danced with more confidence and control. There was one magical performance of La Bayadere where she was absolutely on fire. Nikya was always her best role -- her Shades scene was remarkable because she was able to exude both serenity and warmth. This was definitely an opium-induced haze that no one wanted to end. She was always beautiful and exotic and her back was flexible enough for the kind of slinky epaulement of Nikya, but that afternoon she also had complete security. There was no more wobbling, no falling out of a turn. he pirouettes in the Scarf pas de deux went off without a hitch.  She was taking risks just for fun. She ended the Shades scene coda by traveling backwards in arabesque and then going on pointe and holding one last triumphant balance. The audience erupted, and you could see the joy in her face and her body language.  Soon afterwards she was promoted to principal.

But even after the promotion she didn't dance as often as the other ABT principals (Gillian Murphy, Isabella Boyston, Hee Seo, and, in the past few years, Misty Copeland). When she did dance it was often during Wednesday matinees. Who knew why. Company politics? But I still didn't think the company would get rid of a dancer who could get through the full-length classics without much trouble and also had a fairly large fan base amongst ABT followers. But I don't make the decisions so ... The good news is that at least Sarah Lane finally got promoted to principal along with Devon Teuscher and Christine Shevchenko.

Whiteside and Copeland, photo @ Andrea Mohin
So how was the performance? AfterEffect, Nutcracker pas de deux, and Souvenir d'un lieu cher were rather weak appetizers. AfterEffect is Marcelo Gomes' first big choreographic effort and he made a couple rookie mistakes: 1) slapping on a theme (the three main characters are called The Man, His Loss, and His Hope and the liner notes said this ballet was "to those that have fallen, and those who prevail" ) that had little to do with what was happening onstage; 2) choosing a grand, ambitious piece of music (Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence) without really knowing what to do with it and thus winding up with steps that didn't connect with the music; and 3) wanting to include a huge corps de ballet but being unable to utilize all those bodies onstage coherently. James Whiteside as The Man, Misty Copeland as His Loss, and Zhiyao Zhang as His Hope also emoted nothing that would have suggested this heavy theme. The best part of the ballet was actually the last two movements with the corps -- Calvin Royal (newly promoted to soloist) and Skylar Brandt both stood out for at least adding more than generalized energy to the piece.

Ratmansky's Nutcracker pas de deux is one of my least favorite choreographic efforts -- after all these years I still can't stand the sudden crying spurt, the cutesy peeking out from the wings, and most of all, the repetitive lifts that after awhile lost all impact because as soon as Marcelo Gomes had swung Hee Seo in one huge twirling lift there was another one! And another one! The torch lift was awkward -- there was no attempt to jump into it -- Hee Seo stood upstage, Marcelo walked towards her, and hoisted her up by the leg and supported her on the back. Ratmansky's Souvenir d'un lieu cher was slight, but charming. Two couples (Devon Teuscher/David Hallberg, Cassandra Trenary/Tyler Maloney) love, argue, make up, break up, make up again all in about 14 minutes. The Hallberg/Teuscher pairing I guess was supposed to be the mature couple, the Trenary/Tyler pairing the youthful couple. The mature couple's relationship dissolves as the youthful couple become more smitten. Cassandra Trenary continues to be the best interpreter of Ratmansky -- her bubbly style found its perfect vessel in Ratmansky's very often childlike choreography.




Photo @ Kent G. Becker
The main event of the afternoon was of course Balanchine's sublime Mozartiana. Usually ABT and Balanchine are like oil and water -- the styles clash so much that I can't enjoy their Balanchine performances. But Maria Calegari did an amazing job staging Mozartiana -- no, ABT dancers do not dance it with the speed and crispness of NYCB, but the performance caught the essence of Mozartiana. When the curtain rose and Veronika Part was standing center stage, head lowered, with the student dancers besides her, one sensed a seriousness and concentration on Getting It Right that I don't always get when ABT does Balanchine. Part moved through the Preghiera with a magisterial grace that garnered applause. But one expected that of her. Arron Scott then danced the Gigue with minimal impact. However, Part and Blaine Hoven's Theme and Variations was gorgeous and delightful -- a little deliberate, but the sense of competition between The Woman and The Man, the way their variations both mirror and one-up each other, and their joint partnership as they dance together to the joyous finale, was all there. It was a delight to see them match pirouette to pirouette, to see them circling each other as if to say, "Wow, you can dance." When they finally held hands to dance together it was one of those Balanchine moments that hits you with unexpected emotion.

Hoven in Mozartiana, photo @Rosalie O'Connor
Then came the hastily organized farewell. Unlike the other farewells, this one was low-key. They skipped having each principal dancer and the retiring dancer's friends and family come onstage with bouquets. Perhaps the nicest moment was when the little girls each presented Veronika with a flower, and fans threw single roses onstage. Kevin McKenzie came out with some flowers, as did Alexei Ratmansky, Irina Kolpakova, Blaine Hoven, and finally Marcelo Gomes. Gomes is often said to be the rock of the company, and you could see that this afternoon -- he quietly pushed Veronika forward to let her bask in the audience's applause one last time.Throughout the proceedings Veronika was stoic. Her face didn't show much joy (how could she?) but she was a pro.

There was chatter that this wasn't a proper farewell for Veronika, that she deserved better. No arguments from me there. Veronika's dismissal was particularly graceless on the part of ABT. But Mozartiana in a way WAS a wonderful way to see her leave. Mozartiana was Balanchine's tribute not just to the Ballerina Goddess, but to Ballet. And so Veronika exited as a Queen, her head held as high as the heavens in the Preghiera, surrounded a kingdom of by adoring girls (the future), corps dancers (the heart), a jester (the laughter), and a consort (the love).

Here is a video I took of the curtain calls: