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Friday, February 17, 2017

Welcome Back, Joseph Gordon!

After being out for the fall and Nutcracker season with an injury, the wildly talented Joseph Gordon made his return to the NYCB stage as Gold in the 2/15/17 performance of Sleeping Beauty. NYCB has put up two brief but wonderful clips of the performance:


Joseph Gordon as Gold. No explanation necessary.
And the ever radiant Sterling Hyltin's entrance as Aurora:
Also new to me was Sara Mearns' delightfully hammy Carabosse, by far the most entertaining of the four that I've seen:


This has been a wonderful series of performances. I go to my last one tonight.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sleeping Beauty Marathon

Balanchine's glorious Garland Waltz, photo @ Paul Kolnik

I went on a Sleeping Beauty marathon this weekend and saw three performances in two days. NYCB's Sleeping Beauty is one of the finest productions I've seen -- Balanchine's wondrous Garland Waltz with the SAB children weaving in and out of the garland formations is itself worth the price of admission. The designs are beautiful and tasteful. Although Peter Martins cut the knitting scene and made some more abridgments this is a surprisingly complete Sleeping Beauty, and a nice contrast to ABT's historically correct but somewhat fussy and constipated Ratmansky version. For instance, more of the Panorama music is included than many versions, and the Wedding divertissements are almost all there. Especially adorable is the little SAB students they have as Little Red Riding Hood. They steal the show every time.

Here are the casts I saw:

SATURDAY MATINEE, FEBRUARY 11, 2:00 PM
PRINCESS AURORA: Sterling Hyltin; PRINCE DÉSIRÉ: Chase Finlay; LILAC FAIRY: Savannah Lowery; CARABOSSE: Marika Anderson; TENDERNESS: Ashley Hod; VIVACITY: Mary Elizabeth Sell; GENEROSITY: Miriam Miller; ELOQUENCE: Claire Von Enck; COURAGE: Meagan Mann; GOLD: Russell Janzen; DIAMOND: Teresa Reichlen; EMERALD: Emilie Gerrity; RUBY: Alexa Maxwell; WHITE CAT: Indiana Woodward; PUSS IN BOOTS: Cameron Dieck; PRINCESS FLORINE: Ashly Isaacs; BLUEBIRD: Harrison Ball

Hyltin as Aurora, photo @ Paul Kolnik
Of the three Auroras I saw, Sterling Hyltin was the most delicate, charming and well-acted. Although her technique is strong (the Rose Adagio balances were solid and each one clearly held), when watching her you focus on the perfume she adds to the role rather than the technique. Little touches like caressing each rose during the Rose Adagio, or lovingly handing the roses to her mother before her final set of balances. Hyltin's flexibility and the harmony between her upper and lower body-- the stretch of her arms and legs, and her soft, pliant back -- is one of her glories. Certain moves like the renverses will just look better on a dancer like Hyltin. She also has a light airy jump. Her Vision Scene is the so lovely, so ethereal. She was really like a sprite, darting in and out of Chase Finlay's grasp.

She and Chase Finlay were a handsome couple. In the Wedding pas de deux, their fish dives were not only perfectly timed, but you noticed the harmony in their body lines -- their arms, necks, the crests of their torsos were all parallel to each other.  Her Wedding variation was the highlight of her performance. Her arms, hands, and feet all seemed to be flicking delicately along with the music as if in a spell. It was enchanting. Finlay was a handsome prince and partnered well but did have trouble with his variation.


Maxwell, Reichlen and Gerrity as the Jewels, photo @ Irving Chow
Other standouts in the performance: the Jewels trio of Reichlen, Maxwell, and Gerrity. They were the only jewels trio to have the sharp lines and precision of a finely cut gem. Claire von Enck in the "canary" fairy variation and Meagan Mann in the "finger" variation. Harrison Ball's Bluebird didn't have the explosive jumps but did have some very clean lines. He's a beautiful dancer. Savannah Lowery was wonderful with Lilac Fairy's mime and had a motherly disposition, if somewhat diminished technique. Marika Anderson's Carabosse was gleefully malevolent.

SATURDAY EVENING, FEBRUARY 11, 8:00 PM  
PRINCESS AURORA: Ashley Bouder; PRINCE DÉSIRÉ: Andrew Veyette; LILAC FAIRY: Sara Mearns; CARABOSSE: Maria Kowroski; TENDERNESS: Gretchen Smith; VIVACITY: Sara Adams; GENEROSITY: Lydia Wellington; ELOQUENCE: Kristen Segin; COURAGE: Meagan Mann; GOLD: Chase Finlay; DIAMOND: Megan LeCrone; EMERALD: Lauren King; RUBY: Abi Stafford; WHITE CAT: Samantha Villwock; PUSS IN BOOTS: Taylor Stanley; PRINCESS FLORINE: Erica Pereira; BLUEBIRD: Anthony Huxley

The evening performance with Bouder, Veyette, and Mearns was almost a different ballet. Ashley Bouder is the type of Aurora you'll love if you enjoy the spunky Auroras -- explosive pas de chats in the entrance, endless balances in the Rose Adagio, speed and power and attack all evening. I liked her bold attack and aggressiveness ... until I didn't. In the Rose Adagio she distorted the music to show off an extra long-held balance, but there was no youthful joy, no sense that this is a 16 year old girl's birthday and she's excited. The Vision Scene lacked any sense of poetry, the Wedding pas de deux came across as rather businesslike -- Bouder's interactions with Veyette were non-existent. Bouder didn't lean down for a real kiss, or even a brush on the cheek. Andrew Veyette, who is usually such a solid partner, was actually a bit clunky tonight -- the fish dives were not well timed with the music. The performance was certainly a check list of all the ways Ashley Bouder is a technical wonder, but for me it wasn't Aurora. I want more elegance and grace. I've seen Ashley's Aurora before and don't remember her being so hard-boiled in the past.

Pereria and Huxley as Florine and Bluebird, photo @ Paul Kolnik

The evening's best performers were Sara Mearns, who was authoritative, expressive and refined (!!!) as Lilac Fairy, Andrew Veyette whose brooding presence made the Prince less of a cipher than usual, Anthony Huxley as the most high-flying Bluebird with the cleanest diagonal of brisé volés (although bend your back, Anthony!) and Sean Suozzi as a very funny Catalabutte. The fairies also performed at a more consistent level than in the afternoon performance. Maria Kowroski as Carabosse was not so much evil as sort of goofy. Even with all that makeup and dress and rat entourage you still saw her big friendly eyes. Fun, but a bit miscast. Kind of like if Lassie were to play the Big Bad Wolf.

The evening had two scary falls -- first a bad slip by one of Aurora's friends, then the three jesters (Spartak Hoxha, Daniel Ulbricht, Harrison Coll) toppled over when they piled on top of each others' backs. Thankfully it doesn't seem like anyone was hurt.

SUNDAY EVENING, FEBRUARY 12, 7:00 PM
PRINCESS AURORA: Tiler Peck; PRINCE DÉSIRÉ: Tyler Angle; LILAC FAIRY: Ashley Laracey; CARABOSSE: Rebecca Krohn; TENDERNESS: Mimi Staker; VIVACITY: Olivia MacKinnon; GENEROSITY: Claire Kretzschmar; ELOQUENCE: Indiana Woodward; COURAGE: Unity Phelan; GOLD: Zachary Catazaro; DIAMOND: Savannah Lowery; EMERALD: Brittany Pollack; RUBY: Ashly Isaacs; WHITE CAT: Kristen Segin; PUSS IN BOOTS: Sean Suozzi; PRINCESS FLORINE: Lauren King; BLUEBIRD: Troy Schumacher

Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle, photo @ Andrea Mohin
For those who loved the power and attack of Ashley Bouder but also longed for the porcelain delicacy of Sterling Hyltin, Tiler Peck's Aurora was a happy medium between the two extremes. Peck's Aurora started off coltish -- she burst onto the stage with so much energy she lost her balance and fell. First time I've ever seen her stumble. But she collected her nerves quickly to complete a serene, secure Rose Adagio. Peck is a human gyroscope. In the variation after the Rose Adagio she was the only ballerina to do all triple pirouettes in that 4-pirouette sequence, and she also added some fancy arm flourishes. Peck's Aurora was probably the most conventional -- she made the predictable growth from youthful energy to maturity. Her Vision Scene had the right aloofness and by the Wedding Scene she was regal although still powerful -- she started her variation delicately by wafting her fingers and arms in the air but finished with a series of blindingly fast pique and chaine turns. She is Tiler Peck, after all.

The performance had the best all-around cast. Tyler Angle again proved his worth as a wonderful partner and a classical danseur noble. His Prince variations were the cleanest with the purest line. The fairies were ALL terrific, particularly Olivia MacKinnon who was the only fairy I saw that could handle the Vivacity variation, Indiana Woodward who lit up the stage in the Canary variation and Unity Phelan who dispatched the finger variation with frightening efficiency. Ashley Laracey had the most beautiful epaulement and classical style of the Lilac Fairies. She is like Hyltin with the flexible back -- her renverses were also gorgeous. Her mime needs to be more clearly articulated, and then she'll be just about perfect. Troy Schumacher's jumps were not that powerful but he was the only Bluebird to bend his back and also really articulate the mime with Florine. Only sour spot was Lauren King's rather sloppy Florine -- strong, precise footwork just doesn't seem to be her thing. Zachary Catazaro's Gold variation was the cleanest of the three Golds I saw but is the Gold variation for the guys a "do what you want" thing? The three Golds (Russell Janzen, Chase Finlay and Zachary Catazaro) all did three very different variations.

I left the marathon feeling incredibly grateful that NYCB is so deep in talent that it can put on such strong casts in Sleeping Beauty, the ultimate test of a company's classicism. I mean, when in the prologue the fairy cavaliers all are able to pull off squeaky clean double air turns in unison, that's called depth. And having two Auroras who can put on such different but equally valid interpretations. What a great company!

And finally, my friend Irving is a wonderful photographer and he snapped this absolutely precious photo of Little Red Riding Hood (Alessia Reira) and Big Bad Wolf (Daniel Applebaum):

Photo @ Irving Chow

Saturday, February 11, 2017

I Puritani - no high F, but who cares?

Javier Camarena and Diana Damrau, photo @ Marty Sohl

Whoever knew that the serene I Puritani would be the opera to bring out the audience crazies? Last night at the Met's premiere of I Puritani there was this EXTREMELY vocal Diana Damrau fan who would scream "BRAAAAAAVVVVVVIIIIIIISSSSSSIIIIIIMMMMMMAAAAAA" and "THANK YOUUUUUUUUUUUUU" after every number. You could admire her enthusiasm except that sounded more like she was giving birth than anything else.

Then at the end of "Credeasi misera" some fanatical vocal purist (???) shouted "NO HIGH F" at Javier Camarena. The audience was shocked.

The two overly vocal audience members leant some comedy to an otherwise rather sleepy (if vocally solid) revival. Don't get me wrong -- there's reasons to see this revival, the number one being Javier Camarena, whose warm sweet timbre, glorious upper register and winning stage presence officially put him in the designated spot of The Great Arturo of His Time. This status isn't to be sniffed at -- this notoriously difficult part has struck fear in the hearts of many a tenor. Alfredo Kraus, Nicolai Gedda (RIP), and Luciano Pavarotti were previous bearers of this mantle.

No, Camarena didn't sing the high F in "Credeasi misera" but he took so many withdrawals from his NOHC (Notes Over High C) Bank Account that you wonder if he has a secret Swiss NOHC account with millions more notes stashed away. From the C-sharp in his entrance aria "A te o cara" to a blazing high D in "Vieni fra queste braccia" Camarena was unstintingly generous with the audience some of whom were probably counting the acuti and keeping tally on their program. But even if he had missed all those notes, he still would have been a wonderful Arturo simply because of his truly bel canto singing. He has the legato, the musicality, the style. Go see him. He's a star.

Diana Damrau as Elvira was vocally a bit hard-pressed, her acuti shrill and her style of singing does not allow for the kind of seamless legato that's necessary in numbers like "Qui la voce." The voice has lost a lot in color and flexibility. She has come full circle -- last night she approached high notes in the same brittle way she might attack the high F's in Queen of the Night (one of her early successes). Her acting was a bit hammy -- in the long second act scena I thought of what Lucille Ball might have done playing a mad scene and looked onstage and uh, it was a perfect match. She was fond of wrapping herself up in her wedding veil like a mummy. But one cannot fault her enthusiasm, her energy, and her obvious professionalism -- she just finished a run of Juliets (which was a much better fit for her vocally). She and Camarena had a warm chemistry onstage.

Luca Pisaroni and Diana Damrau, photo @ Marty Sohl
The two lower voiced men (for the life of me I can't ever recall their actual names -- I just remember the Nice Bass and the Mean Baritone) were solid if unexciting. Alexey Markov The Mean Baritone has a voice that's rather dry and not mellifluous enough to sound right in Bellini. Luca Pisaroni The Nice Bass looked very cute but it's one of those voices that's rather hollow sounding, without the body or plushness to give the character's numbers the requisite warmth. "Cinta di fiori" was disappointing. The usually barnstorming duet "Suoni la tromba" was routine and not the jolt of caffeine the audience needed. Virgnie Verrez was fine as Henrietta, The Most Boring Queen in Opera.

Conductor Maurizio Benini opened some cuts in the act one concertato and also let Damrau sing "Ah! sento o mio bell 'angeli" to conclude the opera but was almost comically lethargic, with no drive or impetus behind his conducting. I Puritani cannot have a conductor who seems like he just popped a xanax before entering the pit. It already has so many built-in Xanax moments. The Met orchestra which can be so glorious with right conductor sounded almost provincial last night with an embarrassing flub from the French horns. Maybe he'll pick up steam as the run goes on.

The production by Sandro Sequi at this point is a collection of pretty costumes for Elvira and picturesque sets and little else -- even the chorus seems to have given up any pretense of blocking. The multiple steps on the set did allow the vertically challenged singers to look taller while standing next to Luca Pisaroni, so there's that.

But don't just read me. Judge for yourself:

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Great Comet


Last night I saw Dave Malloy's wonderful musical Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 and reviewed it for parterre box here. Suffice to say I enjoyed it very much and recommend it to people looking for a fun night at the theater. Josh Groban and Denée Benton are amazing. A blurb from my review:

I never made it through more than a few chapters of any Tolstoy work. And I never made it through Chapter One, Volume One of War and Peace. Yeah, I know. I suck. Turns out I was just not using the left side of my brain, because War and Peace can actually be a fun, entertaining, lighthearted musical. 
The travails of Natasha, Pierre, Andrey, Anatole, and company are really a funny, tongue-in-cheek soap opera. Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is one of those improbable shows that  throws in everything, including the kitchen sink, cabinet and refrigerator, and somehow the final product just works.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Winter Season Diaries: Swan Heaven, Sunday Un-funday

The flock of black swans, photo @ Paul Kolnik
I've seen lots of Swan Lakes in my balletomane life. And to be honest, I've disliked or felt indifferent to almost all of them. A long time ago Nina Ananiashvilli impressed me with her boneless arms and old-style Bolshoi acting. Mariinsky swans are hard to beat -- I loved Viktoria Tereshkina's strength and chutzpah. Uliana Lopatkina's Odette/Odile was a master class of classicism, and she also had an inner radiance and spirituality that was heartbreaking. But really, that's ... it?

Well tonight I was transported to Swan Heaven again, and in the unlikeliest form: petite, slight Sterling Hyltin in Balanchine's one-act version of the ballet. I've never taken Balanchine's abridged Swan Lake seriously -- sometimes I think he took an orchestral suite and had no idea what to do with it. He added a coda to the pas de deux. He added variations. He deleted variations. He changed the setting to some sort of arctic winter wonderland replete with icebergs. The best part of his Swan Lake is unsurprisingly his choreography for the corps -- he has them swarm as an a scary flock in their black feathery costumes. They are not the mournful swans of most "after Petipa/Ivanov" versions. They're wild birds. But his changes to the white swan adagio (a peppy coda) and Odette's variations are unimpressive, the solo for Siegfried is unnecessary, and he unfortunately deleted the dance of the cygnets in one of his many revisions. One thing: nice costumes, especially for the hunters.

It takes a special ballerina to make Balanchine's Swan Lake not just a wintry abstraction. Last week I saw Sara Mearns give one of those performances that you'll really love if you are a Sara Mearns fan. She was majestic, she was dramatic. But as for me, I wanted more refinement in the upper body, more connection with the music, and an actual Odette soul instead of overwrought facial expressions. Sara's lack of any port de bras and her hunched shoulder posture has only gotten worse with time.

Hyltin's Odette, photo @ Paul Kolnik
Sterling Hyltin doesn't exude majesty -- she's too small for that. In fact, when she first came onstage she looked more sparrow then swan. But then she danced. And wow. Her approach was not the usual "Balanchine" way of fast footwork and aggressive attacks. Those slight arms were boneless -- they fluttered mournfully along with the music. Her back was "Russian" in its flexibility. Her many deep, pliant backbends gave Balanchine's cold abstraction a startling tenderness. Her entrechats/passés in the coda were lightning fast and timed so perfectly with the music. But most of all, she made you believe that this was Odette. She put the tragedy of Odette back in Balanchine's abstraction. Her pas de deux with Siegfried (the always sensitive Tyler Angle) was startling in its intimacy, especially the way her face would gently graze his cheek in one of her many arabesque pencheés. When at the end of the ballet she bourreéd back into Rothbart's kingdom one felt loss and heartbreak. It was a treasurable performance. I never predicted that Sterling Hyltin would be the ballerina to put the love, soul and poetry back into Swan Lake.

In fact, tonight had a series of outstanding performances from unexpected quarters. Megan Fairchild was her usual excellent self in Allegro Brillante. She doesn't have the dynamic movement of Tiler Peck but one can't fault her accuracy and precision. A bigger surprise was her partner Amar Ramasar. He can struggle with posture in classical roles but not tonight. Very classical, clean beats and no hunched shoulders. The 8 corps members were as usual excellent.

Sean Suozzi, Melancholic, photo @ Paul Kolnik

In Four Temperaments, Sean Suozzi, a dancer that has barely registered in all the years I've seen him, kicked ass with his Melancholic variation. Whoever knew he had such a flexible back and such a sense of when to contort his body before falling to the floor? Every time he'd twist, hang in the air for a little bit before making that dramatic drop. The loud thud added a thrill -- you wondered if he'd blown out his back. Anthony Huxley (whom I saw last week) was more refined, but Suozzi more exciting. Another standout was Megan LeCrone and Aaron Sanz in the Third Theme. I love Ashley Bouder in nearly everything but I prefer a taller, leggier girl for Choleric. Those aggressive kicks just look more menacing with more leg. But still, Four Temperaments is a CB classic that is consistently well-maintained.

Tonight's performance offset the disappointment of the Sunday matinee, which was supposed to have been an exciting afternoon of debuts. It's a City Ballet tradition to sometimes give huge parts to corps members. And with most of those choices, the dancers rise to the occasion and then some. I'm remembering Harrison Ball's stunning debut as Puck, or Indiana Woodward's last minute sub in La Sylphide that was sensitive, soulful and charming. These debuts are the stuff City Ballet fans live on -- successful debuts are an instant "star is born" moment.

Alas, Sunday was not the day for those moments. Isabella LaFreniere had to pull out of her Firebird debut due to injury -- Ashley Bouder danced instead. This meant she was paired with the towering Silas Farley, who made his debut as Prince. Farley was adorable -- courtly, a sensitive actor, but the height difference between the two dancers was awkward.

Miriam Miller as the Siren, photo @ Andrea Mohin
But Firebird was at least solid. Ashley Bouder has years of experience and knows how to make the best out of any situation. Prodigal Son was an outright disaster. Anthony Huxley had no problems with the steps -- he's one of the most explosive jumpers and turners the company has. Unfortunately Prodigal Son requires acting, and Huxley is also a rather wooden actor. In the opening scene when he beat against his father's chest Huxley's face only registered a pleasant, calm disposition. Peter Martins has also been pushing a tall, leggy blond Miriam Miller. And Miller did have the legs for the Siren. Unfortunately that's all she had. From the very beginning when she fumbled awkwardly with the cape and wobbled in those upward kicks it was apparent she didn't have the core strength for this part. The pas de deux was hampered by poor partnering and timing -- in that moment the Siren stands on the Son's shins and slides down, either Huxley let go too quickly or Miller lost her balance because her knees buckled and she face-planted. Unfortunate.

La Sonnambula also had three debuts. Zachary Catazaro as the Poet and Ashley Laracey as Coquette were exactly what you'd expect them to be -- two of the most elegant, classical dancers in the company. Laracey, by the way, was stunning in the Pas de Neuf of Balanchine's Swan Lake. But Claire Kretzschmar, who'd made such an impression as Coffee in Nutcracker, was miscast as Sleepwalker. Her bourreés were bumpy, and her upper body too stiff. You got the feeling she needed way more rehearsal and coaching time than she got.

Oh well. You can't win every time. But all in all, NYCB still gives the most consistently outstanding dancing of any company. And now I must see Sterling Hyltin dance a full-length Swan Lake.