Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Collective Rituals—Mourning and Debate

Photo: Miami Herald

Around this time of year, if you’re a baseball fan, you sometimes wonder—why. Why am I watching these overpaid grown men try, with unimaginable difficulty, to hit or catch a small ball and then run around some dirt? What meaning does it have in my life, this artificial drama that consumes so much time and can often be completely frustrating? Especially compared to the presidential debate, which took place in a parallel time slot to the Mets at Marlins game last night. The balance of the world’s fate, versus a trip to the playoffs. No contest in terms of import, right? Nuclear football and all that.

And yet. Backing up to Sunday morning, in a terrible tragedy, Marlins’ ace pitcher José Fernandez was killed the previous night in a boating accident in Miami, along with two others (not star pitchers, since I don’t think I’ve heard their names; in fact their deaths seem sadly incidental). Fernandez, just 24, as a teen had tried to escape from Cuba three times before succeeding, in the process receiving a year in jail, and another time, rescuing his mother who had fallen overboard. Once in the states, his quick elevation from class A to the big leagues underscored his pitching skill, but apparently he was the warm heart of the clubhouse as well.

Fernandez was supposed to pitch in last night’s game (Sunday’s was canceled), lending even more poignancy to the setup. The Marlins had multiples of Fernandez’s #16 jersey fabricated for the whole team, and they scrawled JF and RIP on their black caps with silver sharpies. For their part, the Mets (led by Yoenis Céspedes, a fellow Cuban) taped up a specially-made Mets Fernandez jersey in the dugout, fixing the tape and taking care to keep the jersey smooth.

José Fernandez. RIP. Photo: WABC
The pre-game ceremony included a somber tribute to Fernandez, including a haunting solo trumpet version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” a color guard salute, and the anthem, sung by a children’s chorus. I would be surprised if there was a dry eye not only in the stadium, but among the millions watching on tv. Even the empathic, but always professional, SNY announcer Gary Cohen choked up as he was trying to narrate the scene. The Marlins’ players were visibly sobbing, their faces contorted with the pain of true grief. Both teams went on the field and all the Marlins hugged all the Mets. Céspedes is nothing if not stoic, but he was the one who lingered the longest, and seemed to hug the hardest to mourn the loss of his fellow countryman.

The game dutifully began, feeling like a sodden chore, although its outcome was of prime importance to the Mets, who barely lead the wildcard playoff standings. With the usually steadfast Bartolo Colon pitching, Marlins’ lefty hitter Dee Gordon stepped to the plate batting righty, and wearing Fernandez’s helmet, both in tribute. He whiffed, turned around, and jacked a towering homer into an upper deck—his first of the season. He was suspended 50 games earlier in the year for using banned substances, and by his slight frame and nearly childlike stature compared to Bunyanesque teammates like Giancarlo Stanton, you can almost understand why. But the homer was like a scene out of The Natural, when some supernatural power took over and carried the ball to heaven. Literally, that’s how it felt. Cue more heart-rending emotion as Gordon ran around the bases, sobbing, tears streaming down his face. He was embraced and bear-hugged in the dugout after this cathartic act that seemed to release the Marlins from their frozen state of grief.

Turns out Colon didn’t have it in a rare, short outing in which he allowed seven runs. No matter, the Marlins felt almost fated to win, being forced to play this game in the face of a horror. The game ended, and the Marlins surrounded the pitching mound, placing a lone ball and Fernandez’s glove on the hill. They formed a perfect circle, clutching each others’ shoulders, and Stanton—team leader on and off the field—spoke briefly. They bowed their heads, prayed silently, knelt to grab some dirt or even kiss the earth, and one by one placed their caps on the mound and walked off. It could not have been choreographed more perfectly as a collective grieving ritual that felt personal for the Marlins, and yet allowed the world to share the deep grief. (Adding to the strangeness was the José chant, sung to "Olé," and used for current Met (and ex Marlin) José Reyes, who no doubt knew it wasn't for him.)

Then I flipped to the debate (really, if you haven’t decided by now between the two, what would 90 minutes of basically avoiding a huge faux pas mean to your decision?). I saw Trump spew lie after lie, denying his own ludicrous statements and heinous actions, bellowing, gesticulating, sniffling, and interrupting Clinton every few minutes, a bully cornered in detention, snarling and lashing out. Clinton seemed poised, confident, well prepared, even good humored; her best tool was to allow Trump’s torrent of words to hang in the air and speak for themselves.  

It felt like the world was upside-down. What had felt like a life or death outcome to be “decided” by this debate was, in contrast to a ritual of pure grief and mourning, irrelevant. The game had become a metaphor for the evanescent joy of life and its painful loss, the debate merely motions to be gone through.

That said, ask me in two months, after the election and the World Series, how I feel about this. It may change.  

Monday, September 5, 2016

A Season of Second Chances

José Reyes post-homer de-helmeting Asdrubal Cabrera
Remarkably, the Mets are still in the race for a wild card spot in the playoffs, after losing much of their starting roster. This includes their vaunted young pitching staff, of which currently only Noah Syndergaard remains in the rotation (albeit with a minor elbow bone spur, elevated pitch counts, and unable to hold runners on base), with Jacob De Grom on ice for the next week or two (at least) with forearm pain, Matz on the DL with shoulder pain and a bone spur on his elbow, Harvey recuperating from thoracic outlet surgery, and Zack Wheeler, future unknown, dealing with complications in his rehab from Tommy John last year. 

The last man standing? 43 year old Bartolo Colon, who is fifth in wins since 2014—in the entire league. He has pitched in rotation in recent weeks with Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, and Rafael Montero, who have all had good results and in addition to level heads, have showed great promise. They have been a contrast to the no decisions and losses tallied up by De Grom and Syndergaard, who coming into the season, you'd be crazy to bet against. Jeurys Familia remains reliable as the closer, despite an errant pitch now and again, and the bullpen has been productive despite nailbiters by Robles and cartoon-like thinness by Jerry Blevins. (Not a fault, just sayin'.) Catcher Travis d'Arnaud flashes his bat power on occasion, and rotates duties with Rene Rivera, who has become Thor's personal catcher.

And with Wright, Walker, and Lagares out for the season, and Duda out for a long spell but possibly able to return sometime this month, many bench players and minor league call-ups have filled in admirably. Kelly Johnson, sent to the Braves but reacquired, has shown power recently. James Loney has been solid at first base, if spotty with his bat. Wilmer Flores has played all over the diamond, and has been hitting to his potential, despite his weak running (today, he theoretically hit a double and triple but was thrown out both times in close plays; he also had a single). Also—he uses the Friends theme as walk-up music now. I mean, c'mon!


Rock solid Bartolo Colon.
A welcome source of energy in the dugout has been Asdrubal Cabrera (shortstop), who instigated the ritual of batting helmet removal when another player enters the dugout after a home run; he is dynamic and spirited in a positive way. Another has been José Reyes, whose reacquisition was roundly questioned due to domestic abuse charges. If you were a Mets fan a decade ago, you were probably highly conflicted about this, as Reyes conjures fond memories of the team's anticipated rebirth in the 2000s when he joined the team with David Wright. In any case, over the years there has likely not been a player as fun to watch as Reyes, whose uniform is often dirt-covered after the first inning, showing his hustle. So far, so good and the energy he brings is undeniable.

Back in the day, Reyes regularly hit triples from both sides of the plate and had special handshakes for just about every teammate. He had his own song—"Olé" x3, replaced with José—with which he was serenaded at each at-bat. But then he was traded to Miami, Colorado, and Toronto, which could not have suited him less both temperamentally and culturally. Rejoining the Mets this year, he seemed rejuvenated and buzzed with energy. He bleached his hair, a rally move that was repeated by Cabrera, and wears a canary warm-up sleeve, like Céspedes. He looks really happy.

Ironically, Reyes is now most regular at third base, where David Wright has basically lived for a decade plus. It's a new position for Reyes, who has mostly handled it adeptly. And yet it marks the beginning of the post-Wright era, which fans have denied every since his back and neck issues have brought it into focus. At least he now sits in the dugout with his teammates during his rehab spell, rather than in the bullpen to avoid hit ball avoidance maneuvers that might harm his neck after surgery. He can be spotted joking around with De Grom, sharing a laugh with the underperforming Jay Bruce, or shaking hands with his mates onfield after a win, small reminders of his foundational presence in the club.  


TC in his natural habitat
The outfield has been a game of musical chairs. The stoic, mysterious, and powerful Céspedes, since his joining the team a year ago to help push the team to the world series, has now moved back to his regular position in left field, from center, to make it easier on his balky quad. Granderson has shifted to center, which requires more agility and range, a bit of a task since he's in the latter part of his career. Bruce, acquired for his RBI skills (which have yet to emerge in New York) now patrols right field. Alejandro de Aza pitches in at center, and utility man Kelly Johnson is used as needed. Michael Conforto, once the rock solid bat of the future, has yo-yoed between Las Vegas and New York, becoming somewhat lost with his bat, then hot, and hopefully will continue this current streak. Matt Reynolds, Ty Kelly, Kevin Plawecki all wait on the bench for a chance to contribute.

These days, we may not recognize the names that comprise the lineup. And yet over the past couple of weeks, this team—cobbled together by Alderson, motivated by Terry Collins—has had a terrific record. The 2015 world series roster is but a fond memory, with its indomitable pitching lineup and Daniel Murphy. But in a season with diminished expectations, there are many reasons to admire and root for the replacements even as we hope for the stars to return, healthy.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Wheeldon's Beguiling Winter's Tale

Photo: Karolina Kuras, courtesy of National Ballet of Canada
Christopher Wheeldon is becoming very skilled at total theater craft, as evidenced in his production of The Winter's Tale performed last week by the National Ballet of Canada. It was the sole dance fare in the 2016 Lincoln Center Festival, at the Koch Theater. Of course, the still relatively young Wheeldon (43) has been an ace choreographer for years by now, with many plotless and themed ballets in company repertories around the world, with a lion's share for New York City Ballet. 

He conquered Broadway with the charmer An American in Paris, for which he won a Tony. The tools used there—moving large set pieces, employing video projections successfully, quickly crafting deft characterizations—were put to use in Winter's Tale to create a quick-paced, unexpectedly entertaining rendition of Shakespeare's story. He is able to focus on all elements of the production and not simply the dancing, although that remains the keystone. 

The show's length, around 2:45, demands a lot of choreography, and much of it is lyrical and shapely with inventive touches and some contortions as well (in particular, a lift by the young lovers in which Rui Huang basically folds in half as Skylar Campbell cradles her and they kiss. Ouch.) He generally favors outstretched diagonal lines, such as in the photo below, and free flowing phrases.


Skylar Campbell and Rui Huang. Photo: Karolina Kuras, courtesy of the National Ballet of Canada
With the exception of the petulant, brutal Leontes (Guillaume Côté, fierce and magnetic), the characters are subtly delineated. The main female role turns out not to be Hermione (Sonia Rodgriquez) but Paulina, head of the queen's household, danced incisively and with pathos by former Bolshoi member Svetlana Lunkina.  

Two tall portals move about the stage frequently. In one scene, a seemingly endless staircase foreshadows the impending death of the boy prince Mamilius, who descends it. Four statues that appear to be life casts sit on pedestals; uncovered, they imply pomp, and covered, stasis or death. The show-stopper is Crowley's magnificent and life-like tree in the second act, bedecked with ornaments. A flutist plays beneath it as the townsfolk spread blankets and climb ladders to add jewels to the tree's branches. An ensemble dance includes folk motifs of the Slavic sort, such as folded arms and flexed feet.

Bob Crowley's elegant costumes flatter; the men wear pieced tunic coats or kilt-like skirts over tights, connoting a tribal feel. The women are given sleek, flaring dresses with chenille vests to denote the outdoors. Huang and Campbell as the princess and prince injected joy and lightness into their lengthy duets and solos. The score, by Jody Talbot, is lyrical and perfectly pleasant, with dramatic swells and Gershwinesque horns. Perhaps with further viewings, notable musical themes might emerge. But it's a solid ballet with good bones, and a notable entry into the full-length canon.
  

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Twyla Tharp, Tinkerer

Kaitlyn Gililland and Eva Trapp
Twyla Tharp is a dance pioneer whose work, by its incredible diverse richness, eludes simple categorization. She emerged in the 60s as a singular voice, parallel to and sometimes convergent with the Judson movement, at least in the rejection of classical forms of ballet and modern. Her work has dipped into jazz, ballroom, and even sports, but she has fully embraced ballet as well, creating monumental pieces such as In the Upper Room. Broadway beckoned, and she created a smash hit with the Billy Joel jukebox musical, Movin' Out, and the Sinatra-themed Come Fly Away.

For the last decade, she has also choreographed concert dances for companies such as ABT, which has also performed earlier repertory work by her. She has also dedicated herself to her own company, which she gathers periodically for performances such as the one at the Joyce last week (and where she has a creative residency). The run's title is self-explanatory—Twyla Tharp and Three Dances, culled from different decades.

Country Dances (1976) was done in her slinky, slippery, jazzy style that often reminds me of a pile of puppies playing. Tharp uber-veteran John Selya, and Amy Ruggiero, Eva Trapp, and Kaitlyn Gililland dance to a song list of country and folk. Santo Loquasto provided the costumes, which were modern twists on Western garb. (Though Selya's royal blue placket shirt more closely resembled Coach Taylor's windbreaker on Friday Night Lights than a cool pearl-snap shirt, but Gililland wore a neat backless orange halter with an overskirt and Eva Trapp's green dress with quilt accents was striking.) All manner of a quartet and its divisors comprise the dance, which is also dotted with moments of forced joviality that don't always hit the mark. Gililland demonstrates a haunting intensity in her stage presence that compounds her impressive physical bearing as a very tall ballerina (she is a guest and former company member of NY City Ballet). 


Reed Tankersley

The NY premiere on the slate is Beethoven Opus 130, featuring Royal Ballet guest Matthew Dibble. The prevailing style is more balletic, but happily, the women wear soft shoes. This immediately gives Tharp more freedom to push the shapes, attack, and speed of the womens' movement, and doesn't force everything to be about pointe work and form. (I love the lines myself, but it is no small tyranny in ballet choreography these days.) Norma Kamali, another longtime Tharp collaborator, designed the mens' batwing tops and somewhat unflattering high-waisted tights, the womens' rompers and, for Gililland, a gorgeous, sheer, structured dress. Valiant ballet moves popped up with regularity, displaying the technical chops of the eight top-notch cast members, and velocity played an important role as dancers flew and hurtled across the stage. Dibble has a seamless plushness to his movement that suits Tharp's style perfectly, along the lines of Baryshnikov, one of her muses.

But the heroic performance of the evening no doubt belonged to Reed Tankersley, who led off the third work, Brahms Paganini (1980), with an extended and exhausting solo. The feel of the choreography here is also predominantly ballet-based, mixed with a grab bag of other styles by tinkerer Tharp. She regularly uses endurance and fatigue as active elements, both on the part of the performer—Tankersley's crisp linen outfit by Ralph Lauren is damp and wrinkled by the end of his solo—and audience, stunned at his fortitude and by the requisite unerring observation. He's joined by four dancers (and a cameo by Gililland), who perform complicated, athletic lifts and duo passages at a frenetic pace.   
   
It is a joy to see Tharp, one of our time's true and diverse choreographic talents, continue to create and have the chance to present her concert work in such a suitable setting as the Joyce.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

ABT Moves Toward the Future


Isabella Boylston as Odette. Photo: Gene Schiavone.
The portion of ABT's two-month spring season—Sylvia, La Fille Mal Gardée, Corsaire, Swan Lake, and Romeo and Juliet—felt more stolid than ever, particularly in contrast to the other half, by Alexei Ratmansky. There will always be fans of these foundational ballets; no doubt the ironclad Swan Lake drew the largest audiences. But as noted in previous posts, Ratmansky is not only making new versions of classic ballets (his Sleeping Beauty winds up the season this week), but finding new (or new old) ways and forms in which to use the language of ballet.

Another evolutionary shift was seen in the rising popularity of homegrown stars, most obviously in Misty Copeland, whose presence in mass media is unprecedented by a ballet star, at least in recent decades. Stella Abrera finally got her turn in leading roles after 20 years. Gillian Murphy was probably the most reliable from a popular and technical standpoint, with Isabella Boylston and Hee Seo proving to be solid and versatile principals. Soloists Alex Hammoudi and Thomas Forster were given lead and major roles in most ballets, and alternated with Roman Zhurbin in some of the saucier character roles. Skylar Brandt was given prominent roles, and with her dash and presence, she showed us why. Joseph Gorak continues to impress with his elegance and noble line. Arron Scott seemed to be in every show, as did distinguished corps member Gabe Stone Shayer.

Some star power was lost with David Hallberg and Polina Semionova not dancing the season. Alessandra Ferri made the most prominent one as Juliet paired with Herman Cornejo. Marcelo Gomes is the most distinguished and reliable male principal, as he has been for years, but the transition door opened a bit further with his character role appearances, particularly as a bawdy Widow Simone in Fille. He adds this to his resume, which now includes several choreography credits.

Swan Lake
Isabella Boylston is asserting herself as one of ABT's most versatile and solid home-grown principals. On June 18, she danced Odette/Odile partnered by Gomes. Her confidence and boldness suggest that she might be a natural Odile. But as Odette, her skilled technique provided a serenity and precision that helped to define her solitude as the vulnerable swan. Gomes—smooth, powerful, and an unmatched partner—never flags from inhabiting Albrecht, even while standing on the side, observing others dance. Thomas Forster did justice to the suave purple boots of the human Von Rothbart. Like Ali the slave in Corsaire, it's a part with little stage time, but lots of juiciness. Forster's long legs and arched feet gave the phrasing polish and a knife edge.
Marcelo Gomes in Swan Lake. Photo: Gene Schiavone.
Romeo and Juliet
I caught the Diana Vishneva/Gomes cast. It seems that she is dancing less than ever this season; perhaps it’s due to other obligations as her career is quite active apart from ABT, starting with the Mariinsky. But she shouldn’t be taken for granted in New York. She invests every move and gesture with a profound expressiveness. Combined with her wonderful technique and pliant back, she remains the ideal dramatic ballerina. It had been a couple of years since I’d seen Gomes as Romeo, and was delighted by his exuberance as the playboy and the depths for which he fell for Juliet. Forster made for a fierce Tybalt, and the sword fight between he and Romeo was the most convincing I’ve seen.
Fast dwindling are the days when the men of ABT were dominated by dancers from South America or Spanish-speaking countries. Those who have risen at ABT are distinguishing themselves, even if they aren’t among the globe-hopping stars who alight briefly for one or two roles. And the current company is lucky to have the chance to be raw material for Ratmansky, who is still young and clearly has fresh ideas to explore. It's an exciting time to be a ballet fan.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Books—LaRose, by Louise Erdrich

I was lucky enough to hit one of those holiday weekend/good book jackpots—a few days off, plus Louise Erdrich's latest novel, LaRose

The title character is a boy of 5 whose father, Landreau, "gives" him to the family of a same-aged boy of his closest friend Peter; Landreau shoots the child by accident. (Their wives, Emmaline and Nora, are half-sisters.) The unthinkably generous act is a reparation tradition in Ojibwe culture. Set in North Dakota, the story occasionally jumps back in time to unravel some of the complicated relationships between the family and community members. As can sometimes happen in life, the children poignantly become protectors of the parents.

LaRose is also name borne by four progenitors of the boy, all women. This legacy is given to the final child of a family, and so apparently inherited are his gifts of sensitivity and vision, in addition to being a good and loyal kid. Even when he's footballed between the two families—the Irons and the Raviches—he offers emotional salve and a raison d'etre in both homes for parents and siblings alike. The most extreme case is his foster mother, mentally imbalanced and suicidal. He and his sister Maggie share a "watching stone;" whichever sibling has it must try to make sure their mother doesn't try to kill herself. They systematically cleanse the house of bullets, rope, knives, even a chair used to try to hang herself.

This setting sounds gloomy, if profound, but the rewards of the novel come in Erdrich's plainspoken yet probing descriptions of quotidian life. The richest emanate, somewhat unexpectedly, from the doings of tough kid Maggie—how she schemes to be wicked to her new little brother, stabbing him with a pencil so the lead breaks off (he turns it into a badge of honor by calling the remnant blue mark a "tattoo", and she in turn stabs herself so they match); how she beats up a brutish gang of boys as revenge for their cruelty to LaRose; how she doggedly learns to make "kills" in volleyball despite being short and scrawny. 

Childhood bonds and teenage crushes among the parents' generation are also explored. Romeo, a wounded scavenger and leech, finds surprising sanity and physical redemption after failing in an attempt to build a CSI-like case against Landreau, only to be foiled by the childrens' "mother-guarding" the rifles. He even makes belated amends of sorts with his son, adopted by Landreau to raise after the boy's mother (whose name the child never knew) bolted.

While there's less traditional Indian folklore in LaRose than there was in Erdrich's wonderful novel The Round House, it illuminates daily modern life and coping in Native Americans' lives, showing how tragedy, redemption, and small successes happen all the time, just like in the rest of the country. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

ABT 2016—A Sea Change Underway

Gillian Murphy in Sylvia. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor
May 9, Sylvia

In this season opener by Ashton, the company looked, unsurprisingly, a little rusty. The usually flawless Murphy stutter-stepped in a seeming lack of concentration, and corps members' limbs collided. Gomes, however, was polished and serene, his timing precisely clicking with the score. James Whiteside was forceful and charismatic as the bad guy, relishing the melodrama. Joseph Gorak danced with crystal clarity and luminosity as the Goat, making the most of a small "tail" role. This ballet ranks among the rep's lightest in tone and drama, augmented by Delibes' twinkling and sometimes saccharine score. It requires a focused delicacy and clear mindset, which were not quite present so early in the run.

May 21, Serenade after Plato's Symposium; Seven Sonatas; The Firebird

Alexei Ratmansky has already enriched ballet life in New York immeasurably in the decade or so that he's been here. But in Serenade after Plato's Symposium, he offers us a glimpse of a new facet of his work. The mostly male cast (Hee Seo has a brief cameo) showcases the new generation of men at ABT, led by veteran Herman Cornejo. Without women present, they need not worry about all their normal duties attendant in showcasing their partners: the requisite lifting (and getting a face full of tutu), spinning their partners, supporting, etc. Ratmansky has given them elegant, front-and-center roles of seamlessly flowing phrases. Each man (Thomas Forster, Joseph Gorak, Alex Hammoudi, Arron Scott, and impressive corps members Tyler Maloney and Jose Sebastian) presents his own abstract version of love. It allows these men to reveal a welcome softer side not always indulged in classical ballet.

The pseudonymous music is by Leonard Bernstein, and elicited curiosity, sadness, and playfulness, shifting toward the filmic in the latter part. Seo appears in an upstage portal as an angelic spirit, partnering with Alex Hammoudi for brief scenes, before exiting as she entered. At the end, she pops onstage from the side, beckoning the group from afar. Each of the men offers his own gifts, but Gorak seems most naturally suited to the precision and fluidity of Ratmansky's movement.
Serenade After Plato's Symposium. Photo: Marty Sohl

It accompanied the choreographer's Seven Sonatas and Firebird, both exemplars of different types of work within Ratmansky's deepening oeuvre. Sonatas (2009), to Scarlatti piano sonatas played live onstage by Barbara Bilach, while lovely, starts to feel repetitive after a few numbers, but there's an calming hermetic serenity to it. Firebird starred Isabella Boylston in the title role. There are many problems with this ballet that haven't faded since its premiere in 2012: Simon Pastukh's set is ugly and cluttered, taking up too much of the stage and diminishing the size of the dancers, and I wish that costumer Galina Solovyeva had given the Firebird at least one distinguishing element in her costume, which otherwise blends right in with her mates; and it's irksome that the Maidens all wear straw blond wigs that make them appear like clones, especially when their partners wear no such headgear. (This is a recurring costuming device in Ratmansky's ballets which in itself indicates an oddly retrograde attitude toward women.)       

May 23, Shostakovich Trilogy

This "Season of Ratmansky" at ABT includes two repertory programs, plus two full-length ballets by Ratmansky, including the premiere of The Golden Cockerel. It's about half of the two-month season dedicated to non-war horse ballets. This minor revolution is augmented by what feels like a sea change in the cast, which features young dancers who have been around for a while, but are now soloists dancing prominent parts that allow us to see their talent in full. Add to this newcomers, and injuries to a few key principals (Hallberg and Semionova, most significantly), and it's suddenly a new world at ABT. 

I recently read Julian Barnes' The Noise of Time, a fictionalized account of Shostakovich's life, thus when I watched the middle Chamber Symphony of Ratmansky's trilogy, certain passages had more impact than when I first saw it three years ago. These include: the man's (Jeffrey Cirio) weakness read as fatigue at combating the Soviet bureacracy; the pursuit of, rejection, and acceptance by women comprising his most important female relationships; and his moping exit symbolizing his failure through artistic compromise, which was misunderstood as artistic imperative.

The revelation in Piano Concerto #1, the final part of the trilogy and its most dynamic, was Skylar Brandt as one of the two lead women, alongside Christine Shevchenko, as well as their partners Gabe Stone Shayer and Calvin Royal III. Brandt is a fireball, radiating energy and explosiveness; Shayer, muscular and eager, matches Brandt in these qualities. Royal fits the princely mode, statuesque and elegant. It's almost an afterthought that both men are not caucasian, but in light of the headlines made in recent seasons by Misty Copeland's ascendance to the principal rank, not insignificant. In fact the entire make-up of the company seems to have shifted to become far more racially diverse in just a year. It's a welcome turn.
Cory Stearns and Gillian Murphy in La Fille mal gardée. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor
May 25 matinee, La Fille mal gardée

To underscore this generational sea change at ABT, its leading male dancer, Marcelo Gomes, portrayed the drag character role of Widow Simone in four performances of Ashton's Fille, whereas this might have been unthinkable just a year ago. This role is usually important, but still secondary to Lise (Gillian Murphy) and Colas (Cory Stearns). But Gomes enthusiastically seized the spotlight, waggling his bustled bum and giving the hilarious clog dance some extra stompiness. 

Murphy and Stearns gave believable urgency to the lovelorn pair, prevented from uniting by Simone. The most difficult feat was handily accomplished by the fine balancer, Murphy—she promenades in attitude on pointe, acting as the axle for ribbon spokes held by corps dancers, who walk in a circle. I still have no idea how it's done. A couple of chicken ballets, a pony, and lots of farm implements add delight to this ballet buffa that hasn't been danced by ABT in a decade.