Sunday, May 27, 2012

ABT's Inspired Casting Draws from Home and Afar

Alina Cojocaru & Ivan Vasiliev. Photo: Gene Schiavone
ABT's casting for the May 24th performance of La Bayadère argues strongly for both home-grown talent, and for featuring guest principals. On behalf of the latter, Alina Cojocaru of London's Royal Ballet danced with Ivan Vasiliev, late of the Bolshoi and now with the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. This pairing as Nikiya and Solor is the ballet equivalent of a fantasy baseball team, possible in theory and only on paper. And yet there they were onstage together, in the flesh. At least, in Vasiliev's case, in the gigantic bullfrog quadriceps; with Cojocaru, lean muscles on a tiny frame. 

Vasiliev is not the most subtle dancer. One explosive leap in, you realize exactly what he's famous for. Ballon for him includes a little turbo boost at the acme of his grand jetés, after hanging in space for a millisecond. He does what we all hope to: defeat gravity, at least temporarily. Yet even compact of stature, he is surprisingly expressive, for example, in a posé—a full extension of his line, from pointed tendu through an attenuated, arched back, through the electricity that seems to shoot from his fingertips. Cojocaru is full of radiant pathos, legible in her expressions and her perfectly placed extremities. Vasiliev hits your gut, and Cojocaru your heart.

Misty Copeland as GAMzatti. Photo: Gene Schiavone.
And then there's Misty Copeland as Gamzatti, who joined ABT's corps in 2001. Basically a home-grown star, she's quickly distinguished by her curvy, yet athletic, shape, her muscular legs' slightly hyperextended knees accentuating these fluid lines. She is familiar as a warm presence, so her strong portrayal of this rather devious woman is admirable and pleasantly surprising. You can't help but cheer for her success, which seems so inevitable, and yet in the growing model of casting international guest principals, also unattainable. And yet we should treasure the appearances of these remarkable stars as well, cheering them equally loudly if for different reasons. Copeland will be dancing the title role in Ratmansky's new Firebird in June. Catch her if you can. 

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