Saturday, June 30, 2012

ABT—Swan Lake, Swan Song

Thanks, Angel. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor 
Angel Corella's ABT farewell, on June 28, was a bittersweet highlight during an auspicious week of Swan Lakes. The Spaniard partnered another longtime ABT principal, Paloma Herrera. Both were born in 1975; Herrera (from Argentina) joined the company in 1991, and Corella four years later. They arrived to great fanfare, both brilliant and exciting young rock stars (in the wake of Baryshnikov, who left in '90) who garnered general interest beyond ballet's avid fan base. I remember being dumbstruck by Herrera's incredible feet and perfect line. She seemed to mark a new generation of more athletic, yet more refined ballerinas. And Corella could spin like a top, literally, and his charm fairly burst from his compact body.

So it was with complex emotions that I watched them perform this great ballet marking Corella's goodbye, one they've done countless times. Corella is now devoting most of his time to his own company and school, Barcelona Ballet. Even for a man to whom it seemed ballet's riches gravitated naturally, in a country that hasn't had a national ballet company in more than two decades, it hasn't been an easy path. The troupe was relocated and renamed, and commissioned works which reflect the proud, rich Spanish culture. But the country's economy has since been on an inexorable downslide, which can't bode well for national support.

Paloma Herrera and Angel Corella. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor
Corella will continue to dance with his own company, but judging from a recent run in New York (reviewed here), he is predictably dancing roles with more of an emphasis on drama than on pyrotechnics. He has at times appeared heroic in his turns and leaps, but he is human, as hard as it is to accept that. Even last night, he whipped as quickly as ever in pirouettes, his smiling face a blur, so it was easy to overlook his loss of flexibility and ballon. And yet his acting was richer, his scenes of soul-searching more believable than ever, grounded by maturity. 

Herrera was a careful, detailed Odette, giving as much attention to placing her toe on the floor as the tilt of her head. Her deliberation paid off when she extended one leg while opening her arms like a flower blooming, creating a resonant visual tension. Her coolness balanced out Corella's warmth, which hopefully we'll continue to see seasonally with his company's New York visits. His peers lay bouquets at his feet before a blizzard of mylar confetti blanketed the stage. Angel beamed, all that was needed to catch our hearts one last time.

Polina Semionova and David Hallberg. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor
I also caught the cast featuring Polina Semionova and David Hallberg, both absurdly naturally gifted. Hallberg has evolved into the unicorn of ABT, that magical, too-perfect being that could only be imagined, and even though a regular throughout this Met season, has given what feel like rare and infrequent performances because each is so special. (Sara Mearns is his NYCB counterpart.) He has addressed some early soft spots, never dire because of his other plentiful gifts—he has become stronger, more passionate, more fiery, and winning in dark roles. Meanwhile, and this is going to sound weird, but he is more confident with his ethereality, allowing a more fulsome delicacy to pervade his dancing. It is this poetry that gives his sublime lines a true vulnerability.

Semionova is his physical female counterpart—long, gorgeous lines and unimpeded extensions. When Hallberg lifts her in second splits, it's dazzling. But her performance felt  surficial, lacking in psychological depth. Hallberg has channelled his great physical gifts to imbue his dancing with soul. 

In this cast, Alex Hammoudi danced Von Rothbart: The Man, with the fancy purple suede boots. He was dastardly and bewitchingly seductive, and his robust physique is a good foundation for this gem of a role. Despite his corps rank, Hammoudi has been cast in several major roles this season. He should at least be a soloist in the near future.

ABT's Met season wraps up this week with the glitzy Corsaire, another ballet that requires two leading men. Look for Ethan Stiefel (retiring as well) and Ivan Vasiliev (jumps like a kangaroo) as Ali, the slave, in head turning performances.

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