|Bye, Ethan. Thanks. (Ethan Stiefel as Ali. Photo: Hidemi Seto)|
Of course, it's not like swans should be wearing tutus either, but the swan metaphor works perfectly with the art of ballet on every level (hence its nauseating overexposure in pop culture), so that leap is much easier to make. Setting aside the assessments of verismo, Corsaire is all about the second act pas de trois between the pirate Conrad, Medora ("a young Greek woman") and the slave, Ali. The two men are usually played by principals, and therein lies the delight of this ballet: having the chance to see Marcelo Gomes and Ethan Stiefel at one performance, and Cory Stearns and Ivan Vasiliev in another (plus the terrific bonus of Herman Cornejo in the role of bazaar owner).
Stiefel scheduled two performances as Ali to mark his ABT retirement; he can hence devote his full attention to running the New Zealand Ballet. (Why that company is another topic; the sheer flying miles required to fulfill such duties boggle the mind.) He had been sidelined with injuries in recent years, so it had been too long since I'd seen him. I expected to see a faded version of my memory of him, but in fact he was far stronger, fitter and more eloquent than that. Ali requires an odd combination of proudly wearing just turquoise harem pants and a feathered headband, and being completely subservient and obedient. His movement alternates between explosive jumps and cowering in humility in kind of silent film manner. Stiefel managed it all more than capably, with admirable jumps and turns.
|Ivan Vasiliev. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor|
As Conrad, Gomes felt three dimensional, letting a lock of his ebony hair run roguishly loose. Gillian Murphy, as Medora, possesses a note of playful irony that seems entirely appropriate, and she's always up for a display of technical fireworks. This is a backhanded compliment, but she can be too perfect—so capable that insecurity simply isn't an emotion in her palette. In contrast, Veronika Part (across from Cory Stearns) seems filled with insecurity, sometimes like a foal establishing its footing for the first time. But you can't argue that she has the most gorgeous lines and a genuinely complex internal life, and her vulnerability usually plays right into the arms of her current prince. Stearns has similarly beautiful lines and terrific loft; maturity, experience and some bulk will only add to his depth.
ABT promotions were announced yesterday: Hee Seo is now a principal, and Alex Hammoudi a soloist. Both have been dancing principal roles this season, and Seo last year as well. She is the embodiment of refinement and delicacy, and he, a magnetic prince in the rough with prodigious physical gifts. But with the exodus of Stiefel, Corella, Carreño, and Beloserkovsky (oops—sorry, he's still on the roster, though I haven't seen his name lately), the company is now suddenly in need of male principals; I suspect Hammoudi will be slotted in above his pay grade far more often in coming seasons, until he—or others, probably recruited externally—rises to principal, alongside the few resident and handful of guest principals.