Wednesday, May 29, 2013

ABT—Quixotically Entertaining

Say cheese! Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in Don Quixote. Photo: Gene Schiavone
The ABT principal Ivan Vasiliev soars so high in jumps that he arrests time to fit in extra tricks. I don't even know the names for some of the things he does... A triple scissor split jeté? (Although for once in a single ballet, more than one man performed an intriguingly named rivoltadea move is so complicated that I can't even describe it, but it ends by sort of vaulting over your own leg. Joseph Phillips, who shone as the head gypsy, performed it with even more brilliance than Vasiliev.) In his one-handed lifts of his partner Natalia Osipova, he balanced on one leg, which is not the most beautiful pose, but it impressed if simply for hubris. Perhaps even more astonishing is that Osipova soars nearly as high with quadriceps half the size of his, which resemble a bullfrog's. (As Dance Mag's Wendy Perron noted, the on and offstage celeb-ballet couple has been irresistibly dubbed "Vasipova.")

It's all great entertainment on the gymnastic end of the spectrum, and isn't that why we go, at least sometimes? Interestingly, Osipova will soon be partnered in Romeo & Juliet (Jun 14) by Vasiliev's polar opposite, David Hallberg. Obviously they are completely different physical types—one might even believe different species. Hallberg is a bunch taller, lean, loose, alabaster cool, and naturally floats into perfect positions; Vasiliev is coiled, compact, explosive as a powder keg, and brusque. And that's the beauty of ballet, which has room for such disparate artists whose characteristics and gifts can be appreciated on their own merits, but not to the exclusion of others.

And Osipova? Indeed, she hovers between the two extremes, the rare ballerina who can match the ballon of men, and retain precision when snicking through chainés or passés so fast that the orchestra cannot keep pace. (This raises a question—is it proper for the ballerina to dictate such a too-fast pace any more than it is for a conductor to make the tempo too fast for a dancer? I suppose the answer is that the audience gobbled it up.) Yet despite these gifts of power and speed, she can be delicate, lyrical, gamine-like. Her demeanor tends to read as playful and coy rather than maturely romantic, although she is still just 27, with many years of experience yet to invest in suffusing her technical skills with soul.

With the addition of Vasiliev, ABT's principal roster skews a little more rough and muscular. Several additional new imported leading men will dance soon and make their mark, including Denis Matvienko, James Whiteside, Vadim Muntagirov, Steven McRae, and Alban Lendorf, in addition to ABT-seasoned, but still relatively new to lead roles, Alex Hammoudi, Daniil Simkin, and Jared Matthews. None of these fine dancers should distract from the strong middle ranks including the aforementioned Phillips and Joseph Gorak. 

Newish principal women Hee Seo and Polina Semionova have huge role lists this season, as opposed to Gillian Murphy and Alina Cojocaru, who have a lot going on in other parts of the world but will touch down for a few shows (Cojocaru with Herman Cornejo in The Sleeping Beauty on July 3 sounds mandatory). The corps flaunted talent in Don Q: as flower girls, Skylar Brandt danced with effervescence and crispness, and Luciana Paris, heretofore best known from dancing the Sinatra Suite, showed a silken warmth and finesse. 

I've touched on just a handful of dancers, but there are so many diverse artists who deserve attention, perhaps in future posts. ABT may not have a cohesive style, but its dancers range across the diversity of humanity.  

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