Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Slapstick and Absorbing Formalism at ABT

Hee Seo and Marcelo Gomes in La Gaîté Parisienne.
Photo: Gene Schiavone
ABT's Classic Spectacular program is a palate cleansing bill of two Balanchine hits, plus La Gaîté Parisienne, a big old banana split of a ballet admirable for its insouciant emphasis on style over substance. This 1988 production of the 1938 one-act story ballet, by Leonide Massine to music by Offenbach, is staged by Lorca Massine with assistance from Susan Jones, and most memorable for the lavish costumes by Christian Lacroix. The womens' skirts are marvels of construction, structured to fit snugly at the hips before cascading into conical poofs underlaid by tulle, and in the case of the can can dancers, ruffled pastel underskirts. Details such as appliquéd gloves for the Glove Seller (Hee Seo) offer a visual abundance.

The men fare less well, costume-wise. Under a fuschia jacket, the Baron wears candy-striped tights, giving the apollonian Marcelo Gomes the appearance of abnormally big thighs. Other men wear beige plaid suits or baggy soldiers' uniforms; the Peruvian (Craig Salstein) an embellished, white satin getup, curlicued locks of hair decorating his cheeks.  

And what of the dance, you're wondering? Much of the movement is gesture, to define caricature in broad cartoon strokes. The Glove Seller is the mysterious, magnetic woman to whom all the men are drawn, and they tussle for her attention. Of course the Baron prevails, but now without some serious slapstick hilarity from the Peruvian. Salstein was born to play roles such as these, and is great fun to watch, though Misty Copeland as the Flower Girl (in place of Luciana Paris) is somewhat buried under all the frivolity. The can-can dancers have some fun with their kicks and splits, better to show off the ornate costumes.

Eric Tamm and Misty Copeland in Duo Concertant, © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo: Gene Schiavone
Artistic director Kevin McKenzie was wise to balance this puff piece with two of Balanchine's finest, Theme and Variations (1947), and the very different Duo Concertant, part of the 1972 Stravinsky Festival. T&V, a sibling work to the great Symphony in C, is an homage to imperial Russia. The leads on this night were both a bit of a surprise. Isabella Boylston danced in place of Gillian Murphy, fighting an injury; she was squired by Andrew Veyette, a guest from neighbor New York City Ballet. They complemented one another well physically, and both radiate great energy and charm, as well as being technical whizzes. The opening measures of Tchaikovsky's score are hummably dancy, and the pair exuded élan from the first notes.

Duo is quite familiar to regular NYCB fans, a staple of repertory that is a relatively brief work for duos of dancers and onstage musicians (piano and violin). It showcased Misty Copeland and Eric Tamm. Copeland makes clear shapes with her curvaceous legs, and is capacious and grand in her presentation. Tamm, handsome as a Ken doll, has excellent posture that might be slightly overly proper for this casual interplay of dance and music, but his line is geometric and assured. Interesting that Massine's ballet tells a story, albeit a slight one, while Balanchine's two dances largely formal ballets come across as substantial. Amidst a season of comfortable, sometimes threadbare ballet war horses, these repertory programs are welcome changes of pace.  

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