Wednesday, June 29, 2016

ABT Moves Toward the Future

Isabella Boylston as Odette. Photo: Gene Schiavone.
The portion of ABT's two-month spring season—Sylvia, La Fille Mal Gardée, Corsaire, Swan Lake, and Romeo and Juliet—felt more stolid than ever, particularly in contrast to the other half, by Alexei Ratmansky. There will always be fans of these foundational ballets; no doubt the ironclad Swan Lake drew the largest audiences. But as noted in previous posts, Ratmansky is not only making new versions of classic ballets (his Sleeping Beauty winds up the season this week), but finding new (or new old) ways and forms in which to use the language of ballet.

Another evolutionary shift was seen in the rising popularity of homegrown stars, most obviously in Misty Copeland, whose presence in mass media is unprecedented by a ballet star, at least in recent decades. Stella Abrera finally got her turn in leading roles after 20 years. Gillian Murphy was probably the most reliable from a popular and technical standpoint, with Isabella Boylston and Hee Seo proving to be solid and versatile principals. Soloists Alex Hammoudi and Thomas Forster were given lead and major roles in most ballets, and alternated with Roman Zhurbin in some of the saucier character roles. Skylar Brandt was given prominent roles, and with her dash and presence, she showed us why. Joseph Gorak continues to impress with his elegance and noble line. Arron Scott seemed to be in every show, as did distinguished corps member Gabe Stone Shayer.

Some star power was lost with David Hallberg and Polina Semionova not dancing the season. Alessandra Ferri made the most prominent one as Juliet paired with Herman Cornejo. Marcelo Gomes is the most distinguished and reliable male principal, as he has been for years, but the transition door opened a bit further with his character role appearances, particularly as a bawdy Widow Simone in Fille. He adds this to his resume, which now includes several choreography credits.

Swan Lake
Isabella Boylston is asserting herself as one of ABT's most versatile and solid home-grown principals. On June 18, she danced Odette/Odile partnered by Gomes. Her confidence and boldness suggest that she might be a natural Odile. But as Odette, her skilled technique provided a serenity and precision that helped to define her solitude as the vulnerable swan. Gomes—smooth, powerful, and an unmatched partner—never flags from inhabiting Albrecht, even while standing on the side, observing others dance. Thomas Forster did justice to the suave purple boots of the human Von Rothbart. Like Ali the slave in Corsaire, it's a part with little stage time, but lots of juiciness. Forster's long legs and arched feet gave the phrasing polish and a knife edge.
Marcelo Gomes in Swan Lake. Photo: Gene Schiavone.
Romeo and Juliet
I caught the Diana Vishneva/Gomes cast. It seems that she is dancing less than ever this season; perhaps it’s due to other obligations as her career is quite active apart from ABT, starting with the Mariinsky. But she shouldn’t be taken for granted in New York. She invests every move and gesture with a profound expressiveness. Combined with her wonderful technique and pliant back, she remains the ideal dramatic ballerina. It had been a couple of years since I’d seen Gomes as Romeo, and was delighted by his exuberance as the playboy and the depths for which he fell for Juliet. Forster made for a fierce Tybalt, and the sword fight between he and Romeo was the most convincing I’ve seen.
Fast dwindling are the days when the men of ABT were dominated by dancers from South America or Spanish-speaking countries. Those who have risen at ABT are distinguishing themselves, even if they aren’t among the globe-hopping stars who alight briefly for one or two roles. And the current company is lucky to have the chance to be raw material for Ratmansky, who is still young and clearly has fresh ideas to explore. It's an exciting time to be a ballet fan.