Saturday, July 13, 2019

Notes on ABT's company, plus Sleeping Beauty

Aran Bell in Swan Lake. Photo: Gene Schiavone.
ABT’s two-month Met season has ended, coinciding with the traditional announcement of promotions. Here are some notes on the dancers and month two; a review of the first month of the season was published in the July/August Brooklyn Rail.

Dancer notes

There’s no surprise that Aran Bell moves from the corps to soloist; it wouldn’t have even been a surprise if he was made a principal, with all the heavy lifting he’s done in the last month. (Literally. As in Devon Teuscher, Hee Seo, and Isabella Boylston, not that they’re heavy, but…) Now 20, and 6’3”, he has matured very quickly in the last few years—so fast that his headshot on ABT’s website makes him look 10 years younger than he does today. He was tapped for Princes Siegfried (Swan Lake, with Devon Teuscher) and Désiré (Sleeping Beauty, with Hee Seo, and then subbing for a sick James Whiteside with Isabella Boylston). Bell now fits the physical profile of a prince, with remarkable poise and steady partnering that might not be expected for someone so young. His leaps are stunning, his line polished and attenuated. He will only mature as an artist, gain confidence, and receive more and more high-profile roles. Watching him rise through the ranks is like watching a film in fast forward.

Joo Won Ahn was also promoted to soloist. This season, I caught him in the Neapolitan dance (Swan Lake), and as the Italian Prince in Sleeping Beauty. He ranks among the most technically ideal men, with flawless positions, high ballon, a knack for spinning, and assuring partnering skills—definite prince material. I wish I’d seen him perform Ali in Corsaire and the Bluebird in Beauty; I look forward to doing so in the future.

This season, it seemed as if Catherine Hurlin, a soloist, had been cloned—I think she was in every program I saw, providentially. There may be no better symbol of the way ABT is headed than Hurlin. A homegrown star (as is Bell, whom she is dating apparently) who has trained internally and risen through the ranks after starting to perform as a youngster, she can deftly handle any type of role, and she suffuses even small roles with wit, detail, and charm. In Beauty, she danced Violente, among the most rhythmic and charismatic of the myriad fairies, adding flair in the hand flicks that read as “don’t bother me.” She also infused the sometimes too-cute White Cat with some real sass, and shone in Tharp's challenging In the Upper Room. It’s truly exciting to watch her tackle each role, and deservedly receive more prominent roles.

Cassandra Trenary and Tyler Maloney in Harlequinade. Photo: Doug Gifford.
Cassandra Trenary, soloist, led the cast of Harlequinade I saw, dancing with Tyler Maloney. She, and Skylar Brandt, are emblematic of the solid female ranks within ABT, now being cast in the lead roles after working relentlessly in secondary parts for years. It is sometimes difficult from a viewer’s perspective to get a handle on a dancer’s individual traits and style as they perform smaller roles, but Trenary’s fearlessness and plasticity emerged when she performed this past year at the Joyce in The Tenant, a dance-theater work co-starring James Whiteside.

At ABT, the era of foreign guest star principal seems to have passed with the retirement of Roberto Bolle. For now, David Hallberg assumes the mantle of “blink or you’ll miss him” principal, performing in Manon and one Swan Lake. I regret having been away for guest star Brooklyn Mack’s performances in Corsaire, but I was happy to hear that ABT engaged him after he went unsigned by Washington Ballet. A decade ago, mainly due to injuries, it was unthinkable that Misty Copeland, Stella Abrera, Isabella Boylston, and Hee Seo would become, if you will, matinee idols at ABT, but so they have. And while their emergence, in part, has come to pass due to the end of the foreign guest star wave, which bore such female stars as Vishneva, Osipova, and Cojocaru, it’s a satisfying return to developing talent from within. (Gillian Murphy, normally a beloved, well-oiled machine, is on maternity leave.) Devon Teuscher’s elegance and serene flair in Swan are always rewarding to see.

The mens’ principal ranks are a bit more tenuous, with names such as Thomas Forster, Joseph Gorak, and Alex Hammoudi filling the lead roles in the wake of the departure of Gomes, Bolle, and the elusiveness of Hallberg, with Herman Cornejo appearing only occasionally, and Daniil Simkin taking on what leads he can (his relatively lithe build can limit his partnering options). James Whiteside proved to be the workhorse, dancing lead roles in seven programs, with Cory Stearns nearly as ubiquitous, and now Bell is an option. I anticipate seeing Calvin Royal III taking on lead roles soon, in addition to his welcome, dashing renditions in flashy parts such as Von Rothbart in Swan Lake, and Cinderella’s Prince in Beauty.

The Sleeping Beauty
It has been three years since Ratmansky’s production was performed, so I might be forgiven for feeling like I was watching it anew at times. The whole approach in 2016 felt like an antique artifact, but in a good way—lower retirés, extensions, and arm angles, fewer revolutions in pirouettes, less pointe work. But this season, it felt like back to normal, with higher legs and arms, more turns, and more energy conveyed in general. Maybe it was the cast I saw. 

Isabella Boylston (Aurora), in her entrance, felt completely contemporary as she flew in arrow leaps, interpreting the music in shaped phrases rather than doing them step by step. She infuses so much joy in her dancing, making it feel vivacious. Bell stepped in for an ailing James Whiteside, and was forgiven for omitting his solo in the third act pas de deux as he danced numerous times that week. Sleeping Beauty, with its rich choreography and myriad layers of choice character roles and childrens’ sections, seemed a perfect way for ABT to end its season.

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