American Ballet Theatre’s spring season is a showcase for dancing actors |
American Ballet Theatre’s spring season is a showcase for dancing actors 
By Robert Johnson/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger on June 29, 2013

American Ballet Theatre’s spring season is always rich in drama.
While spectacular dancing is still the point of the evening-length ballets that dominate the repertoire at the Metropolitan Opera House, these ballets need dancers who also look their parts and can act.
Physical appearance and temperament are as crucial as technique, and whether the ballet is a comedy or a drama the narrative thickens when the performers supply telling details. Tall and slender David Hallberg is the very picture of a bored aristocrat as the title character in “Onegin.” We learn about the naiveté of poor, besotted Tatiana, however, when, after inspecting the foolish book she has been reading Hallberg shares a look of gleeful disdain.

American Ballet Theatre
Where: Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, 63rd Street and Columbus Avenue, New York
When: Through July 7. Mondays through Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m.
How much: $25 to $220; call (212) 362-6000 or visit

Hallberg’s Onegin doesn’t believe in his own world-weariness. He’s a poseur, secretly enjoying himself. But Marcelo Gomes, in the same role, smolders with frustration. Their Tatianas are different, too. Polina Semionova seems good-natured as she swings around Hallberg in the “Mirror” duet, making complicated partnering look easy. Onegin’s change of heart and his entreaties are a scandal that cannot touch her inner serenity; and she will never leave her husband for him. In contrast, Diana Vishneva’s Tatiana passes from stunned infatuation to hysteria, clinging to Gomes in the ballet’s final scene and repulsing him at the same time. Only a supreme act of discipline prevents this tormented woman from running away.

ABT has a harder time casting “Don Quixote” these days, but the intrigues of supporting characters bring this comedy to life. Whether struggling to lift Quixote’s lance as Sancho Panza, or taking a slow-motion pratfall as the rich fop, Gamache, dancer Julio Bragado-Young epitomizes the nonsense that this ballet’s amorous leads, Kitri and Basilio, are trying to escape. Kristi Boone is a fiery and sensual Mercedes.

Making a notable debut as Kitri, Isabella Boylston brings lightness, fine lines and solid balances to the role. Her “sisonne” jumps into “penché arabesque” are thrilling in the dream scene. Kitri’s rascally energy, however, belongs to Veronika Part, a more vivid actress intrepidly partnered by James Whiteside. Boylston’s partner, Daniil Simkin, has an extraordinary, silken technique. Yet his juvenile appearance and saccharine mannerisms make him unconvincing as the guitar-slinging heartthrob, Basilio. Two dynamic roles in “Le Corsaire”—Lankendem and Ali—fit Simkin better. Similarly Ivan Vasiliev’s rude line is inappropriate for most classical leads. Forcing her turn-out and striving for effects, Natalia Osipova is a mechanical Kitri.

A major event this season has been the refurbishing of Anna-Marie Holmes’ beloved staging of “Le Corsaire.” This ballet translates Lord Byron’s 1814 pot-boiler into farce. In the original, the harem queen, Gulnare, murders Pasha Seyd, while in the ballet she merely teases him poking his fat tummy with a staff. When Misty Copeland dances Gulnare, however, her fluid energy makes the “Pas d’Esclave” dramatic; and the ballet retains some key, Byronic elements. New sets from the Teatro Colón express the heroes’ yearning for freedom with wide-open skies that grow tempestuous, while dressing the ballet in subtle but delicious colors.

Because its flashiest showpieces are popular as excerpts—Ali’s bare-chested solo and the trio of Odalisques—people associate “Le Corsaire” with bravura. When this ballet isn’t swashbuckling or cracking harem jokes, however, it tells a love story.
Choreographer Konstantin Sergeyev contributed a duet of remarkable sweetness to the Grotto scene where the heroine, Medora, dances with Conrad, the pirate who has rescued her from captivity. Little endearments—her head resting against his chest, or tilted back to receive a kiss—alternate with her leaping backward into swoons. Though it climaxes with acrobatics, the duet’s mood is tender; and Gillian Murphy and Gomes give it warmth and intimacy.

Ballerina Natalia Dudinskaya choreographed her own solo in the “Jardin Animé” divertissement, beginning with languorously timed jumps. Some later steps are evidently open to negotiation. What remains essential is the ballerina’s sparkling temperament.

Special effervescence is required to negotiate the simple passage in which Medora steps into a series of garlands laid out on the floor, holding a flower in each hand and adopting a different pose at each stage. Petipa’s earlier choreography, which the Bolshoi Ballet revived in 2007, was more technical. Here Murphy is a pampered darling who makes the scene glow.

“Le Corsaire” gives its male dancers notable opportunities. Yet it still enshrines the ballerina. While unfaithful to Byron in many ways, the ballet preserves the gallantry of his hero, who even spackled with blood and gore believed that homage is “a woman’s right.”

Robert Johnson:

Misty Copeland in American Ballet Theatre’s new production of ‘Le Corsaire’Marty Sohl
American Ballet Theatre’s spring season is a showcase for dancing actors |


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