ABT opening gala features Savion Glover’s deft “Piece d’Occasion”
By GUS SOLOMONS, JR.
On May 23 at the Metropolitan Opera, celebrities were done up in gowns with trains, bustles and miles of satin and lace. One towering bouffant resembled a jet-black rooster—not a theater-friendly hairdo for the person seated behind her.
Gala performances are for giving the audience a varied sampling of what’s to come in the ensuing season and the eight-week American Ballet Theatre season promises untold delights, including a remounting of Frederick Ashton’s “Sylvia,” created in 1952 for Margot Fonteyn in her prime.
The 6:30 p.m. early curtain rose on “Le Spectre de la Rose,” in which Herman Cornejo led as the Rose—his legs beat with crystalline clarity, his double-air turns ended in perfect fifth positions, his grand jetés landed with soundless pliancy. Xiomara Reyes as the Young Girl, whose dream he fulfills, has gained more subtlety than last fall at City Center. Charles Barker led the splendid orchestra.
Next, artistic director Kevin McKenzie, looking dashing in his tux (what a Prince Charming he must have been as a dancer!), and tastefully elegant Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg took the stage to thank the appropriate parties for their support and to tout the company’s recently established Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School for young dancers.
Quintessential ballerina Julie Kent—the soul of poise, technical effortlessness and expressive nuance—danced a ravishing act two pas de deux from “Swan Lake,” and Vladimir Malakhov, transcending his occasional indifferent dancing, was an attentive, sensitive partner.
Alessandra Ferri and Julio Bocca were paired in the pas de deux from Roland Petit’s classic “Carmen.” Ferri—she of the exquisite legs and feet but sometimes inarticulate torso—danced with sexy abandon. Maybe Bocca’s smoldering Argentine passion brought out the seductress in her.
Michael Fokine’s 1909 “Polovtsian Dances,” set to Borodin’s familiar music—remember the “Kismet” score?—is a trifle, but the company, led by the Warrior Chieftain, Gennadi Saveliev, and Stella Abrera as the Polovtsian Princess, danced it with such physical commitment that it became a convincing diversion. “Dances” constituted part of ABT’s yearlong Fokine celebration.
As a special treat, right after intermission came “Piece d’Occasion” by tap phenomenon Savion Glover—who actually showed up and seemed to enjoy himself—dancing to Bedrich Smetana’s “Three Dances from The Bartered Bride: Dance of the Comedians” with David LaMarche conducting. Glover’s astonishing mastery of footwork, flawless musicality and rhythmic acuity matched the artistry of ABT’s extraordinary dancers, making him the perfect counterintuitive choice as special guest.
McKenzie and ballet master Susan Jones staged a soaring finale—highlights from “Don Quixote,” shuffled in sequence and divvied up among company stars. The dancers rose nobly to the occasion—new principal Diana Vishneva and virile Jose Manuel Carreño in the “Adagio” from act three; Maxim Beloserkovsky, Misty Copeland and Maria Riccetto in the “Basilio and Flower Girls Variation” from act one; and the ever-more amazing Gillian Murphy in Kitri’s first act variation, the one in which she kicks the back of her head when she leaps. Murphy just keeps adding artistic richness and confidence to her killer technique.
Michele Wiles, the mistress of balance, saved her 32 fouetté turns—with double pirouettes between the first eight—when they threatened to go awry. Carmen Corella subbed ably for scheduled Veronika Part, as Mercedes, deftly negotiating obstacle courses set up for her by the six toreadors who stab their picadors into the floor in different patterns—a scene from act one. And increasingly noble and always versatile Sascha Radetsky replaced Marcelo Gomes in the “Espada Variation” from act two.
Paloma Herrera, looking sleek and cool, breezed through Kitri’s second-act variation and Carlos Acosta, guest-starring this season, danced Basilio’s third-act variation with notable fervor. Pint-sized spitfire Reyes did the familiar “Kitri’s Variation” from act three—you know, the one with the fan.
When this group of ten of the world’s best ballet dancers—including Angel Corella, as yet another Basilio doing spectacular air turns—lined up for the coda, the gala audience, normally impassive, couldn’t contain their exuberance; the ovation was deafening.
Be advised: rush to see American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House early and often between now and July 16.