NINAS ABT 2004 SEASON
As I begin writing this (June 21) Nina will just have
arrived back in Moscow, after giving New York a season that will be cherished in memory.
Life intervened so this Friend had to miss her two La Bayadère performances
(look for Spider's impressions to follow) but I did catch the opening night gala and the
rest of her appearances with ABT this spring.
The gala (May 10) provided a glimpse of the new staging
of Raymonda; Nina, partnered by Marcelo Gomes as Jean DeBrienne and Gennadi
Saveliev as Abderakhman, danced the Pas de Sept and Galop; her radiant authority certainly
whetted ones appetite for the complete ballet. However, the full staging proved to be a
Choreography by Anna-Marie Holmes after
Marius Petipa, conceived and directed by Anna-Marie Holmes and Kevin McKenzie
Music by Alexander Glazunov, adapted by Ormsby Wilkins
Scenery, Costumes and Set Design by Zack Brown
Lighting by Steen Bjarke
New York balletomanes awaited American Ballet
Theatres new staging of Raymonda with bated breath. This late Petipa work
has always been hampered by a weak libretto, but has survived on world stages on the
strength of Glazunovs glorious score and the masters inspired choreography,
the epitome of classical elegance.
As readers of this website know, these Friends traveled
to Moscow last November especially to see Nina in the Bolshois latest version of Raymonda
(see Moscow review).
Consequently, Grigorovichs masterful staging of this classic is fresh in our mind.
In this, perhaps most coherent and visually elegant version currently on the boards, we
meet De Brienne in the first act, as he bids farewell to Raymonda in a tender pas de deux
before going off to the crusades. Abderakhman does not enter the picture until the Vision
Scene, when the White Lady causes his apparition to appear, both intriguing and
frightening Raymonda. The real Abderakhman comes as an uninvited guest to the
chateau of the Countess de Doris in the second act, where he introduces his exotic dancers
in order to impress the court. When his suit of Raymonda is rejected, he attempts to
abduct her, only to be foiled by De Brienne, who slays him in single combat. The third act
remains as in the original by Lydia Pashkova and Petipa---a joyous celebration of the
Raymondas and De Briennes wedding.
ABTs new version, a coproduction with Finnish
National Ballet, is in two acts and four scenes. In an effort to add drama to the story
and perhaps make it more politically correct in view of todays world
situation, the team of Anna-Marie Holmes and Kevin McKenzie only caused confusion and
sapped tension from the action. This staging scrambles the dance sequences, strips De
Brienne of his stature as knight crusader (he is simply billed as a handsome young
suitor of Raymonda") and builds up the role of Abderakhman (who now travels with a
fulltime Assistant and an entourage of bodyguards). Raymondas character is
also diminished---she is supposedly torn between these two suitors during the first two
acts, making nonsense of her love pas de deux with De Brienne.
Still, Ninas impeccable form and charismatic
personality made this flawed production worth watching (May 22, June 3). She sparkled in
all her variations (she was allowed to dance the Bolshoi---hence Petipa---choreography).
That ballet genius built up the heroines character in the progression of these
variations; his constantly inspired step combinations, when danced by a ballerina who
understands the style and tradition, makes you see Raymonda as a gracious young
aristocrat, discovering her charms, realizing her capabilities, discovering love---and
yes, being fascinated by the exotic and dangerous. Certainly, there is a hint of her
sexual awakening as well---but she chooses to remain true to herself and her upbringing.
In every step, Nina embodied Petipas ideal---the
carriage of her upper body, arms and head never failed to suggest nobility. Her eloquent
feet and legs suggested meaning in every step, big and small. Yet, at many points her
delectable blossoming was interrupted, even contradicted, by the workmanlike additions of
Holmes: pas de deux were introduced for Raymonda and Abderkahman, involving forceful
entwinings; even those for Raymonda and De Brienne suffered with the interjections of
awkward lifts and illogical development. The various solos for the suitors were similarly
disruptive and undistinguished. The music, adapted to accommodate these alterations, also
suffered, its logical arch broken and its harmonies dissipated.
The set and costume designs by Zack Brown contributed
to the muddle. While seeming to suggest the correct medieval setting in the costumes of
some courtiers (cone-shaped hats with veils, floor-sweeping double sleeves), the stage was
framed by a curving, Art Nouveau construction that blocked the view from the sides. And
those spiral domes to one side were certainly out of place in Provence!
The costumes for the opening scene would have been more
appropriate for a Disney cartoon---Raymonda in bright yellow, De Brienne in white and
silver, Abderakhman in flaming red. The courtiers were in multi-colored attires, the women
in various skirt lengths. The designer also insisted on an eccentric accent to
Raymondas costumes, making her underskirt pink no matter the color of her tutus.
The costumes mercifully turned more uniform in
color---if not in length---for the Vision Scene, where the White Lady introduces the dream
images of De Brienne and Abderakhman to Raymonda. She appeared in a green-beaded white
tutu, while both suitors were in almost identical grey attires---just to add to the
confusion. On May 22, this scene was rather spoiled by a fog machine that wouldnt
quit, obscuring dancers feet.
The second act, which takes place in the great hall of
the palace, brought back colors. Raymonda was in a pink- beribonned lavender tutu, her
friends in coordinating colors, and Abderakhman in clashing red, purple and yellow. Here,
the lifts calculated to show off Raymonda had a rather forced quality---there was no need
to resort to such hard sell. However, the dance of the Saracen Children was charming and
the Spanish Dancers (Kristi Boone, Carlos Molina) were sensuously energetic. But another
false note followed: the introduction of the Cortège Hongrois at the end of
the first scene, as if De Brienne had to offer a counterpart to the Saracens exotic
The company itself danced more than capably. The corps
work, especially in the Grand Pas Hongrois, was superb. On May 22, Jose Manuel Carreño,
although dancing with a foot injury, showed true nobility in his tender partnering; coping
with diminished energy, he kept his form throughout his variations. Max Beloserkovsky took
over as De Brienne (on short notice) on June 3, and showed again, as on opening night with
his wife, Irina Dvorovenko, why he is one of the most admired male principals at ABT. His
classical form and lyrical style is always easy on the eye. Gennadi Saveliev displayed his
strong technique and menacing projection as Abderakhman on both nights.
As Raymondas friends, Veronika Part (Henrietta)
and Michele Wiles (Clemence) showed contrasting temperaments. Part was the dreamy friend,
with her slow liquid grace, while Wiles was the lively one, executing her variations with
finely pointed vivacity. David Hallberg (Bernard) and Ricardo Torres (Beranger) were their
suitably solicitous cavaliers.
Naturally, Nina dominated the Hungarian
divertissements. Eyes sparkling with joyous confidence, she wove magic with her wonderful
articulation of shoulder, arm, head and hand movements, coordinated with her lightning
quick pointe work. She brought the house to a fever pitch of excitement at the end of the
ballet. That is, it should have been the end of the ballet, but for the worst
miscalculation of this production. Just as the wedding festivities are ending,
Abderakhman returns (!) and the fatal duel takes place. De Brienne then has to woo the
shocked Raymonda in yet another pas de deux (with mood and music transposed from Act I),
before the ballet limps to an end.
Rounding up the cast were Georgina Parkinson as a
gracious Countess Sybelle, Carmen Corella as a rather overactive White Lady and the
distinguished Victor Barbee as the busy Seneschal. Charles Barker needed all his
considerable skills to command an orchestra still learning Glazunovs hauntingly
ABT may have aimed to make Raymonda accessible
to a wider audience with colorful sets and pumped up action, but it has only succeeded in
turning an imperfect diamond into rhinestone.
The centenary of Balanchines birth is being
celebrated by nearly 200 companies this year, and ABTs contribution to the
festivities consisted of a bouquet of some of his most memorable masterpieces---all of
them created to music by Tchaikovsky. Theme and Variations and Tchaikovsky
Pas de Deux preceded two works in which Nina was delighted to dance---Mozartiana
and Ballet Imperial.
Choreography by George Balanchine
Music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky (Suite No. 4, Op. 61)
Staged by Maria Calegari
Costumes by Rouben Ter-Arutunian
Lighting by Mark Stanley
Nina first had the opportunity to dance in Mozartiana
in 1997, when Suzanne Farrell, for whom the ballet was created in 1981, staged it for the
Bolshoi. The company obtained access to the ballet through Nina. Her husband, Gregory
Vashadze, had bought the rights as a tenth wedding anniversary present for her. (Nina
confused the occasion during the interview published in Vanity Fair, May 2004, when she
stated that it was a birthday gift.)
This time around, another former New York City Ballet
luminary, Maria Calegari, staged the work for ABT. Nina appeared in it on May 24, 28
and 31. It was fascinating to observe the progression in the performances of this
enigmatic piece, with its contrasting elegiac and joyful divisions, with all the dancers
dressed in black. Black drapes also framed the stage.
During the first performance the whole cast moved with
extra care for the precisely contoured choreography. Ninas innate spirituality
suited the opening Preghiera section, with its prayerful poses. She maintained
this parts otherworldly atmosphere on all three evenings. In the second and
especially the third performance, however, Nina allowed herself more freedom in accenting
the playful animation of the Theme and Variations segment without losing command
of the intricate footwork. Her partner, Angel Corella was fully in accord with her mood,
and had the technique to conquer the challenges of his part.
Herman Cornejo had the right balance of control and
exuberance in the Gigue (May 24, 28); Jesus Pastor (May 31) got the spirit right,
if not yet the precision required. Four students from the School of American Ballet
accompanied the opening section with dewy assurance, later mixing with the ABT corps with
the confidence of professionals.
by George Balanchine
Music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky
(Concerto No. 2 in G for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 41)
Staged by Colleen Neary
Scenery and Costumes by Rouben Ter-Arutunian
Lighting by Jennifer Tipton
performances of Ballet Imperial were a gift to us from Nina. The fiendishly
difficult first ballerina role is not for the faint hearted, and dancers half Ninas
age supposedly wondered why she was taking it on at this stage of her career. Nina told me
that she had always wanted to learn the ballet, and that it was now or never. I
would also like to think that my begging her to do it, since I had never seen the key role
danced by a real ballerina, had something to do with her decision.
1941 for American Ballet Caravan, this masterpiece is a perfumed distillation of
Petipas classical style and the traditions of Russian ballet. Its formal
architecture and constantly changing patterns are exhilarating to behold.
Tchaikovskys score, full of melodic treasures, gives the various episodes deep
Ter-Arutunians décor refers back to the original production, with its evocation of St. Petersburg---a view of the Neva River
framed by imperial blue and white drapes. His sumptuous costumes also recalled to tsarist
times, complete with Russian style tiaras. The tutus, constructed with stiff satin and
heavy with elaborate beading were reportedly a challenge to dance in, but they were
certainly beautiful to look at: Nina and her cavalier, Marcelo Gomes, looked majestic in
white, trimmed in silver blue; Monique Meunier, who danced the second ballerina role, was
encased in powdery pink. The soloists and corps dancers were in beautifully graduated
shades of blue.
who staged the ballet anew for ABT this season, reportedly encouraged the various
ballerinas to express their personalities within the choreographys framework. Making
her role debut on May 27, Nina looked every inch the glamorous prima ballerina. She opened
strongly, attacking her first solo with speed and formidable style. In a scene where she
leaves the stage with her back to the audience, her regal carriage kept your eyes glued on
her receding figure, no matter what else was happening onstage. She was still finding her
way into the ballet, however, and there were hesitations and lapses in later passages.
performance (May 29) was a total triumph. By this time, Nina had taken the measure of the
ballet and was in complete command---speed, style and daring, combined with her soulful
star presence, lifted the whole ballet to a glorious level of polish and excitement.
Gomes, whose growth as an artist has been astounding, matched Ninas energy and
elegance. Their emotional connection in the sublime adagio section was the stuff of
poetry. This movement starts with the cavalier partnering two soloists, who are linked to
a short line of corps ballerinas who alternately retreat and approach to mimic the closing
and opening of a fan. The first ballerina subsequently enters through the outstretched
arms of the corps; after a tender pas de deux with the cavalier, she disappears
through the corps, leaving the cavalier to search for her in vain, before he himself
retires----a heartbreaking evocation of Swan Lake.
Meunier, formerly of New York City Ballet, reclaimed her role of second ballerina, dancing
with daring attack, clarity and speed, even after she took a bad spill on the first
evening. She was a shade more careful at the second performance, though hardly less
impressive in this challenging part, in some ways even more difficult than the first
ballerina role. However, she also displayed an immobile torso, only partly attributable to
her stiff bodice.
Bilach, an excellent pianist, and David LaMarche, the conductor, did justice to
Tchaikovskys music, keeping the concerto moving at a pace Mr. B would have approved
of. The ABT corps de ballet danced these Balanchine creations with élan and classical
form, showing that proper placement of upper body, arms and head need not get in the way
of speedy footwork.
ballet, now titled Piano Concerto No. 2 at NYCB, currently is danced there in
soft shirred skirts, although all the ballerinas still wear tiny tiaras.)
by Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky
Staged by Kevin McKenzie and Susan Jones
Music by Ludwig Minkus
Arranged by Jack Everly
Scenery and Costumes by Santo Loquasto
Lighting by Natasha Katz
evenings when you know as soon as the Nina steps on the stage, it is going to be a great
performance. This was so on June 7, when she and Jose Manuel Carreño led an inspired cast
in a rousing Don Quixote that had the audience screaming in their seats.
There was an
electric feeling in the air, and everyone seemed eager to have a good time. Nina was
really on---from her first jump onto the stage, you could see that she was glad to be back
as Kitri. She threw her arms with extra abandon in her series of leaps with one leg bent
to meet her head, and her manège of turns had an exciting crispness in attack and finish.
She and Carreño (Basil) were endearing lovers, teasing, quarreling and making up
in high spirits. The traveling lifts and jumps in the first act were perfectly timed and
all seemed to develop naturally from the action.
Graffin keeps adding delicious details to his fop of a Gamache; he has made even him a
sympathetic character. Victor Barbees befuddled yet noble Don Quixote remained an
anchor of this production, with Flavio Salazar his bumbling Sancho Panza. And then there
was Marcelo Gomes as Espada---he owns this macho role by now, and he preened outrageously,
flirting with Mercedes (Carmen Corella) and Kitri when not making theatrically sure his
hair was in place after his rigorous and sharply accented solos. Even the flower girls
were in good form---Erica Cornejo and Maria Riccetto displaying polished verve in their
In the Gypsy
dances in Act II, Herman Cornejo stood out for his aerial feats, though Carreño was not
far behind in sheer virtuosity with his controlled spins.
Scene for once featured a Queen of the Dryads worthy of the title---Veronika Part---
showing her Kirov pedigree in the elegant precision of her solo,
commanding the stage with her serene presence. Anne Milewski bourreéd charmingly as
Amour. Nina was, of course, impeccable in her classical variation as Dulcinea---her
refined, effortless dancing an embodiment of the ideal woman.
The Grand Pas
was more than a display of virtuosity---it was a playful contest between Kitri and
Basil---with both ending up winners. Both elicited gasps of awe: Nina by ending her
variation with the fan in a perfectly balanced pose, and ending her fouettés by
decelerating and landing on one knee; Carreño by executing his final turns with the free
leg changing to different positions without losing momentum.
audience was the real winner of the evening. Seldom will anyone ever see a Don Q
as wonderfully danced and joyously performed as this one. Bravissimo!
by Kevin McKenzie after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov
Music By Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky
Sets and Costumes by Zack Brown
Lighting by Duane Schuler
This has been
the year of Swan Lake for Nina. Her nine-city tour of Japan
earlier this year featured a condensed version of the Petipa perennial that included every
vital scene in Acts II and III. In April she had three performances of the complete ballet
in Santiago, Chile. But New
York was to see only one performance---and
yet, it was perhaps the best so far in 2004.
speak for the Chile Swan Lakes, which received rave reviews in the press, but I did
manage to catch three of the performances in Tokyo
last February. While those were superb in their way (see review) there was something about
the evening of June 18 that made it stand out above other recent viewings. That something
was a partner who had a real emotional connection to his character, and therefore to his
ABT production has its faults; the first act can seem interminable. But, it does give
Prince Siegfried the chance to establish his character, and Julio Bocca did so with
particular poignancy on this night. Subtle touches in his danced soliloquy conveyed the
Princes loneliness and sense of longing. Thus, when he discovers Odette in Act II,
he is emotionally ready for her. On this basis, the performance ignited in a way
thats rare even when superb artists are involved.
mentioned before, Julios passionate commitment has made Ninas Odette evolve
through the years. Her Swan Queen, always supremely classical in form, has thawed into a
vulnerable, trusting woman. She expresses this in the way she breathes, unfolds her legs
and falls backward tenderly and fearlessly into Siegfrieds arms. Yet such details
are only possible because both dancers are in such command of technique that they no
longer have to think about it. Their bodies have become instruments of expression.
In Act III,
the transformation of Nina from the gentle Odette into that bird of prey Odile remains
magical and awe-inspiring. Through twenty-two years of performing Swan Lake, she has naturally had time to perfect angles, hone
her timing and her mime, but shes always adding layers of detail, adjusting a turn
of the head or the fluttering of her arms and fingers to keep things fresh. This time, she
added a sudden drop into Siegfrieds arm just as he capitulates to her. It was
startling and very effective.
Marcello Gomes played the courtier Rothbart (as opposed to the monster Rothbart, danced by
Ethan Brown) and he suavely ensnared all the princesses in the amusing scene that
distinguishes this McKenzie version.
Act IV, which
starts in darkness, ends with a bright apotheosis---as the betrayed lovers sacrifice
themselves to vanquish the evil sorcerer. Flowers rained on the stage and bravos resounded
from the hall, but many could only stagger out of the theater, still lost in the poetic
tragedy and the magic that Nina and Julio created on this unforgettable evening.