The Metropolitan Opera House was packed for American Ballet Theatre’s gala, this season marking their 70th anniversary at the opera house. The programme, a generous collection of 13 parts, whet one’s appetite for the upcoming season.
Michele Wiles climbed to success in the Rose Adagio from The Sleeping Beauty. She seemed uncertain about the first round of balances but quickly gained confidence and by the end, in that long, grueling sequence of promenades, was taking the men’s hands at her leisure and stretched out into the final arabesque allongée in complete control. One could see her assurance grow as she whipped through quadruple pirouettes, partnered by Gennadi Saveliev, snapping smartly into a finishing pose after each set. The audience rallied with her and roared with approval—though this was not to be the only time during the course of the evening that the opera house would shake with thunderous applause.
There followed next an excerpt from Act II of Giselle which starred, and I don’t use the term lightly, David Hallberg and guest artist Natalia Osipova. From the outset, one could tell this was going to be great: Osipova’s entrance—on quiet, perfectly even bourées—was truly ghostly. The two had a total command of the romantic style—the lines of their arms matched perfectly as they swam slowly through languid port de bras. The finest details were attended to, something sometimes missing in American dance—the performance was so finely tuned it begs the question who coached them? Even the finest dancers need an outside eye. Hopefully the other ballets the company will be staging this season will receive the same meticulous attention. The variations that followed were also stunning. Hallberg soared in the opening cabrioles and elongated his landings with huge back bends. His entrechat six flashed all the crossings of the legs, no mere scratching-together-of-heels from this dancer! Osipova was no less breathtaking—during her petite batterie her upper body maintained that romantic era poise while she bobbed up and down effortlessly, showing off clean beats and making me look for the wire crew and harness that was enabling this unearthly combination of ease, ballon, and precision. Their bows, done in character, were a perfect finish to this performance. It’s no hyperbole to say these are some of the finest dancers on the planet.
The Pas de Deux and Coda from Act III of Swan Lake, danced by Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes, was rendered in glittering perfection. Part’s mastery over the details gave us a chance to enjoy the anatomy of that backwards-chugging arabesque step. She’d spring up to relevé, showing us perfect balance—then she’d show us that subtle lean as her weight falls slowly backwards into the next set of chugs. She beamed with confidence and even tossed her head with bravado as Gomes lifted her high in the air at the finale. It might have seemed out of context—we’re used to seeing head tossing in Don Quixote—but it was genuine and revealed her in that moment of triumph: her having aced every step and her character having successfully seduced her target.
In all of ballet’s history, Ashton’s Thaïs Pas de Deux stands out as one of its finest creations. After seeing Osipova and Part, we were treated to yet another of ABT’s Russian-born beauties, Diana Vishneva, in this sweet, wistful masterwork. Her partner Jared Matthews was not his usually assured self, but his partnering work was sound, showing off Vishneva—who was luminous, expansive—in all those gloriously timed lifts and drawing an enthusiastic response from the audience.
The second half of the evening opened with the corps in the Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadère. I stopped to count how many arabesques that is for the first woman to enter. There are 38, just in the entrance, and no, they don’t alternate sides. The corps showed good unison and clean canons, making this a mesmerizing thing of beauty.
A first for ABT will be John Neumeier’s Lady of the Camellias. As a teaser for the full production later in the season, we got to see the Act II Pas de Deux danced by Julie Kent and Roberto Bolle. This was a well-acted duet, full of passion and sadness. Neumeier has a way of repeating a movement—several times in a row before moving on—which is quite effective.
Gillian Murphy and Ethan Stiefel performed the Act III Pas de Deux and Coda from Don Quixote—I think Stiefel embellished the arms and wrists with some extra flourishes at various points, but to good effect, not too showy. His bravura turning jumps were flashy and solidly landed. Sometimes he can be so daredevil with these tricks that one wonders if he’ll survive, though, to be fair, I’ve not seen him crash yet. Murphy, usually a technical powerhouse, seemed off her stride, managing to hold balances rather than nailing them effortlessly. Her stage presence, however, was warm and full of personality. I remember first seeing her in featured roles—her technical prowess was always in evidence, but I sometimes found her acting a bit cold. How wonderful to see her blossom over the years into a premier dancer gifted in both areas.
Not on the roster for the season, but still a nice closing treat to have at the gala, was Angel Corella performing David Parson’s Caught. This is a dance which is most effective close up. In a big theater, some of the magic can be lost on the subtler jumps, but that completely airborne manège is always a winner. Nice ballon, Mr. Corella.