Monday, July 11, 2011

Farewell Reprise - An Unexpected Carreño/Kent Swan Lake (July 2nd Matinee)

I was on the bus home from a movie in Times Square on Friday night, July 1st, when my little corner of the twitterverse was buzzing with news: David Hallberg had sprained his ankle on Thursday night and so ABT had moved Marcelo Gomes from Saturday's Swan Lake matinee opposite Julie Kent to dance with Berlin State Opera guest artist Polina Semionova on Saturday evening.  I was immediately (and over-dramatically) plunged into despair, as Saturday's matinee was supposed to be my final viewing of ABT, and the beloved Gomes, until City Center in November!  But I soon learned that his replacement at the matinee would be none other than Jose Manuel Carreño, who had supposedly retired the night before.  What a gracious and wonderful gift to the audience (who I'm sure would have been sorely disappointed with any other replacement for Gomes given the uninjured options at ABT at the time).

Carreño and Kent were more evenly paired in this performance (than on Thursday night), and Odette's story once more came through.  Again Julie Kent's Odette was tender and fragile, and even a bit skittish, as a bird might be.  Although Kent remains one of my favorite ballerinas, my favorite performances have not been in short tutus.  Her arabesque doesn't feel quite free enough and her dancing in general felt a bit weighed down compared to her strength and tragic beauty in ballets such as Lady of the Camellias, Romeo and Juliet or Manon.  Kent's Odille was surprisingly fiery, however and well contrasted with the white swan. Her port de bras were generally gorgeous.  Unfortunately, after seeing Gillian Murphy's fireworks display as Odille less than 48 hours before, Kent's fewer revolutions and otherwise watered down choreography lost some of Odile's power.  I think she fared best in the two white swan pas de deux with Carreño, which have beautiful lifts and partnering, and were well controlled with a maturity that is so refreshing in a season where McKenzie clearly favored showboating over more subtle drama. 

Irritatingly, it seems that half of the audience, myself included, didn't get the notice of cast change inserted into their program letting us know that Jose Manuel Carreño would be performing a second swan-song (forgive me).  Even those that did weren't informed that it was his last performance.  For knowledgeable viewers, of course, we know him by sight, but I think there would have been more excitement from the often lackluster matinee audience had they understood.  But Carreño so beautifully and humbly took to the stage again, I'm sure knowing the crowd would not come close to Thursday night, and gave us his all once again.  I missed Thursday's roar - but the cast members again fixed their attention so (and I knew from a few of the dancers how excited they were he was performing again) that I was glad the moment didn't go unrecognized.

Jared Matthews at left
Sharing the role of von Rothbart, Isaac Stappas (the monster) and Jared Matthews (the man) were wonderfully evil.  Matthews gave a voldemort-esque head tilt in the opening prologue that made the hair on my arm stand up.  While I still prefer him in the princely roles (since I know what a nice guy he really is sometimes it's hard for me to see him as a villain) he's well on his way to creating a really memorable von Rothbart.  He had excellent command of the room, and of the Queen Mother (played wonderfully by Nancy Raffa) in Act III.   My only wish is that Matthews had as much extension of his back leg in his arabesques as he gets in his beautiful jumps - sometimes his arabesques look a little bit strained and can pull me out of the moment.  (Marcelo Gomes has really improved in this respect over the past decade - perhaps a little time working through the mechanics with a muscular dancer Gomes (rather than a leggy dancer like Hallberg) would lift Matthews to the next level with this move?) 

Siegfried's friend Benno was danced at this performance by Blaine Hoven, a beautiful dancer who, but for one unpleasant habit, has the potential for greater things.  While I adore Blaine in modern, abstract choreography, such as Clear, in classical roles I find he has a tendency to let his hands and wrists flap about.  Saturday's pas de trois was no exception and despite the long sleeves of his shirt I found this flapping extremely distracting. His ladies in the pas de trois were the beautiful Misty Copeland and Simone Messmer, both of whom were lovely.  Messmer danced her variations with such joy and abandon you couldn't help but adore her, and Copeland's smile and stunning pirouettes were a delight.  These ladies also related wonderfully to each other (an element lacking in the more technically excellent performance by Lane and Kajiya) and really won the crowd. 

The corps men dancing the Aristocrats in Act I were particularly together and commanding in this performance.  Alex Hammoudi often had center stage and clearly made a case for himself as Siegfried next season.  In my opinion Siegfried is a role made for Hammoudi - even the costume seems to look natural on him.  But Daniel Mantei, Luis Ribagorda and Arron Scott also presented themselves here with elegance and some snap and height in the double tours and other jumps. 

Jamie Kopit did a lovely job in all three performances I saw as the peasant girl who has a bit of acting to do - very sweet.  My favorite Nicole Graniero also had some terrific small moments in Act I - her acting is so strong - and threw in an absolutely gorgeous cambre.

ABT's Cygnettes again had a good showing, this time danced by Yuriko Kajiya, Sarah Lane, Marian Butler and Luciana Paris.  The big swans were less successful unfortunately - the stunningly beautiful Leann Underwood and Nicola Curry were completely unsynchronized and their execution of should-be-matching choreography did anything but match.  Curry's jumps in particular were heavy and seemed focused on the landing rather than the takeoff.  The corps of swans was again wonderful, however, and had great synchronization and energy considering it was a matinee.

The Neapolitan dance by Ribagorda and Tobin Eason was also unfortunately kind of a mess, and the two ladies in the Spanish dance, Melanie Hamrick and Jessica Saund suffered similarly to the big swans in that the shapes of their moves, especially the deep cambres, didn't match at all.  The men in the Spanish dance fared better - Thomas Forster and Daniel Mantei were sharp and used their long limbs well, though don't yet quite have the sassy character of the dance that Zhurbin and Hammoudi had on Thursday.

The orchestra was beautifully conducted by Charles Barker - whom I prefer over Wilkins.  He seems much more sensitive to the dancers without sacrificing the score.

Another bonus of the cast changes meant that I was able to catch Jose Manuel Carreño at the stage door, which was surprisingly uncrowded, to sign my program.  He's a lovely and gracious man and will be sorely missed.

A little video of Saturday's Kent/Carreño curtain call is below, which really might be Carreño's very last post-performance wave from the Met stage ever.

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