LAST EDITED ON 01-Oct-99 AT 01:06 PM (GMT)
LAST EDITED ON 01-Oct-99 AT 10:12 AM (GMT)
American Ballet Theatre at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris, 21-26 September 1999
This year's Nouveau Festival International de Danse de Paris opened on 21 September with a gala marking the first night of American Ballet Theatre's (ABT) one-week season at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees, attended by Madame Bernadette Chirac, the wife of the French President. I missed it, but attended both the ABT's programmes last week - a mixed bill, and a production of "Don Quixote" by its present artistic director Kevin McKenzie.
The mixed bill on 22 September opened with Nacho Duato's "Without Words" created on the ABT last autumn for its City Center season. Duato featured four scantily clad couples, the men wearing only pants and the women wearing flesh-coloured leotards. In the background of the pitch-dark stage there were slide projections of the dancers' faces. This austere, angst-ridden manner was very reminiscent of the late works of Jiri Kylian, whose company the Netherlands Dance Theatre danced in London in June.
The choreography consisted of various pas de trois and pas de deux. There were some striking images in the pas de deux for Jose Manuel Carreno (a former principal of the Royal Ballet as well as the English National Ballet) and Ashley Tuttle. And Ethan Stiefel (formerly a principal of New York City Ballet and soon to guest with the Royal Ballet this winter) dazzled in an allegro solo. The final pas de deux was quite theatrical. Stiefel was lying on the ground and supporting Susan Jaffe who was leaning on his upraised leg, tilting her sideways.
The second part of this programme opened with the pas de trois of the Odalisques from Petipa's "Le Corsaire". Incidentally, the ABT had been originally scheduled to perform this full-length ballet instead of "Don Quixote", but later changed the programming due to the inadequate stage facilities of the Theatre des Champs-Elysees.
The three Odalisques were Oksana Konobeyeva, Michele Wiles, and Gillian Murphy. All three danseuses displayed firm steely legwork. I was particularly impressed by Konobeyeva's scissor-sharp gargouillades, and Murphy's multiple pirouettes in a diagonal. However I miss here the unique grandeur of the Kirov Ballet, who danced this full-length 19th century ballet memorably during its London seasons in 1988, 1990 and 1993. I cannot forget the pure classical style of its sparkling trio of Odalisques - Irina Chistyakova, Veronika Ivanova, and Zhana Ayupova.
This number was followed by the "Cruel World" pas de deux choreographed by James Kudelka, the present artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada. This tastefully lyrical work was superbly danced by Julie Kent and Robert Hill.
Closing this second part was Anton Dolin's spectacular "Variations for Four", here danced with aplomb by four of ABT's danseurs who are not yet principals - Giuseppe Picone (formerly of English National Ballet), Marcelo Gomes, Joaquin de Luz, and Maxim Belotserkovsky. Highlights included a thrilling series of jetes en manege in a solo by Maxim Belotserkovsky, whose front foot was beautifully pointed throughout. Picone dazzled in his solo with his entrechats and rivoltades. And the finale with each of the four danseurs doing multiple pirouettes was indeed electrifying.
The last ballet "Billy the Kid" choreographed by Eugene Loring in 1938 was somewhat of a disappointment, as it looked extremely dated in this viewing. As a piece of Americana, I wish the ABT could have chosen Agnes de Mille's "Rodeo" for instance. Or better still they could have danced Balanchine's masterpiece "Theme and Variations" (they after all danced it at its London Coliseum season in 1990). Only the final Polonaise of this ballet was danced in the opening Gala in Paris.
There was a lot of posing and walking for the ensemble in this character ballet, complete with cow-boys, cow-girls, ranchers, Mexicans etc. I liked the cactuses in the backdrop. Billy was danced with sheer commitment by Angel Corella (soon to guest with the Royal Ballet as well). His friend Pat Garrett was danced by Ethan Brown, and Giuseppe Picone was Alias who symbolised the various victims killed by Billy. The best part of this ballet was a lovely pas de deux towards the end for Corella and Ashley Tuttle who danced his sweetheart, before Billy was shot and then mourned by the wailing women.
My complaint is that it was difficult in a first viewing to decipher the story-line. The charactersations of the main roles - Alias, Garrett - were not clearly delineated. It certainly didn't help that their faces were often obscured by their hats!
And so to Kevin McKenzie's 1995 production of "Don Quixote" with beautiful sets and costumes designed by Santo Loquasto. I liked the sets depicting the ornate Moorish architecture in Seville framing the opening and closing acts. I missed the new Bolshoi production of "Don Quixote" shown in London this summer. But my favourite version of "Don Quixote" is the Kirov version seen in London in 1997 starring Diana Vishneva and Igor Zelensky. It is more strongly based on dance values than the Nureyev production for the Paris Opera Ballet and other companies, which nevertheless makes more theatrical sense than this ABT production.
In this production, Act 2 is particularly long as it combines the Gypsy scene, the Dryads dream scene, as well as the tavern scene in which Basilio pretends to commit suicide by stabbing himself. Act 3 consists only of the joyous wedding divertissements. I saw three casts - Susan Jaffe (replacing an injured Paloma Herrera) and Julio Bocca on the first night, the Kiev husband-and-wife partnership of Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Belotserkovsky, and Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel.
There was always something to admire in the technical fireworks of each of the three casts. Julio Bocca (who danced in the premiere of this production in 1995 with Herrera) was in excellent form, and in the coda of the pas de deux turned a smashing series of multiple pirouettes of such high velocity that it took one's breath away. And Bocca, compared to the other casts, managed best the two one-handed lifts of Kitri in Act 1, seeming to suspend her in the air for ages. His Kitri, Susan Jaffe (who has guested with the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet) has wonderfully sharp and precise legwork. In the final act's pas de deux, Jaffe balanced on pointe for ages.
In this cast, Victor Barbee played the Don, and Giuseppe Picone was an impressive Espada. Ashley Tuttle danced the Queen of the Dryads with the requisite grandeur. Her fouette turns in her solo were rock solid. Yan Chen was a delightful Amour.
Ethan Stiefel, dancing on Sunday afternoon, is also a good natural turner like Bocca; and he also showed off his comic gift in the mime scenes. Julie Kent was technically impressive. However I feel that both had room to go deeper in their characterisations.
To me the most satisfying cast was on Saturday night - Irina Dvorovenko (who danced Mercedes in the Jaffe/Bocca cast) and Maxim Belotserkovsky who are soloists of the company. Dvorovenko has a sharp angular profile which makes her look more severe than necessary. But she has high extensions a la Sylvie Guillem, and a formidable technique. Dvorovenko has a powerful jump, and she travels like a javelin in her grands jetes. And she managed best that signature step of Kitri in Act 1 - with her arms nearly touching her rear leg in a grand jete. Her single and double fouette turns in the coda to the final pas de deux were embellished by her turning a red fan with one hand. Yet Dvorovenko also had a vulnerability to contrast her technical prowess.
The corps de ballet of Dryads was fine at every performance. I like the clean wholesomeness of the ABT's ensemble style. My disappointment for this Paris season is the absence of three of its biggest stars - Vladimir Malakhov, Nina Ananiashvili, and Alessandra Ferri - who I gather were present at the ABT season in Tokyo in July.
After this Paris season, the ABT returned to New York for its autumn season at City Center in mid-October.