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American Ballet Theater

Embraces its challenges this season

L'American Ballet Theater, una de les grans companyies de dansa clàssica del món, tanca amb un gran èxit la temporada anual al Metropolitan Opera House de Nova York

To watch American Ballet Theater today is sometimes to witness ballet history being made. The company ended its eight-week May-to-July season at the Metropolitan Opera House with "Le Corsaire." But in Frederick Ashton's one-act "Dream," the season's most illustrious and perfect production, the company is, from top to bottom, at least as good as today's Royal Ballet (for which Ashton created it in 1964 and which remains the world's foremost specialist in his style). Ballet Theater, in fact, is often better. "The Dream" features exceptional difficulties of coordinating upper-body plasticity with intricate footwork and vivid legwork; Ballet Theater's artists lap up (1) these challenges.

Ashton (1904-88), were he alive to coach them, would probably assign eye exercises to most of the Oberons and all the Titanias (as he did to Anthony Dowell and Antoinette Sibley, his famous first-cast couple in this ballet), and he would most likely cry, "Bend!" and "More!" (his two favorite words in rehearsal) to everybody. Ashton would agree that Herman Cornejo's Puck, a fairy (2) of both earth and air, is the most miraculous account of an Ashton role by any non-Royal dancer since Mikhail Baryshnikov danced in "La Fille Mal Gardee" in 1977.

In most respects the company also dances and acts Kenneth MacMillan's "Romeo and Juliet" at least as well as today's Royal. MacMillan created this for the Royal in 1965, permitting a remarkable divergence of interpretations among his first four pairs of star lovers: Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable, Sibley and Dowell, and Merle Park and Donald MacLeary.

He restaged (3) the ballet for Ballet Theater in 1985. Only this season - with casts (4) including Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes, Gillian Murphy and Cory Stearns, Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg, and Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg - was the ballet once again enlarged by an equally prestigious diversity of interpretations. My guess (5) is that MacMillan would have worked hardest with Vishneva and especially Osipova (who came nearest to changing his choreography), but he would have relished (6) the challenge.

"Romeo" interpretations in recent years have conformed too much to one mold. Every Juliet, when finding Romeo's dead body, now does a silent scream, which used to be peculiar to Seymour alone. No Juliet ever writhes (7) on the balcony like a cat in heat (8) , which used to be a more radical stroke (9) of Seymour's - she once said in interview that was her "rip-off" (10) from Judi Dench's famous Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli's 1960 Royal Shakespeare Company production.

Yet this season's Ballet Theater casts once more shook up (11) and stretched (12) the ballet's dramatic potential. And that doesn't even include the greatest "Romeo" performance of all: Cornejo as a Mercutio full of fantasy and mischief (13) , so persuasively Veronese, at once an educated Renaissance gentleman and a modern rebel, tugging the heart (14) in the brilliance of his musical timing and his dramatic absorption.

Older balletgoers will remember the days when the Royal danced New York seasons at least once every two years between 1949 and 1976; New York was the Royal's second home and the city where Ashton felt his choreography was best appreciated. Today's Ballet Theater has come increasingly to resemble the Royal in its repertory, while the Royal has come to resemble Ballet Theater in its international selection of principals. The main difference is that the Royal retains a more pronounced local style (line, musicality, acting) in which its foreign stars are painstakingly (15) trained.

Other Ballet Theater season highlights also occurred, though intermittently, in performances of Natalia Makarova's three-act version of "La Bayadere." As with David Walker's designs for "The Dream" and Nicholas Georgiadis' for "Romeo," PierLuigi Samaritani's designs are never better than on the vast Met stage, as in his "Bayadere." Yet more remarkable is Toshiro Ogawa's lighting of the famous Shades scene, casting a near-phosphorescent glow (16) upon the legs of the 24 women of the corps de ballet. No company now dances this celebrated scene as well as Ballet Theater.

Yet just look at the famous arabesques those ghost-women do, again and again, as they gradually fill the stage: lovely but mild (17), never beaming (18) into infinity. And when the vision turns three dimensional, and the Shades address the audience in six vertical rows, they even the choreography's dynamic contrasts into a single skim-milk (19) flow. I doubt that Ballet Theater's women have ever danced it better than this season; I just wish Makarova's understanding of the choreography were more sculptural and vibrant.

Alas (20), the Makarova "Bayadere" style - polite and open, emphasizing an underpunctuated legato flow - is also the slightly bland style with which the same corps dances in "Giselle" and "Swan Lake." Only in "The Dream" are Ballet Theater's corps women fully awakened. And the same syndrome applies to the company's women at soloist and principal levels in most of the repertory: impressively accomplished, neither quite Russian nor quite Royal, handsomely anonymous, seldom making the breakthrough into real distinction.

It's a man's company. I applaud the achievements of Isabella Boylston, Misty Copeland, Simone Messmer, Hee Seo and other female soloists who were given big opportunities this season. But when rising young men like Roman Zhurbin (who in some roles is already one of the world's greatest character dancers) and Joseph Gorak (who, despite partnering problems, combines refinement and individuality to a rare degree) take the stage, I feel the very air in the theater becoming more free.

At principal level the luxury of having Gomes, Hallberg and Cornejo in the same roles (or sometimes two of them in the same ballet) is phenomenal, even though only in a few ballets do they have choreography remotely worthy of them. Even knocking off standard formulas of jumps and turns, these are life-enhancing artists.

Ballet is principally about femininity: witness essential elements like point work and the one-way system of man partnering woman. At Ballet Theater, however, it's easy to feel that the art has changed its nature.

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GLOSSARY

1. to lap up: acceptar amb entusiasme

2. fairy: fada

3. to restage: portar de nou a l'escenari

4. cast: repartiment

5. guess: estimació/conjectura

6. to relish: entusiasmar

7. to writhe: retorçar

8. in heat: en zel

9. stroke: cop (de geni)

10. rip-off: còpia

11. to shake up: sacsejar

12. to stretch: portar al límit

13. mischief: malifeta

14. to tug the heart: arribar al cor

15. painstakingly: meticulosament

16. to cast a glow: projectar una llum

17. mild: suau

18. to beam: brillar

19. skim-milk: llet descremada

20. alas: desgraciadament


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EXERCISE 1

Find the following words in the text.

1. The first in importance.

2. The way a dancer moves his/her feet.

3. An actor's part in a play or film.

4. The planned steps and movements in dance.

5. The act of performing in a play.

6. Knowing exactly when something should be done.

7. A person who assiduously attends the ballet.


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EXERCISE 2

Complete the following sentences with the correct words.

1. Ballet Theater, ___ fact, is often better.

2. "Romeo" interpretations in recent years have conformed too much ___ one mold.

3. I doubt that Ballet Theater's women have ever danced it better ___ this season.


ANSWERS: CLICK HERE


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