A Weekend of Song and Dance: Unflagging Invention in an All-Taylor Evening, and Ellington on Exhilirating Fast-Forward

But Hallberg’s Bolshoi debut was a non-event

Big Cinemas Theater, East 59th Street
10:00 a.m.

A couple of weeks ago, by virtue of the magic of this wonderful series of simulcasts, we got to watch the Grand Gala reopening of the Bolshoi Theater after years of repairs, and it was as tedious as all galas are. Today, we were there in Moscow for the nongala reopening, with a new production by Yuri Girgorovich (his third), of the Tchaikovsky-Petipa masterpiece The Sleeping Beauty. America’s ballet eyes, however, were on neither the Bolshoi nor the Beauty but on the hero of the most hyped dance story of the year: ABT’s superb David Hallberg joining the Russian company, the first time an American has been so “honored.”

Here’s what we learned: nothing. We’ve been seeing Hallberg’s Prince Désiré for years, and although he spoke before the performance of the challenge of adapting to the Bolshoi style, you could have fooled me. What Bolshoi style? Here was the same physical beauty, the amazing elegance of line and grandness of jump; the same modest and pleasing persona. Maybe he had a little more trouble with the partnering (never his strong point), but we can’t attribute that to a change in cultural climate.

The Prince’s role really doesn’t have a lot up for grabs. The hunting scene, which centers on Désiré, has been pruned of its interest; he makes his exciting entrance with a burst of turns and leaps and then we’re distracted by some romping peasants; the minidrama of his relationship with his aristocratic mistress is drained away; we don’t even get noble wolfhounds. And there’s no dramatic opportunity for him after the Vision Scene in his approach to the sleeping castle where Aurora awaits him. Finally, since, as Hallberg remarked in a backstage interview, the third act grand pas de deux—the climax of the ballet—is more or less sacrosanct, all he had to do was slip into it as into a familiar cherished glove.

His Aurora was the company’s leading ballerina, Svetlana Zakharova, and, let’s face it, she’s not a natural in the part. She’s too tall, she’s too devoted to her 180-degree extensions (particularly inappropriate to this essence of classical ballet), she tends to tilt in her supported turns, and she thinks that charm begins and ends with that smile. (Compare her to the radiant and enchanting Alina Cojocaru with whom ABT has recently blessed us.) I detect no inner life or understanding in her. But then the production as a whole has no inner life—no subtext, no dramatic or moral dimension. Instead, it’s about its opulent costumes and its streamlining—everything crammed into two long acts. It just rushes forward; even the well-conducted orchestra never lingers on the greatest of all ballet scores.

The wicked Carabosse does, however, linger, in the person of Devin Savin, who hams it up (even in his curtain calls) in the Bolshoi tradition of male Carabosses, whereas his/her nemesis, the Lilac Fairy, was underdanced and unacted by Maria Allash, who managed to be both heavy and weightless.

So what is Hallberg going to get from his Bolshoi experience, other than a ton of press? Surely he doesn’t want to dive deep into the Bolshoi repertory! Albrecht? Prince Siegfried? ABT supplies him with all the standard danseur noble roles. He can’t want to embarrass himself (and us) with Spartacus. Ratmansky’s The Bright Stream he already performs at ABT. Ashton? Balanchine? Not in Moscow. And the ballerina situation there, now that Osipova has skipped town, is as bleak as it is in New York. Well, he hasn’t quit ABT, and I suspect that he’ll soon be back with us on the same old terms, having enjoyed his big adventure.


A Weekend of Song and Dance: Unflagging Invention in an All-Taylor Evening, and Ellington on Exhilirating Fast-Forward