Dancing With the Stars: American Ballet Theater Shines With Talent at Every Level

We’re back to the Ballets Russes

In no small part due to him, ABT has for a long time now been recognized as ballet’s number-one residence for male stars. With his retirement, and that of Angel Corella only a week earlier, the male contingent may seem to have been depleted, but it’s actually as strong as ever, thanks to those three extraordinary and dependable stars, David Hallberg, Marcelo Gomes and Herman Cornejo—all different yet all compelling and appealing, and none of them Russian.

Don’t worry, though—the Russians are coming. The virtuoso Ivan Vasiliev, Osipova’s partner, is an ex-Bolshoi throwback to the old-time hotshot: amazing leaps, splits, pirouettes; the whole competition vocabulary. Is he Nureyev, the presiding spirit over this kind of dancing? No, because Nureyev also had a charisma, a sexuality and an artistry that Vasiliev in his early 20s hasn’t yet developed. But for the moment he provides thrills, so no one’s complaining. A couple of other Russian guest artists hover on the list of male principals—Denis Matvienko, Vadim Muntagirov—but since (like Roberto Bolle) they almost never perform, they might as well not be around.

Another Russian-born (but not Russian-trained) dancer in the company is the oddest of the lot. Tiny, blond Daniil Simkin, with his little-boy face—androgynous but not effeminate—has an exactness and a fluency that are a pleasure to watch. But he’s hard to cast, and his stab at the Prince in Swan Lake was a mistake—he simply lacks the amplitude and kept getting lost in the crowd. (Isabella Boylston, though—his Odette-Odile, also making a debut—demonstrated why she’s a leading contender for ballerinadom among the up-and-coming young women. Already admired for her brilliant jump and strong dance intelligence, she had thought and felt her way into the role, giving us a vivid if not definitive reading of it.)

The young Cory Stearns, rushed to prominence in the wake of gushing reviews, continues to baffle. Yes, he’s a very pretty guy (that may explain things), and yes he’s capable. But what does he have to tell us? Nothing yet, so far as I’m concerned. I’m more focused on two men still in the corps: the powerful, dramatic Roman Zhurbin (a terrifically menacing sorcerer, the Hallberg role, in Firebird) and the very young but elegant and charming Joseph Gorak. And the company has just promoted to soloist another pretty guy, Alexandre Hammoudi. With him added to Salstein and Simkin, along with the omnipresent (and omni-useful) Jared Matthews, Sascha Radetsky and Gennadi Saveliev, ABT has that essential element of a classical company, a gang of first-rate male soloists.

In fact, the present ABT company is filled with accomplished dancers on every level. Among the women, Sarah Lane continues to reveal elegant classical style—will she ever get a big break? Stella Abrera, Kristi Boone, Misty Copeland, Yuriko Kajiya, Simone Messmer and Maria Riccetto are all solid, and frequently more. And the corps is in good shape—always reliable and occasionally inspired. In other words, the texture of the company is impressively sound and engaging.

Only the repertory remains a problem—the annual Spring Parade of the Warhorses marches on; the Met audience must be fed its Swans and Wilis and bayadères and pirates. This year we had the vacuous Onegin back, but I had only myself to blame for going to it. We had Ratmansky’s hotly disputed Firebird and his joyous romp, The Bright Stream. We had two 20th-century masterpieces: Apollo (inadequately paced and interpreted) and Ashton’s masterpiece, The Dream, giving us Murphy and Hallberg at their very finest. And of course we had the Russkis. It’s painful to compare the substantial if mixed blessings of this lively season with City Ballet’s dispiriting one across the Plaza.

editorial@observer.com