American Ballet Theatre

'Artemis,' 'Grand Pas Classique,' 'Don Quixote Pas de Deux' and 'The Dream'

by Kate Snedeker

June 25, 2003, 8pm -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York

In the final week of the 2003 Metropolitan Opera House Season, the American Ballet Theatre took a break from its usual full length ballets to present several repertory programs. On Wednesday night, the program, which included Artemis, Grand Pas Classique, Don Quixote Pas de Deux and The Dream, could be described by the old wedding adage “something old, something new; something borrowed and something blue”.

First performed by the Royal Ballet in 1964, Frederick Ashton’s The Dream was “something old,” although it did not enter the American Ballet Theater repertory until last spring. A one-act version of Shakespeare’s famous play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the ballet takes place in David Walker’s magical and cozy forest. On Wednesday night, the performance was led by the stellar original American Ballet Theatre cast: Ethan Stiefel as Oberon, Alessandra Ferri as Titania and Herman Cornejo as a gravity-defying Puck. Ashton’s choreography for the fairy royalty is not one of the strong points of the production, but Stiefel brought new life and energy to Oberon’s solos, his feet flying in the long series of quick beats and changes of direction. Ferri imbued her Titania with the right combination of fairy like delicacy, romantic tenderness and determined power. Although she was not about to give up the changeling boy in the beginning, she was romantic and tender in the final pas de deux.
Herman Cornejo’s Puck was astonishingly high-flying and delightfully impish, a perfect immortal mischief maker. Recently promoted to principal, Cornejo may be short, but he is elegantly proportioned with soaring, sparklingly clear technique.

Ashton’s strength is clearly in his narrative choreography, and Karin Ellis-Wentz, Michelle Wiles, Ricardo Torres and Eric Otto were excellent in the comedic mishaps of the mortal lovers. As Lysander, Torres was especially noteworthy, his fine dancing and mime illuminating both the comic and poignant qualities of the character. Julio Bragado-Young’s Bottom was highly amusing--he proved to have considerable skill in dancing on pointe. Fine performances came from the corps and the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. The costumes were by David Walker, with lighting by John B. Read. Ormsby Wilkins conducted the orchestra in a good performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s score.

Returning to the stage after being premiered early in the session was “something new,” Artemis. Conceived as part of “All Around is Light,” a tribute to Greek culture, the ballet is based on the story of the goddess Artemis and Aktaion, the mortal hunter who becomes the object of her love. Though the story seems ideal for a balletic interpretation, Artemis is hampered by Lar Lubovitch’s uninspired choreography and Christopher Theofanidis’ nice, but undanceable commissioned score.

Taking over in the lead roles, Sandra Brown and Angel Corella danced with power and commitment, but could not rise above limitations of the choreography. Clothed in Ann Hould-Ward’s neutral-colored peasant costumes, Aktaion and his fellow hunters seemed to be restricted to bent-kneed leaps and shaking their bows, though Corella shone in the sequence of pirouettes in second. The most problematic section of the ballet occurs after Aktaion’s transformation into a deer. Most critically, Lar Lubovitch’s choreography was unsuccessful in bringing the movement of a deer to the stage. Deer are graceful, soaring animals, yet the choreography was filled with jagged, bent-kneed steps and awkward, gripped-fist arm movements. Hould-Ward’s costume did not help, as the glittery spotted unitard was unflattering, and the horns were decidedly not deer-like. The ballet was however beautifully framed, the opening image of the nymphs spinning in the darkened stage and the closing image of Aktaion and Artemis posed against a background of twinkling stars, both stunning. The lovely set, with its ingenious rolling trees, was designed by John Arnone, the lighting by Brian McDevitt.

Excerpted from American Ballet Theatre’s full length production, the Don Quixote Pas de Deux represented “something borrowed.” Staged by Kevin McKenzie and Susan Jones after Petipa’s original choreography, the pas de deux is an opportunity for showy bravura dancing, and Paloma Herrera and Julio Bocca did not fail to impress. Attired in Santo Loquasto’s stunning red and black costumes, the pair packed the pas de deux with powerful and energetic dancing. Herrera balanced extra long in attitude and Bocca interlaced soaring leaps into his menage of grand jetes en circle. There were also gasp-inducing moments, as when Bocca seemed to have waited too long before catching Herrera, so that she ended up leaning way over before being able to grasp his hand. David LaMarche conducted Ludwig Minkus’s rousing score.

“Something blue,” Victor Gsovksy’s Grand Pas Classique, set to Daniel Auber’s score, featured the young Michelle Wiles and David Hallberg in elegant steel blue costumes. It’s a showy pas deux, often used in competition, but both Wiles and Hallberg balanced the bravura feats with an elegant, finished technique. Wiles seemed a bit tired in the beginning, coming down early out of her balances in back attitude, but showed no signs of fatigue in her impressive, crisp multiple pirouettes. The tall, blonde Hallberg was both elegant and powerful in his solos. His beats were fast and crisp, showing off his beautifully pointed feet and real bearing. Although one of the tallest dancers in the company, he soared in the full extended grand jetes and assembles. It was a stunning performance and a wonderful display of American Ballet Theatre’s young talent

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