For the past two months certain segments of the New York population have been gripped with balletomania, all the more intense given the all star lineup that appeared on New York stages this season.
Nursing a nearly broken ankle, I was sidelined from dance class. So I decided to learn from the pros.
For me the fever started in May with Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, rarely seen in the US. Sulkary by Eduardo Rivero transported me to the Caribbean. Yoruba rhythmns combined with jaw dropping leg strength (deep plies held for impossibly long intervals). Sultry Latin moves in Horizonte made me want to to buy a ticket to La Habana (I'm writing a letter to Obama-- lift the ban!) Demo-n/crazy ended with the company holding upside down yoga poses. Supported on their shoulders, their feet jutted up in haphazard angles. The crowd remained silent, waiting for one of the dancers to waiver. None did, so well trained and in control were they.
Then Cuba's classical ballet took over the Brooklyn Academy of Music. There was an artist talk by founder of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and prima ballerina assoluta, Alicia Alonso (she deserves her own post, one will follow). A legend who has worked with all the greats (Balanchine, Nijinsky, Massine, Tudor, Robbins, Agnes de Mille), Alonso is now in her nineties. Though her health is failing, she still has a regal bearing. I sat in the audience not twenty feet away (press seats!), and could barely believe I was in the presence of my childhood hero. As a young dancer in the suburbs of LA, I had read her autobiography: how after injury she had spent a year bedbound, unable to dance, practicing all the greats classical ballets in her head (this was before TV).
This was followed by the Ballet Nacional de Cuba: excerpts of Don Quijote, Swan Lake, Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Coppelia, Gottshalk Symphony. Why did they end with the last? Because it had Latin rhytmns? They would have been better served by ending with Don Quijote, the finest rendition of the lot. I had the good luck of being invited back stage. I stood near the wings feeling an exhilaration I had not experienced since childhood: the tense nerves and joyous excitement of imminent performance.
Then American Ballet Theatre season started, a whirlwind of world class performances. Ratmansky's Bright Stream, Julie Kent's 25th anniversary performance in Lady of the Camellias, exquisite Alina Cojocaru, guest artist from the Royal Ballet, in Giselle and Sleeping Beauty (she also deserves her own post, one will follow); fiery, confident, incredibly strong Polina Semionova in Don Quijote (see post: Polina Semionova we love you at the ABT), and delicate, though still phenomenally strong, in Swan Lake, a performance which was the highlight of the season for me (post to follow). Jose Manuel Carreno had been absent most of the season, and he gave his farewell performance in Swan Lake on June 30. Julie Kent and Gillian Murphy joined him in a banner performance, but David Hallberg stole the show with a cunning and devious von Rothbart. And then there was a suprise appearance by the Bolshoi's Ivan Vasiliev in Coppelia, a performance which I unfortunately missed as it had not been announced earlier in the season.
The Royal Danish was also in town performing Bournonville variations, Giselle, The Lesson, and a scene from Napoli. Known for nearly unbroken continuation of the refined classical ballet style as danced in the French court, the men of the Royal Danish stole the show with regal bearing, exquisite extensions, and jumps that were showy enough to command the audience's attention, but without ego.
As if my head were not already spinning, the season concluded with the Maryiinsky Ballet (formerly Kirov) of St. Petersburg. The visit began with a performance of Ratmansky's Anna Karenina, almost universally panned by the critics and with good reason-- the music is too somber for dancing. I missed Vishneva's performance, but caught Kondarouva's. Her dancing managed to carry me through to the bitter end. I left wondering whether time is needed for appreciation of this ballet, but I have my doubts. The Maryiinsky's final performance on Saturday made up for the ill-fated Anna. It was a double bill of the Little Hump-Backed Horse at matinee, a light-hearted Russian fairy tale that I enjoyed along with the Russian children and round babuskas in the balcony. And then in the evening: Ulyana Lopatkina in Carmen Suite! Fiery! Sultry! Sexy! Ill-Fated! Formerly banned in the Soviet Union! I had only seen her in videos, but the power of her dancing extended far into the upper reaches of the house, which is where I sat.
This season will remain with me always. It brought me joy at a time when I could not dance, and when my living situation had less than to be desired. Now, back in my Washington Heights apartment, the balletomania still with me, the bass from my downstairs neighbor shaking the floor, my ankle on the mend, I can't wait to get back in the studio.