Dance Review: BalletMet Global Dance Stars Gala

BalletMet opened their 2012-2013 season last night with a gala of dance from companies all around the world, in tribute to the company’s departing Artistic Director, Gerard Charles. 

The evening, intended or not, broke itself nicely into themes. The first was Swans, in various guises. The evening opened with BalletMet’s dancers performing the waltz from Act I of Swan Lake (the hunting party scene), and dancers from Boston Ballet performed the White Swan pas de deux (from Act II of the same ballet). But the highlight of the “swan” theme was undisputedly Greta Hodgkinson of the National Ballet of Canada, performing The Dying Swan

Just seeing The Dying Swan was electric—this is one dance piece that has passed into legend (does anyone perform it any more) as ballerina Anna Pavlova’s piece de resistance. Her last words were “prepare my swan costume.” Unerringly choreographed by Michael Folkine, and set to the music of Saint-Saens, the dance is an elegant, breathtaking account of a swan’s final moments. Hodgkinson hardly seemed human in her stunning port des bras and delicate dancing. It was like watching an apparition dance. Simply stunning. 

The second theme: Love (as you would expect in a program consisting mostly of pas des deux!).  The most important thing I got from this section: Please, PLEASE David Nixon, come to us and put Cleopatra and Wuthering Heights on our company!! Both of these, set to the incomparable music of Claude-Michel Schonberg (Yes, THAT Claude-Michel Schonberg!) were brilliant. Martha Leebolt and Tobias Batley (who is also a very lovely tweeter!) perfectly portrayed sets of tempest-tossed lovers seperated by millenia—Mark Antony and Cleopatra (the excerpt shown was the famous “pearl drinking” episode and resulting seduction) and Heathcliff and Catherine. The Wuthering Heights excerpt was so perfect—it was the book in miniature, showcasing the back and forth, love/hate relationship between these two immortal characters. Two home runs for the creator of Dracula. (Please, please, BalletMet, I want to see these both very soon! )

Another ballet I want to see almost immediately? Stanton Welch’s Madame Butterfly, set on Houston Ballet. The scene—the meeting of Butterfly and Pinkerton. The dancers—superb. Simon Ball, dancing Pinkerton, was definitely younger than we see in the opera, and thus, more appealing (I think). He shows Butterfly what love can be, and she (A glorious Amy Fote) responds to it in ecstasy, her shyness fading as they come together. Inside the packed theater, it seemed like no one was breathing when this excerpt ended (Side note: Are the dancers a couple? Their kissing was real, not air kissing, like one normally sees, and in their bows they were truly affectionate with each other.) 

The New York City Ballet brought Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (one of the pas de deux), danced by Abi Staffoed. While technically proficient, I found the dancing lacking in emotional quotient, and I’m fairly sure this is a Balanchine thing, as opposed to the dancers, because in their second piece, Gershwin Preludes (choreographed by Tom Gold), they were much better. 

Boston Ballet dancers Adiarys Almedia and Nelson Madrigal danced the White Swan pas in the first half of the program. While technically proficient, I found the dancing to lack a certain emotional quality. I wonder if that is just the way it’s danced in Boston, because they certainly showed both incredible virtuosity and excellent emotion in their second half offering, the pas de deux from Petipa’s Don Quixote. Almedia dashed off 20+ fouettes and double and triple pirouettes without a (seeming) thought, and Madrigal tossed off tours l’air, barrel turns, and other feats of dance as easily as one would turn a page. The two of them were dynamite. 

The evening’s non-ballet offering was two pieces by tap dancer Marshall L. Davis, Jr. Both of them—“Shedding” and “Trying to Keep Up With Mr. Peterson” were danced with verve and aplomb, but I found the latter to be the more enjoyable to watch. 

BalletMet’s dancers closed the evening with a piece from Jazz Moves II– “Pulses, Chords, Passion.” All dancers were excellent, but I especially enjoyed Annie Mallonee and Jimmy Orrante’s pas de deux. Perhaps we’ll see them dance again in Dracula? (I would LOVE to see Mallonee dance either Mina or Lucy. I’ve seen her dance on of the brides before.) 

It was a night of unforgettable dance, and a perfect send-off for Gerard, and a place setter for the season.