Last week, when I learned that Skylar Brandt would substitute for an injured Maria Kochetkova in Le Corsaire, I had to buy a ticket. This news generated a lot of excitement in ballet fan circles that I haven’t seen in regards to ABT in quite some time. The production cast was top rate and all performed fabulously.
In regards to the ballet in general, this was the first time I’ve seen it (give or take the variations clips posted on Youtube). I have to admit, it won’t be a favorite of mine in the future. The score of the ballet is composed of music taken from various composers and thrown into a mish mash. There is no dramatic weight to it at all. Except for the famous set piece (Nureyev’s calling card) in Act II, the music is unmemorable. Conductor Ormsby Wilkins had many problems with tempo especially during the Gulnare and Medora variations. He was playing the orchestra at Russian Ballerina Diva speed when Brandt and Lane were dancing at tempo as written by the composers. During the pirouette sections, Wilkins neglected to emphasize the percussive elements of the orchestra to give the pirouettes the added musical oomph. There was no build up to a climax from Wilkins in the music, so the lovely, quick pirouettes, chaines and fouettes performed by Brandt and Lane ended up looking flat. I often wondered if this mess was upstaging on the part of Wilkins. Especially when Skylar Brandt actively fought against him during her Act II variation. She eventually forced him to pick up the tempo even as he was trying to force her to slow down. For a section or two both of them were off beat. Things that make you go hmmmmmmm.
As I’ve stated before, the casting of last night’s show was first rate. It was filled with all the up and comers in ABT’s ranks and showed that the company is not shallow in regards to talent. It is such a shame that it has ignored them so long for guest stars.
The Odalesque trio was performed by Cassandra Trenary, Katherine Williams and Catherine Hurlin. All of them were fantastic. There were a few wobbles from Williams and Hurlin. Out of the three, Trenary was the most polished. But their performance drew loads of appreciation from the audience. I must admit that I’m growing to like Cassandra Trenary. I once thought she was forced and overly affective in her acting. But I think she definitely pulled back to let her natural grace shine.
Sarah Lane was gorgeous as Gulnare. The yellow Tutu in her first set piece suited her and emphasized her dark hair. I think the time that she has spent with Simkin has led to a better understanding between them as partners. They seem very comfortable with one another now. The contrast between them, he so very blond and she is very black haired, looks attractive. Their variations in the first act were wonderful. Lane had a bit of shoe noise, which surprised me. But this was not an isolated problem. There was shoe noise from every female dancer. This surprised me since in the past few productions everyone seemed to have that under control.
Simkin was amazing with leaps and plush landings. He had the audience cheering. As mentioned before, Ormsby Wilkins was a wet blanket of a conductor during Lane’s variation. He broke her momentum and forced her to slow down to accommodate his chosen tempo. She should have held her ground as Brandt did later in the performance. The pas de deux was fantastic. At one point, when Lane performed a first arabesque, then freefalls backwards into Simkin’s arms, Simkin caught her at the last moment before she hit the floor and then swung her back into his arms a bit too tightly in relief. Lane betrayed no hint that anything had been remiss and performed the same move with abandon. That time Simkin caught her too early which revealed that the first catch caused him a bit of fright.
Skylar Brandt’s first entrance was lovely. She was flirty and light. She had lively huge eyes and a bright smile that projected well into the top seats. Technically, everything was fine and betrayed no hint of last minute coaching. She was a bit nervous at first but that didn’t last. This performance clearly demonstrated her star potential and beautiful classicism in form. There was not one over extension, all arabesques were 90 degrees, lovely rounded arms and a relaxed look to her upper body.
Herman Cornejo started out this performance very carefully as if he was measuring how far he could push himself. By the end of the performance he was in good form and partnered Brandt very nicely. Their pas de deux’s in the second act were fantastic. I liked that Cornejo didn’t push Brandt’s assisted pirouette’s into position. There were perhaps a few wobbles in some of the lifts. But nothing that looked hair raising.
Jeffery Cirio shined as Ali the slave. He was among ABT’s most seasoned male stars but he held his own. His solos were all clean and beautiful. Craig Salstein is having a great season, he was again a very welcome presence on the stage as Birbanto. He has a personality that projects and a wonderful sense of humor. It would be interesting to see him in a lead role just to see if that same projection carries over. He looked good when dancing with either Sarah Lane or Skylar Brandt. He did have a lot of chemistry with his partner Zhong-Jing Fang. I was surprised that she held her own against his over the top Birbanto. She is also a dancer to watch.
The Jardin scene in the third act was beautiful, if a bit stodgy to the ballet storywise. The children from the ABT school were very sweet and accomplished. Brandt and Lane looked beautiful.
This performance proves that ABT has what it takes to pull out of the doldrums it is in currently. This company does not need guest stars. It has all the talent if they would just cast them.