writers on dancing


A Salute to Fokine

Fokine Program
American Ballet Theatre
Opera House
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, DC
Saturday afternoon, February 5, 2005

by Clare Croft
copyright © 2005 by Clare Croft

Onstage Julie Kent appears inhuman, clearly descended from a line of fairies—or sylphs, as was the case Saturday afternoon. From the moment the curtain rose on “Les Sylphides’” opening tableau, Kent projected an image of supernatural delicacy. Standing next to Poet Marcelo Gomes, Kent bowed her head slightly, torso forward, drawing a line from head to foot that foreshadowed the romantic swoop of the entire ballet.

While Kent deserves credit for her beautiful portrayal of the sylph, the person most deserving acclaim during ABT’s Washington run is early twentieth century choreographer Michel Fokine. Primary choreographer for the Ballets Russes, Fokine revolutionized ballet. The Fokine program, which received its second performance Saturday afternoon, proved to me why so much of my time in dance history classes focused on his work. Newly revived by ABT, the work clearly shows Fokine’s revolutionary ideas about ballet and the company has danced it in such a way that the choreographer’s brilliance shines.

“Petrouchka,” danced in the matinee by Angel Corella, with Erica Cornejo as the Dancer and Isaac Stappas as the Moor illustrated each of Fokine’s five principles so well (the ideas he outlined in his 1914 letter to the London Times) that it survived less than ideal dancing. In particular, Cornejo seems miscast, especially in comparison to Amanda McKerrow’s excellent performance Friday. (This is the exact opposite of the more oft occurring scenario these days: when really good dancers raise the level of lackluster choreography.) Every step and mime throughout contributes to the development of the plot and its characters. When Cornejo entered Petrouchka’s room, Corella’s burst of jumps demonstrate his uncontrollable excitement at her appearance. His entire body communicates his emotional state.

As much as the ballet focuses on the three dolls and their master, the charlatan, (Kirk Peterson), the crowd scenes are awfully brilliant too, displaying Fokine’s idea that the ensemble is as important to the ballet as the soloists. The incorporation of character dance in the later crowd scene sets mood, rather than breaking the flow of action as character dance does in classical ballet. And in the opening, the competition between streetdancers Maria Riccetto and Misty Copeland aptly sets up the theme of competition that drives the entire story. (Riccetto is a dancer worth watching. She brought crispness to her streetdancer and expressiveness Friday in “Les Sylphides’” Prelude.)

Finally, Alexander Benois’ sets and costumes show how Fokine allied choreography with the other art forms. The sets, particularly the wolf-like black monsters on one screen match the ballet’s content: at once colorful and enchanting, but also dark and sad.

History lesson aside, Corella gave a surprisingly nuanced performance as Petrouchka, dispensing with his virtuosic heroics in favor of dancing better suited to the love stricken doll.

Overall Saturday’s cast was slightly weaker than Friday’s, but other than Kent, Gomes and Corella, the performance relied on younger dancers. Danny Tidwell and Riccetto danced “Le Spectre de la Rose.” Tidwell a bit tentative in some of the ballet’s bursts, but his long lines made him a rose with an attractive repose.

Program closer, “Polovtsian Dances” rode on the energetic dancing of Sascha Radetsky, in the role of Warrior Chieftain, but the ballet, originally part of the opera "Prince Igor" feels like an excerpt.

In corps work, Saturday’s "Les Sylphides" cast improved upon Friday’s performance. Friday their arms seemed unconnected from their bodies, making some of the work’s dated port de bras look pasted on, but Saturday their torsos engaged more, making the choreography look more genuine.

Photo on the front page by Rosalie O'Connor.

Volume 3, No. 5
February 7, 2005
Copyright ©2005 by Clare Croft


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last updated on February 7, 2005