American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, NY
July 3, 2006

by Leigh Witchel
copyright ©2006 by Leigh Witchel

Even with a weak plot, Ashton's "Sylvia" is an irreplaceable work, not just for the title role created for Fonteyn, but for its mastery of classical set pieces for the corps and Delibes' magnificent score. We're blessed to have it on our shores as well as at the Royal Ballet, but ABT's performance on Wednesday night didn't make much of a case for the ballet.

The problems aren't glaring; the dancers are strong and they're dancing first-rate choreography. But it was a pallid, unintegrated evening.  Worse still, one might think the ballet is at fault.  It's not; the Royal Ballet may have less technical dancers but they're more interesting in "Sylvia".

Paloma Herrera danced the title role. She was most vivid in the Act II bacchanal, where she enjoyed both the feigned seduction of the hunter Orion (Jesus Pastor) and the dancing. In other sections, the harder the dancing, the better she did. The difficult turns to an extension in Act I went off without a hitch, the footwork in her Act III variation was strong. The characterization in Act I has been a problem for other dancers as well; Sylvia’s change of heart towards Aminta happens offstage — how to show it? In that act, Herrera seemed to be working by rote even in the triumphant opening dances.

Angel Corella is a strange choice for a role originated by Michael Somes, a dancer of entirely different virtues. Aminta’s role is sketchy to begin with (he is offstage all of Act II); it needs a dancer who can inhabit it naturally to fill it out. Corella tried to handle the stillness in the role with generic heroism  His variations were strongly danced, but staccato.  Without a handle on the ballet, he danced as if “Sylvia” was about the manège. 

Craig Salstein was comic as Eros, perhaps a bit too jester-like for the god of love. He also hadn’t completely worked out the pacing of the first act: he impersonates a statue most of the act but finally has to move and dance — it destroys the illusion to see a god panting for breath. Veronika Part had a brief role as Terpsichore in Act III.  She can’t help but stick out in the corps dances; she is so singular that perhaps it’s better to use her in principal roles or not at all.

Even in “Sylvia”, ABT looks like a men's company right down to the corps. This is a mixed blessing; the company has more potential soloist men in the corps than it can absorb. This puts pressure to create men’s roles, which would be fine if people were making new repertory — or how about acquiring Ashton’s “Rhapsody”? But for a company that styles itself as a purveyor of the 19th century classics, it provokes unfortunate creations such as the current “Swan Lake”.

It would be delightful to see an Ashtonian “Sylvia” from ABT, but I’d be satisfied to see a “Sylvia” danced in the company style. If only they had one. What we saw on Wednesday night was a hodgepodge of influences that through lack of a point of view never coalesced. There are also restaurants, usually chains in any and every city, where you know the food will be fine, even good. One year, everything is served with chipotle and the next it’s all in green curry, depending on the trends. It’s not really Mexican or Thai, perhaps it’s Mexican-ish or Thai-esque. In the end though, it’s still the same inoffensive chicken breast that you forget by the next meal.

Volume 4, No. 26
July 10, 2006

copyright ©2006 Leigh Witchel



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