writers on dancing


Savion's Night

Opening Night Gala
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, NY
May 23, 2005

by Susan Reiter
copyright ©2005 by Susan Reiter

It's the rare performer who appears at the Apollo Theater and the Metropolitan Opera House within the same week. But then, Savion Glover has long been unique in the path he has blazed as his generation's most forward-looking, adventurous and inventive tap dancer. In the wake of "Classical Savion," his recent eye-opening program of tap performed to Bach, Vivaldi and others played by a chamber ensemble, it was not completely surprising to find him interpreting Smetana on the Met stage, wittily and brilliantly partnering with the ABT Orchestra. It was a savvy and altogether successful move by ABT to include him on the gala. His solo could not have been more different from all that came before and after it. Yet as an alternative, vivid display of movement created in response to music, it certainly belonged on an evening devoted to high-caliber dancing.

Glover's five-minute "Pièce D'Occasion" was the major novelty of a pleasant, two-hour gala that otherwise served to (hopefully) whet the appetite for the main events to follow over the coming eight weeks. From the number of evening gowns and tuxedos in evidence, ABT seems to have attracted a sizable crowd for its all-important fund-raiser—which is, after all, the main point of the evening, and the reason the curtain time was set for 6:30 p.m.

The company avoided the usual gala parade of pas de deux, including only one duet in each half of the evening, and to facilitate the mandate to get every principal out on stage, fashioned a "Don Quixote Suite" which closed the program with a flurry of Kitris and Basilios first spelling each other and then coming together in hectic but definitely exuberant finale. Two shorter works from the season's all-Fokine program (opening June 16 for eight performances) were seen in their entirety: "Le Spectre de la Rose" and "Polovtsian Dances."

There were cheers and hearty receptions as fans welcomed back their favorite ABT stars, but the roar that greeted Glover's amazing solo indicated that the well-heeled audience knew it had just seen something special. He opened the second half with his fierce pepetuum mobile of a solo to the Dance of the Comedians from "The Bartered Bride." Dressed all in black in an elegantly casual combination of open jacket over a John Coltrane t-shirt and black pants, Glover looked particularly intent, almost frowning with concentration during the early part of his solo. His feet picked up the galloping rhythms of the orchestra immediately, and proceeded to tease them, inserting some syncopation, sometimes rocking heavily and other times rising onto his toes and scooting across his small raised stage. By then, his occasional sly smile let us in on the good time he was having. Performing right in front of the orchestra, downstage and center, he seemed to be absorbing the sprightly, nimble music and instantly channeling it through his body down to his hyperactive feet. Kevin McKenzie, during his obligatory welcoming speech early in the evening, had explained that Glover had offered to "whip something up" to an appropriate orchestral music selection. This solo had just enough of an improvisatory air to keep things surprising, but left no doubt that he had gotten inside the music and discovered its rhythmic secrets in his own inimitable way.

His inclusion on the program meant that at least one American male dancer appeared during the gala. With neither Ethan Stiefel or David Hallberg (both recovering from injuries) able to perform, ABT's impressive roster of men represented many other nations but not the one the company's name celebrates.

"Le Spectre de la Rose" of course loses a degree of intimacy at the Met, but its set actually looked better than it did at City Center last fall, where the space felt crammed. Herman Cornejo, as the Rose of the young girl's dreams, certainly had no trouble filling the extra square footage with his soaring leaps. He is touchingly pure and scrupulous in this bravura showpiece, and resist some of the more floridly sculptural poses that some have brought to the role. Xiomara Reyes was appropriately demure as the Young Girl, her lovely bourrées making up for her rather pallid presence.

The first New York performance of Frederic Franklin's new staging of "Polovtsian Dances" from Borodin's "Prince Igor" received a hearty performance from its charging, bow-wielding warriors and undulating veiled maidens. It is quite a fashion parade, and Elizabeth Dalton's costumes, after the Nicholas Roerich originals, provided all the necessary exotic flavor. It's the kind of thing that is easier to send up than perform sincerely these days, and when the music reaches the melody that one cannot help associating with "Stranger in Paradise," the level of kitsch gets a bit higher. But as an example of yet another aspect of Fokine's range, within a program of his more profound and enduring works, it has its place.

ABT's "Swan Lake" was represented by the waltz from Act Two followed by the "White Swan" pas de deux. A bit of artful rearranging had the swans dutifully exiting as soon as Vladimir Malakhov arrived to search for his Odette, rather than framing the action as they would in a full performance. Julie Kent appeared to join him, and the made a particularly cool, luminous pair. She let the choreography unfold as naturally as breathing, never forcing any effects, but always imbuing it with a limpidly elegiac flow.

Alessandra Ferri and Julio Bocca form one of ABT's few current solidly established partnerships, one that brings a fervent dramatic conviction—as well solid mutual trust and a mature glow—to what they dance. The Roland Petit "Carmen" pas de deux they performed actually has nothing to do with ABT's current season, but no one in the audience was complaining. This tacky gymnastic exercise looks uncomfortable and thankless to perform, and includes some grappling (presumably intended to appear sensual) that must have inspired some of Gerald Arpino's excesses. Ferri couldn't quite capture the necessary chic allure, but Bocca was convincing as an impassioned, desperate lover. They acted up the necessary storm, and the audience responded happily.

The disjointed array of "Don Quixote" excerpts made little sense, but had a festive flavor appropriate to a gala, and sent one principal out after another in "can you top this" succession. The starry wattage was slightly dimmed by the indisposition of Veronika Part, who was replaced in Mercedes' first-act solo (the one with the matador's picks thrust onto the stage) by Carmen Corella, and Marcelo Gomes, who was to have danced Espada's Act Two tavern solo. Gennadi Saveliev took over and gave a decent performance.

Gillian Murphy was the only Kitri wearing the ruffled Act One dress; she blazed through her staccato solo as though shot from a cannon, with scintillating energy, arching leaps and a sense of pure joy. The others were all costumed for the third act. Diana Vishneva and Jose Manuel Carreno brought proud bearing and juicy phrasing to the adagio of the wedding pas de deux, leading into a flurry of variations by Paloma Herrera, Maxim Beloserkovsky, Carlos Acosta, and Reyes. Michele Wiles and Angel Corella managed to rev up their energy for the coda, and then an additional finale gave everyone a final chance to strut their stuff in with over-emphatic verve. One hopes they were all invited to the gala dinner, because they had clearly worked up an appetite.

Photo on front page:  Len Irish

Volume 3, No. 21
May 30, 2005

copyright ©2005 Susan Reiter



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last updated on May 30, 2005