Stars of the 21st Century — International Ballet Gala
New York State Theater
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
New York, NY, USA
February 12, 2007

by George Jackson
copyright ©2007, George Jackson

Gala audiences tend to be greedy. They want it all — quantity, quality, correct technique and images they can take home to dream on.  Fans who weren’t there want to know who won. In my accounting it was the Kirov.

The dancing — projection, flow, punctuation, clarity and vitality — done by Olesia Novikova, one of the Kirov’s two representatives, was extraordinary. The other Kirovian, Leonid Sarafanov, seemed just an iota off top form. Particularly in the first of this pair’s two numbers — Balanchine’s “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux”, Sarafanov wasn’t the supple, carefree youth of just a year ago. Is he acquiring gravitas? If so, he’s not there quite yet. Perhaps his appearance on this evening was due to a transitory mood, a passing fancy. Whichever, the reason didn’t seem to be that he was tired or travel weary and a slight stumble in the “Tchaikovsky” only made him more expansive thereafter. Still, Sarafanov did not outclass himself on this occasion and yet I preferred his display of Kirov training to the dancing of the gala’s other men.

Novikova, I’d not seen better. Last month in Washington she worked hard at being Juliet. “Tchaikovsky” and the pair’s other number, the “Don Quixote” pas de deux (by or after Petipa), allowed her to be herself.  That includes a serious side, and Novikova showed it in her respect for style. In “Tchaikovsky”, not just were the steps Balanchine’s but Novikova became a little daring, wafting thru balances instead of stopping, and also being staccato when that was called for. In the “Don Q”, she hinted at both Kitri and Dulcinea, shining technically — not just when what counted was etched linearity but in the pausing balances and in the surety and abundance of her turns.

This year’s “Tencer” gala featured 4 other couples and two single males. Not unlike Novikova, the Kiev Ballet’s Anastasia Matvienko has a lovely linear body. Her training, too, is basically post-Soviet. It is not, though, Kirov nuanced. Throughout Vaganova’s “Diana and Acteon”, Matvienko’s phrasing as Diana was unvaried and the result was  bland. As Acteon, Denis Matvienko, who dances for both the Kiev and Bolshoi companies, got his prowess by forcing. This pair’s other number, “Radio and Juliet” (by Edward Clug to Radiohead music), is all juxtapositions and jiggles that didn’t test bravura.

From the home team, New York City Ballet, came a pair of compact dynamos — Ashley Bouder and Joaquin De Luz — delivering two Balanchine show stoppers — the “Stars and Stripes” duo and “Tarantella”. Bouder, super quick but able to stop on a dime and look cookie cutter clear, was a bit hard which she’s usually not in regular performances. De Luz produced apt punch and did so without undue forcing.

Passion (in MacMillan’s “Manon” duo) and charm (in Kim Brandstrup’s “Footnote”) were opted for by Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg, the golden couple of Britain’s Royal Ballet. Their teamwork is very smooth, but are they becoming too comfy with each other?  Another pair, Hamburg’s Silvia Azzoni and the Paris Opera’s Benjamin Pech, compared and contrasted two passions — that of young love (the “Romeo and Juliet” Bedroom duo) with more experienced love (from “Lady of the Camelias” Act 2), both in Neumeier versions. Azzoni’s lyricism, richly sensual for “Camelias” and girlishly eager for her Juliet, was most appealing. Pech was an efficient but not magnetic partner.

Great male solos exist, but neither Complexions’ Desmond Richardson nor Berlin Stateballet’s Ronald Savkovic, chose one. Savkovic, replacing Munich’s Lucia Lacarra and Cyril Pierre on short notice, brought two numbers of his own devising — “Jack”, which seemed a chance assemblage of steps that showed off his bare legs, and “H2O”, which had more flow. Since this was Savkovic’s New York debut, shouldn’t he have done at least one yardstick solo? Richardson ran circles and flexed muscle in Dwight Rhoden’s “Moonlight” but the piece never met its music, the Beethoven sonata. Rhoden’s “Showman’s Groove”, which let Richardson cut loose in showbiz style, made a little more sense.

This annual event’s hostess, Nadia Veselova-Tencer — blonde hair swept back, dressed in a low, long, simply cut, black gown — had used her proper, Russian-accented  English to welcome the audience. Before each of the program’s 14 regular numbers, her voice announced the title of the dance, the cast and the names of the dancers’ home companies. Mrs. Tencer also arranged the program’s 15th item, in which all 12 dancers appeared to the Sousa/Kay music for “Stars and Stripes”. This “Defilé” concluded the gala.

Photos, all by Gene Schiavone:
Top, Leonid Sarafanov and Olesia Novikova in the "Don Quixote" pas de deux.
Middle, Anastasia and Denis Matvienko in "Diana and Acteon."
Bottom, Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg in Kim Brandstrup's "Footnotes."

Volume 5, No. 8
February 19, 2007

copyright ©2007 by George Jackson

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