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American Ballet Theatre: Theme and Variations, Duo Concertant, Gaite Parisienne
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American Ballet Theatre: Theme and Variations, Duo Concertant, Gaite Parisienne

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American Ballet Theatre

Theme and Variations
Duo Concertant
Gaîté Parisienne

Metropolitan Opera House

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Rachel S. Moore, Chief Executive Officer
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Ballet Masters: Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova,
Clinton Luckett, Nancy Raffa, Keith Roberts
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
James Timm, Director of Marketing and Brand Management
Susan Morgan Taylor, Manager of Press and Online Media

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 20, 2014

(Read More ABT Reviews)

Theme and Variations (1947): Choreography by George Balanchine, Music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky (Theme and Variations from Suite No. 3 for Orchestra), Costumes and Scenery by Zack Brown, Lighting by Brad Fields, Conductor: Charles Barker, Performed by Polina Semionova, James Whiteside, and the Company.

Presenting Balanchine’s Theme and Variations to a New York crowd, already steeped in Balanchine, from across the Plaza, requires a seasoned and masterful duo. Polina Semionova is one of Ballet Theatre’s finest new Principal ballerinas, yet, tonight, in this important repertory program, she was barely balanced or steady. Mr. Whiteside, not the romantic, charismatic type, more suited for menacing solo roles in fantasy story ballets (like von Rothbart or Caliban), did not add much to the performance. When they were strong, they were sumptuous, but Ballet Theatre could have used this duo better in an Onegin Pas de Deux, or an excerpt from Ratmansky’s recent Shostakovich works. If Marcelo Gomes or David Hallberg had been Ms. Semionova’s partner, there would have been more chemistry, as this duo barely made eye contact, probably a cause for the slips. The lead ensemble was outstanding, with Yuriko Kajiya, Luciana Paris, and Zhong-Jing Fang catching my attention. Zack Brown’s scenery and costumes were exquisite, with colorful tutus and chandeliers. Everything sparkled, except the lead duo, who, as partners, seemed brittle and detached.

Duo Concertant (1972): Choreography by George Balanchine, Music by Igor Stravinsky, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Violinist: Benjamin Bowman, Pianist: Emily Wong, Performed by Misty Copeland and Eric Tamm.

Once again, another familiar Balanchine work, often performed across the Plaza ran into minor complications tonight, but, here, the issues were only technical. The lighting, by Ronald Bates and Mark Stanley, requires a spotlight on a face, a limb, a hand, but tonight that spotlight seemed to seek the dancer or duo more than once. However, this duo, Misty Copeland and Eric Tamm, made that technicality part of the drama, with expertise. This was an exciting performance, with inherent chemistry between partners, and even between partners and musicians. Emily Wong, pianist, and Benjamin Bowman, violinist, played the Stravinsky score with stunning, searing, surreal quietude. When Mr. Tamm kissed Ms. Copeland’s hand, the audience was riveted. In a twist, this ballet, usually danced with more reserve, was dramatic, regal, and elegant, as that’s the nature of Ms. Copeland and Mr. Tamm. There was the image of romance, rapture, and elongated, spotlighted limbs at every turn. In casual confidence, the duo would walk back and forth, stage left, near the piano, or stage right, near the spotlight. Kudos to both dancers and both musicians. .

Gaîté Parisienne ( 1938): Choreography by Leonide Massine, Staged by Lorca Massine, Assisted by Susan Jones, Music by Jacques Offenbach, Arranged by Manuel Rosenthal, Scenery by Zack Brown, Costumes by Christian Lacroix, Assistant to Christian Lacroix: Barbara Matera, Lighting by Steven Shelley. Performed by Hee Seo as Glove Seller, Misty Copeland as Flower Girl, Devon Teuscher as La Lionne, Karen Uphoff as The Lady in Green, Craig Salstein as The Peruvian, Marcelo Gomes as The Baron, Patrick Ogle as The Officer, Thomas Forster as The Duke, Alexei Agoudine as Tortoni, Skylar Brandt as Lead Can-Can Dancer, and the Company as Maids, Café Waiters, Cocodettes, Billiard Players, Soldiers, The Dance Master, Dandies, and Can-Can Dancers.

This 1988 production of Massine’s Gaîté Parisienne was filled with color, dazzling dance, and a multitude of surprises. Overall, it was thrilling, yet, throughout, it was confusing. Midway, I kept looking for the Can-Can dancers, thinking the Cocodettes, who danced up a storm, were dancing a new form of Can-Can. It was late in the ballet when the Can-Can arrived, and they all danced with the same level of sassiness, sexiness, and sultriness. In fact, the program synopsis does not even indicate the arrival of the Can-Can! Was it an after-thought? Of course this is the infamous Offenbach score, with the fantastic Can-Can theme. Years ago, sitting at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, I surely knew when the Can-Can had arrived. Craig Salstein, as The Peruvian, was his over-the-top operatic self, hugely entertaining, but the plot was opaque. The afore-mentioned program synopsis, for this one-act ballet, covers almost an entire page, with sub-plots and unconnected characters.

But, when one thinks of the Can-Can, one thinks of wild abandon, raucous fun, champagne, chandeliers, ruffles, and flirtation. And, that’s exactly what we got tonight in this pizzazz-infused performance. Hee Seo, as the Glove Seller, one of the festive flirts, drew the Peruvian and the Baron like a magnet. Misty Copeland whirled with flowers, Devon Teuscher, as La Lionne, was stunning, and Karen Uphoff was the Lady in Green. Marcelo Gomes, as the under-showcased Baron, was regal and campy, while Patrick Ogle and Thomas Forster were the Officer and the Duke. Alexei Agoudine was someone named Tortoni. Joseph Gorak was a spirited Dance Master, but Skylar Brandt stole the show as lead Can-Can dancer (when they finally appeared) whirling in dervish delight.

Although the fragmented plot was completely elusive, this ballet was joyful and gorgeous. Zack Brown’s scenery was perfectly, retro Parisian, and Christian Lacroix’ costumes were mesmerizing, in patterns and palette, thanks to Barbara Matera. Steven Shelley’s lighting was warm and bright, and Charles Barker kept the rhythms rambunctious. Kudos to Offenbach.

Misty Copeland and Eric Tamm
in "Duo Concertant"
© The George Balanchine Trust
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Hee Seo and Marcelo Gomes
in "Gaîté Parisienne"
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at