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American Ballet Theatre: Les Sylphides, Pillar of Fire, Fancy Free

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American Ballet Theatre

Les Sylphides
Pillar of Fire
Fancy Free

At the
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 11, 2015

(Read More ABT Reviews)

(See a Conversation with Conductor, David LaMarche, on this Season’s Ballet Music.)

Les Sylphides (1940): Choreography by Michel Fokine, Music by Frédéric Chopin, Orchestration by Benjamin Britten, Scenery by Alexandre Benois, Costumes by Lucinda Ballard, Lighting by Nananne Porcher, Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Isabella Boylston, Melanie Hamrick, Hee Seo, Thomas Forster, Skylar Brandt, Luciana Paris, and the Company. Les Sylphides was presented in 1909 in Paris and by American Ballet Theatre on its opening performance in 1940. Performances are with permission of the Fokine Estate. (ABT Notes).

The star of tonight’s Les Sylphides was Isabella Boylston, who danced like a hummingbird in flight, arms undulating, legs elevated in firm extension, dashing with speed and buoyancy. Also in fine form, Melanie Hamrick, a corps dancer in a lead role, drew my eye, with her scintillating presence, clear gaze, and eloquent limbs. However, the third lead, Hee Seo, seemed over-strained, in this opening ballet of Ballet Theater’s 75th Anniversary Season. Ms. Seo was unsteady en pointe, detached theatrically, and somewhat tense in gesture. The recently added, Benjamin Britten orchestration, reconstructing portions of the score, brings out the sumptuous refrains of Chopin with romanticized, rhythmic musicality. Ormsby Wilkins maximized the effect of orchestral reconstruction with subdued pauses and cues for dancers to begin a phrase in silence.

Les Sylphides is a timeless ballet, set under a moon in the woodlands. Thomas Forster, as the sole male dancer, among the female leads and sizeable ensemble, was a bit leaden, lacking dimension and dynamism. Yet, his form and attentive partnering were admirable, and, in the ensemble friezes, that evoke Fragonard paintings of sylphs being pursued by suitors, Mr. Forster, as the iconic dreamer, shone brightly. Ms. Hamrick, in the Waltz, was ethereal, and Ms. Boylston, in the Mazurka, was full of life and lust for the score. She drew eyes like a magnet. Skylar Brandt and Luciana Paris, leading the ensemble, were enchanting. The full ensemble was exotic to behold, with an aura of warmth and ebullience.

Pillar of Fire (1942): Choreography by Antony Tudor, Staged by Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner, Assisted by Susan Jones, Music by Arnold Schoenberg (Verklärte Nacht), Scenery and Costumes by Robert Perdziola, Lighting by Duane Schuler, Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Stella Abrera as Eldest Sister, Gillian Murphy as Hagar, Cassandra Trenary as Youngest Sister, Alexander Hammoudi as The Friend, Marcelo Gomes as The Young Man from The House Opposite, and Melanie Hamrick and the Company as Lovers-in-Innocence, Lovers-in-Experience, and Maiden Ladies Out Walking. This tale of three sisters, one a spinster, one a lonely woman in love, and one a flirt, is set in 1900, when Schoenberg wrote the music used for this ballet score. (ABT Notes).

This always evocative and magnetic, Tudor ballet was quintessentially riveting tonight with Gillian Murphy in the role of Hagar, the middle sister. Her loneliness, longing, and lament, for “The Friend”, Alexandre Hammoudi, were palpable, in tight shoulder lifts and facial angst. Her pelvic contractions, exemplifying sorrow and apparent low self-esteem, in the presence of her flirtatious, younger sister, Cassandra Trenary, were of the genre of the Graham Company. The brief rendezvous with “The young man from the house opposite”, an extraordinary Marcelo Gomes, gripped the Opera House. Sometimes, repertory ballets do not project well at The Met, but tonight each of the three works was showcased gloriously. Tudor was known for his psychologically expressive choreography and elegance of line, and tonight’s cast was highly dramatic. Marcelo Gomes’ cad, exemplified with superb, self-gratifying spins and swagger, won audience acclaim at the curtain. Ms. Trenary was perfectly flirtatious. .

As the Eldest Sister, Stella Abrera maintained a fixed facial frieze, with feigned arrogance, noticeably masking her character’s own tumultuous thoughts. She danced with thick sadness. Melanie Hamrick led the ensemble of Lovers-in-Experience with sexy fervor, whirling with frenzied limbs into the “House Opposite”. In the Corps, Skylar Brandt and Arron Scott caught my eye. Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht filled The Met with tonal torment, a fitting score for this stunning ballet. Ormsby Wilkins led the Orchestra astutely.

Fancy Free (1944): Fancy Free: Choreography by Jerome Robbins, Staged by Jean-Pierre Frohlich, Music by Leonard Bernstein, Scenery by Oliver Smith, Costumes by Kermit Love, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton after original design by Nananne Porcher, Conductor: David LaMarche, Performed by Herman Cornejo, Cory Stearns, and Marcelo Gomes as the Sailors, Luciana Paris, Isabella Boylston, and Leann Underwood as the Passers-By, and Duncan Lyle as the Bartender.

It’s not Spring Season without Fancy Free, sometimes, even, on both sides of the Plaza, and there’s an expanded version now on Broadway, “On the Town”. Bernstein’s music and the stories of three sailors in New York for 24 hours, are not the same, in ballet and Broadway, but they evoke the same retro frivolity. The crème de le crème of Ballet Theater sailors were onstage tonight, Herman Cornejo, Cory Stearns, and Marcelo Gomes. The Passers-By were Luciana Paris, Isabella Boylston, and Leann Underwood. Duncan Lyle was the non-dancing bartender. From the moment the sailors cartwheeled onto the stage, bent their knees, cocked their caps, and started guzzling faux glasses of beer, we were hooked. Mr. Cornejo did his requisite shaking of the hand, but with a new motion this time, as the sailors show off their dance skills to woo the New York ladies. Mr. Stearns’ dance is the adagio, languid interlude, and Mr. Gomes brought down the house, wiggling his hips and rear at the audience. He was less than subtly seductive. Of the Passers-By, Ms. Boylston was most magnetic, with Ms. Paris and Ms. Underwood sultry and sensuous.

David LaMarche kept the Bernstein score bouncy, beautiful, and brisk. I inquired of him about the pre-ballet recorded music, a glimpse of 1944 radio tunes. He wrote that it’s called “Big Stuff”, recorded by Billie Holiday and Dee Dee Bridgewater.

Hee Seo and Thomas Forster
in "Les Sylphides"
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes
in "Pillar of Fire"
Courtesy of Marty Sohl

Marcelo Gomes, Cory Stearns, Herman Cornejo
in "Fancy Free"
Courtesy of Marty Sohl

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