BWW Reviews: Gelsey Kirkland Ballet Stuns at Symphony Space
Gelsey Kirkland Ballet ambitiously presented, per the program notes, an "eclectic program...beginning and ending with ballets by Marius Petipa." Kirkland's dancers gamely accepted the challenging spectrum of movement vocabulary and dynamic effort with a joy that energized the audience. Rather than letting her legacy loom over her dancers, Kirkland sought to include them in it (although a certain confidence is necessary to take on roles synonymous with one's own director). Returning to New York required Kirkland to create a unique, sustainable home for herself. She has done just that by adamantly situating her company as committed to restoring theatrical classical ballet. Classes and training at her institute are described as arduous. Not just because of the physical technique necessary, but the emotive aspect. Kirkland does not delineate physical facility from expressive capacity. Both are needed at high levels but not independently of each other. Seeing her dancers in action helped prove Kirkland's point(e).
Petipa's Raymonda Suite showed the essence of Kirkland's vision for her dancers. She has described pushing them to embrace weight and groundedness that is different from most ballet training. That weightiness allowed her dancers to tackle the furious allegro of Petipa with their feet while exuding airiness in their port de bras and épaulement. The juxtaposition was
presented beautifully so that her dancers were free to engage with the spirit of a Hungarian wedding celebration. India Rose as Raymonda executed stunning bourrées, shifting so cleanly from first to fifth position as she cheekily flitted by. Johnny Almeida gave his best performance of the evening with pirouettes suspended in slow motion that set the tone for the evening.
With Tudor's Leaves are Fading Pas de Deux, Kirkland introduced her most stunning dancer, Dawn Gierling. Similar in frame to Kirkland, Gierling breathed the moments of stillness into life. The sweeping falls of Tudor's masterpiece require tremendous partnership which Gierling and Cristian Laverde Koenig accomplished. With a quiet technique, they moved together, their breath rising and falling in tandem. Gierling's turns a la seconde showed her command of classical ballet but it was her free falling with delightful ease into Koenig's arms that captivated. A teacher once told me that, "when partnering is good, you don't see it, you just see the dancing," and Koenig underscored that.
Kirkland returned to romantic classicism with Bournonville's Ballebille. Here, it became clear that Kirkland's dancers are young racehorses with their exacting petit allegro and jumps. Passionate and sometimes uneven, but one looks forward to their maturation. Kirkland knows how to put on a show, however, and recaptured the audience with Flames of Paris. Bravura dancers Nicole Assaad and Erez Ben-Zion Milatin eagerly strutted their stuff. Again, their youthful energies threatened to overwhelm at times. For instance, Assaad's frenetic fouettés sent her bobby pins flying into the first row. The speed incredible, yet the turns ran away from her a bit. Both filled the stage completely--Assaad with flying piqué turns and Milatin with soaring leaps. Kirkland's eye for partnerships is present, especially with these two dancers in this piece. They give off the "anything you can do, I can do better" vibe with playful competition.
To complete the First Act, Kirkland gave homage to legendary ballerinas in Dolin's Pas de Quatre. A soft tableau of ballet's first ladies, Anastasia Barsukova as Lucile Grahn and Katia Raj as Marie Taglioni emerged from their places in the corps de ballet. Barsukova for her ability to inhabit the soft nuances of early romantic dramas and Raj for her elegant développé. Michelle Katcher as Carlotta Grisi and Nicole Federov as Fanny Cerrito augmented Kirkland's recruiting class. The four blended into each other, showing their commitment to presenting the idealized motifs of ballet icons.
Kirkland took care to end the evening with full-scale excitement in Petipa's comedic Cavalry Halt. Again, Dawn Gierling winsomely achieved victory in captivating the heart of a silly peasant boy assuredly danced by Anderson Souza. Katrina Crawford didn't give up easily, taking delight in wreaking havoc among the cavalry. The Kirkland dancers showed their abilities with room to grow and mature. Throughout a very challenging evening of repertoire, they charged forward with an enthusiasm that filled the theater. Kirkland made her case for her mission and showed that she is not alone in it.
Photo Credit: Luis Pons