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BWW Review: AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE's 2016 Spring Gala Offered a Delightful Sampling of the Season's Repertoire

On the evening of May 16th 2016 at the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center, the beloved troupe that was recognized as "America's National Ballet Company" in 2006 by the United States Congress proved once again that the American Ballet Theatre is indeed a treasure. Dancegoers in dazzling formal attire were treated to a Spring Gala that eschewed traditional staples and showcased instead an appetite-whetting smorgasbord of excerpts from the spring season as well as a world premiere and the one-act Firebird.

The opener was the Hunt Scene from Sylvia, with choreography by Frederick Ashton. Maria Kochetkova replaced the injured Gillian Murphy in the title role that was originated by Margot Fonteyn. Kochetkova did a creditable job both technically and artistically as she led her band of archers to the iconic music of Leo Delibes. Reportedly, Tchaikovsky was so impressed with Delibes' score that he said, "Had I known Sylvia existed, I would not have dared compose Swan Lake!" David La Marche conducted.

After a charming "apron speech" by Artistic Director Kevin Mackenzie, the Vision Scene from The Sleeping Beauty by the company's Artist-in-Residence Alexei Ratmansky was for me a less satisfying experience. I saw the entire production last year. At the time, Ratmansky's decision to have the dancers revert to an outmoded level of technique in an effort to be historically correct did not work for me. That remains true, especially since there is no program note about that choice. The audience members, unless they've done some previous research, are left to wonder why Hee Seo as Princess Aurora does her chainé turns on demi pointe even though she's wearing pointe shoes and raises her arabesque leg far below the height of which she's capable. However, I applaud the fact that this excerpt was not an expectable one. I also give a tip of the hat to Cory Stearns, who did his princely best as Désiré. Charles Barker conducted.

Next up was a charming pas de deux from Frederic Ashton's version of La Fille mal gardée to the music of Ferdinand Hérold. Isabella Boylston and Jeffrey Cirio were masterful and endearing as they manipulated a length of ribbon that alternately entwined one or both of them. At one point, they made the "cat's cradle" many us remember from the childhood string game. The audience let out a collective "Aw!" and applauded.

After that, the highlight of the performance was Alessandra Ferri in Requiem with choreography by Kenneth MacMillan to the music of Gabriel Fauré sung by the superb soprano Ying Fang. Ferri officially retired from the stage in 2007 at the age of 44. I saw that performance and yearned even then for her to make a comeback. She has done exactly that. Now 53, she is as exquisite as ever. She will be dancing her acclaimed interpretation of Juliet in ABT's production of Romeo and Juliet on June 23rd opposite Herman Cornejo as Romeo, an event I hope not to miss!

The performance continued with the world premiere of Serenade After Plato's Symposium with choreography by Alexei Ratmansky to the score of the same name by Leonard Bernstein. I was encouraged to see that Ratmansky keeps extending his artistic reach. This ballet, with seven men and one woman, is sometimes witty and always engaging as the dancers execute demanding steps and innovative patterns while also projecting emotions.

After an intermission, Ratmansky's full-length one-act Firebird took me by surprise. I gave this version of the ballet, to the stirring music of Stravinsky, a less than favorable review back in 2012. Looking back on that, I'm wondering whether Ratmansky has tinkered with his creation since then. In any case, I've now been completely won over. Also, Misty Copeland as the Firebird was magical and Cory Stearns as the evil Koschei was chillingly perfect. The gentleman seated next to me whispered that he had never been to a ballet before in his life, but that he enjoyed Firebird and the whole program so much that he will now become a regular at ABT's performances. Bravo, ABT!

Photo by Gene Schiavone

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