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American Ballet Theatre

'Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes', 'A Month in the Country', 'Symphony in C'

by Colleen Boresta

May 22(m), 2013 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York, NY

This week American Ballet Theatre is presenting four performances of a mixed bill. This is rare for the company’s spring season at the Met. Three act story ballets are usually needed to fill the 4,000 seat Metropolitan Opera House. The fact that two of the works on the program are classics choreographed by Frederick Ashton and George Balanchine translates into pure joy for the ballet lover.

Wednesday afternoon begins with ‘Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes’. It is a light playful piece choreographed by Mark Morris to piano pieces by Virgil Thomson. All the young cast of corps members and soloists acquit themselves well, but the real standout is Joseph Gorak in the role created for Mikhail Baryshnikov. Gorak impresses the audience with leaps and turns that are very natural and unforced. He also has spot on timing and masterful musical phrasing. I do not understand why Gorak has not yet been promoted to soloist at ABT.

The second ballet is Frederick Ashton’s ‘A Month in the Country’, a 44 minute distillation of Ivan Turgenev’s five act play. I have only seen ‘A Month in the Country’ once – when the Royal Ballet performed it at the Met in June of 1981. I have never forgotten that stellar performance with Marguerite Porter as Natalia Petrovna and Anthony Dowell as the tutor Beliaev. All these years I have wanted ABT to dance Ashton’s last masterpiece and finally my prayers have been answered.

The ballet is set in the 1850s at the country home of Yslaev and his wife Natalia. Natalia is a bored young woman who loves the gifts she gets from her husband and flirts with her admirer Rakitin. The family unit also includes Natalia and Yslaev’s young son Kolia and their teenaged ward Vera.

Beliaev, an attractive and outgoing young man, is hired as a tutor for Kolia. All the women in the house fall under the tutor’s spell – Natalia, Vera and even the maid, Katia. Beliaev is a happy go lucky innocent who does not yet understand the power he has over women. Natalia sees Vera confessing her love for the tutor and in a fit of jealousy slaps her young ward.

 

When Beliaev sees how Natalia feels about him, he declares his love for her. Vera overhears this and, in a childish fit of rage, tells the entire family of Natalia’s duplicity. Natalia denies Vera’s claims, but Rakitin insists that he and Beliaev both leave so the family can heal. Beliaev returns for a brief second to kiss the hem of Natalia’s gown. Then Natalia is left entirely alone.

ABT’s production of “A Month in the Country’ is simply perfect. The scenery and costumes by Julia Trevelyan Oman are gorgeous. Chopin’s music fits Ashton’s choreography seamlessly. John Lanchbery has done a magnificent job of arranging the Chopin pieces into a coherent whole.

The cast is beyond compare. As Kolia Arron Scott is all high energy leaps and spins. Simone Messmer’s maid, Katia, is saucy and sassy even though she doesn’t seem to do any cleaning. Sarah Lane’s Vera is a teenager full of hormones and dreams. Both Roman Zhurbin as the husband Yslaev and Roddy Dobble as the admirer Rakitin do very little dancing but their acting is first rate.

As the tutor, Beliaev, David Hallberg shows what a sensational actor he has become. Beliaev is by no means a prince or even an aristocrat. He is a young man full of life who is not fully aware of how attractive he is to women. He does fall in love with the older, glamorous Natalia. With the help of her admirer, Rakitin, Beliaev grows up enough to understand that a relationship between Natalia and himself can never be.

As the bored, unhappy Natalia, Hee Seo is a revelation. Her acting is subtle, but she makes the audience fully aware of everything that Natalia is thinking and feeling. It is a touchingly beautiful performance. I don’t understand why ABT only has two casts for ‘A Month in the Country’. I think both Diana Vishneva and Polina Semionova would be perfect as Natalia. Hopefully they’ll dance it next year. Even more so I want to keep seeing ABT’s ‘A Month in the Country’ for many years to come.

The afternoon ends with George Balanchine’s ‘Symphony in C’. ‘Symphony in C’ is a perfect ballet. It has gorgeous music composed by Georges Bizet (when he was only seventeen years old), choreography which perfectly matches the music, glorious white tutus for the ladies and incomparable dancing.

In the first movement Stella Abrera impresses with her sparkling footwork. Eric Tamm is her attentive partner with a very clean line. I don’t know why ABT has not promoted Tamm to soloist by now.

As the ballerina in the Adagio segment, Polina Semionova is sublime. She has a splendidly pliable upper body and can perform arabesques that seem to go on forever. Marcelo Gomes, as always, is her perfect partner.

The third section is rich with ebullient leaps and jumps. At first Ivan Vasiliev seems to have a few problems with the speed of the choreography. He huffs and puffs a bit, but soon adjusts to the pace of the movements. Natalia Osipova is perfect throughout the Allegro Vivace section.

In the last movement Simone Messmer impresses the audience with sharp, precise turns. As her partner, Jared Matthews also does a good job. Then the dancers from all four movements join together for a memorable finale. I am pleased to see that ABT dancers perform ‘Symphony in C’ at the same speed as New York City Ballet dancers. Very few ABT company members have been trained in the Balanchine style, but the way ABT performed ‘Symphony in C’ on Wednesday would have made the old master proud.

Again, another momentous afternoon at the ballet!

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