I don’t know how one normally faces the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, but for me there was an astonishing amount of fear involved. By no means did I think ABT would disappoint—and they didn’t—just that even in reward there is still an element of fear. I liken it to graduating or winning a Nobel prize…on the day of the award ceremony all the work has already been done, but that doesn’t mean your stomach isn’t in knots leading up to the moment when you get that diploma or medal in your hands. Looking back on how difficult things have been in my personal life, from giving up on graduate school, forsaking what I spent years on studying as an undergraduate, to moving across the country with the hopes that I could learn more about dance completely on my own, to working myself to the bone so that I could eke out a living…it has all brought me to this day and I’ve decided that I had every right to fear it, out of sheer amazement that it did in fact happen. I can’t help but feel overwhelmed.
The day started out with a class at Steps on Broadway, yet another bulb on the string of lights that comprises the dancer’s rites of passage, and that was a somewhat rough experience. My expectations were that the class would be crowded and I’d fumble but manage to get through it, but I had no idea I’d freeze like a deer in the headlights! Sure, there were ABT principals who took barre standing right behind me, but I don’t think I was star-struck (having PNB dancers drop in on open classes in Seattle may have helped to desensitize me to it—over time). I think it came down to dancing in a new city, with a new teacher, with no friends in the class, which stripped me of a confidence that I wasn’t fully aware of, and despite what I told myself internally, my body responded to my emotions. It wasn’t pretty…dancing like a nervous wreck looks a lot like just that—a wreck, and it was so weird to feel like I was telling my legs to do one thing and not be able to feel them doing it! There are people who can will themselves to get through such things without a problem (we tend to call them professionals), but it certainly was a humbling reminder of the courage dancers summon every time they put themselves on stage for everyone to see. Interestingly enough, sometimes we may never know the extent to which a dancer rises to the occasion because they so often deliver what is demanded of them.
With that in mind, I can relay the wonderful news that ABT’s production of The Dream was perfection! And this comes from an Ashton enthusiast who watched the film of Anthony Dowell many, many, MANY times before today. Of course there are certain things that I would have preferred, but they were just that—a matter of preference. Overall, The Dream wove a spell that simply couldn’t be broken and I think Ashton smiled upon us tonight. I do enjoy that the Royal Ballet uses a children’s chorus for the vocal parts, which adds a certain charm to the fairy divertissement that contains Titania’s big solo—but I can easily live without it too. Also still missing is the kiss between Lysander and Demetrius during the lover’s confusion scene, reduced to just an emphatic hug, but again, something I can live without (I just think the kiss is funnier). The sets are beautiful and evocative, the costumes wonderful…everything was gorgeous. I couldn’t have asked for more, and I felt so transported into this fantasy that it didn’t even seem like I was watching a ballet anymore. There is something of a consensus among the Twitterfolk that Giselle is a ballet that ABT does incredibly well, and I’d like to submit that their staging of The Dream should be right up there too.
Casting was of course superb, and Marcelo Gomes’s Oberon is so brilliant and so devilishly cunning. Not that you need me to tell you, but everything they say about his acting skills is true, and his technique is also faultless. The make-or-break moment is of course the scherzo, and a few steps were altered from what Dowell originally did, though the choreography is so virtuosic it’s almost like a variation anyway. If I had to nitpick—and I really mean absolutely forced to do it—I did miss one little detail where at the end of Oberon’s first entrance, he does a pirouette and finishes it by diving forward into an immediate penché, a precarious move that could easily end in a faceplant. I had a teacher (she knows who she is) give us this death-defying stunt in class once and I remember my hands became well acquainted with the floor that day. Marcelo ended in an arabesque—something he happens to be very good at I might add, for those of you who have seen his Von Rothbart—but when all is said and done, I do prefer clean dancing and though the penché enhances a dramatic hit in the music and perhaps inflates Oberon’s ego, the effect isn’t entirely lost. In fact what I was most impressed with by Marcelo’s scherzo was how he wove in and out of the music, at times bending it to his will, highlighting his power as the king of the forest. During the manège of tour jetés en tournant, that tricky guy inserted an extra turn coming out of one of the jumps and somehow managed to find the time for an extra step in an already brisk dance.
Having watched The Dream every other day of my life you’d think I wouldn’t be surprised by anything, but seeing it live added such wonderful dimensions to my understanding of it. I used to think Oberon was just a selfish brat, but the way in which Marcelo simply spied on the lovers made me sympathetic towards him, because despite his power and regality, Oberon desires the love that Lysander and Hermia have for each other in effect, wanting to be human. One of the keys to great story ballets is characters we can relate to and although Oberon is mythical, we respond quite easily to the idea of quarreling with a lover, but beneath the surface we also respond to the jealousy and longing he feels. After all, despite his cruel prank on Titania, he does have a sense of justice in righting the wrongs between the four lovers. He could’ve easily left them to their own devices once he got what he wanted, but does in fact absolve their issues before his own. Watching it live also seemed to paint more hues into this watercolor of love, making it messy, wounded, repaired, confusing, imperfect, selfish, unreciprocated, manipulative, beautiful, and a slew of other adjectives that we all have used to describe love at one time or another. We see so much of ourselves in The Dream that it’s virtually impossible not to follow the story with incredible ease.
Meanwhile, Julie Kent was stunning as Titania, a picture of elegance with a hint of sass. Though I never doubted her talents, I feel lucky to now know why she is so beloved by the New York audience. Daniil Simkin was also a fun Puck to watch, with a wonderfully airy, playful quality. Simkin is so light on his feet I couldn’t hear a sound when he landed from a jump, and he is entirely believable as a slippery, wily elfin creature. Kenneth Easter was great as Bottom, and I enjoyed all four lovers immensely (Adrienne Schulte as Helena, Kristi Boone as Hermia, Gennadi Saveliev as Demetrius, and Roman Zhurbin as Lysander). Between the above roles and the four fairies Cobweb, Peaseblossom, Moth, and Mustardseed, I have to say that Ashton really did well to create such fine dancing roles, and incorporate them seamlessly into a one-act ballet, while giving so many the chance to shine. I think any accomplished dancer can be proud to dance any role in The Dream, and though the following generalization may come back to bite me in the ass someday, I also kind of think that it’s a ballet that would be difficult to look awful in. And just so we’re clear, I’m not looking to be proven wrong about this! With an obvious bias for the genius of Ashton, it’s how I felt leaving the opera house today.
As for Ratmansky’s Firebird…well, it ended up being essentially what I was afraid of and unfortunately I’m not one who enjoyed it, though a second viewing may (but probably won’t) change that. Still, I have reservations with writing about it in a euphoric state because I don’t want to end on a sour note. Already odd references to tube worms and a Muppets version of Balanchine’s Jewels (which, for the record, is an observation I made, in case Eric Taub steals it!) are invading my mind, so let us (well, at least me) dream of fairies tonight and I’ll talk Firebird tomorrow. Just to give a little snippet though, I did think Isabella Boylston was both impressive and enchanting.
So, good night, with lullaby.
P.S. I did go to the stage door today, though I cheated and went after most of the dancers had left. I think I’m going to do it for real tomorrow!