Abrera and Part’s three short duets were the highlights of recent ‘Bright Stream’ performances
In her debut Saturday night in Alexei Ratmansky’s The Bright Stream at American Ballet Theatre, Veronika Part showed a delicious and surprising aptitude for comedy as well as farce. (Somewhat similarly, the sometimes dour Paloma Herrera had done well when ABT premiered the ballet last January in Washington.) Yet Part stamped the role with a certain moody intensity we see in her more familiar repertory. This Zina, “amusements organizer” on a Soviet collective farm, stays totally engrossed—perhaps “withdrawn” would be more accurate—in a book in the opening scene despite every attempt made by her husband, an agricultural student, to distract her.
Roving eyes are inevitable. The woman who soon turns her husband’s head is Zina’s old friend from ballet school, danced Saturday night by Stella Abrera. Called simply “Ballerina,” she and her ballet partner have come to the farm to entertain. The two women begin to catch up. By way of demonstrating that her kinetic skills are now rusty Part’s Zina starts turning fouettés but soon finds herself splat on the ground. As yet, Part doesn’t do pratfalls quite as well as Xiomara Reyes, who was Zina in Saturday’s matinee performance. Unlike Part, Reyes has a long history with soubrette comedy roles; I’d seen her dance Zina in Washington. But when plans are laid to disguise identities and entrap the foolish, Part bustles with a Wives-of-Windsor relish for comic conspiracy.
The role is constructed to show off a gorgeous arabesque. Part’s fouetté twists into arabesque were an exemplary demonstration of adagio technique. In terms of dance quality, Abrera and Part’s three short duets—here Ratmansky shows his admiration for Antony Tudor—were the highlights of Saturday’s two Bright Stream performances. They were beautifully danced and coordinated, suggestive of camaraderie in the face of potential conflict.
In the afternoon’s Bright Stream these same duets were danced by Reyes and Natalia Osipova with a little less parity and unanimity. Reyes certainly can jump but, encountering Osipova’s sensational elevation, a bit of trepidation intrudes via the manifest possibility that she might swamp Reyes. But that had its own narrative relevance.
Last year at ABT, dancing her first-anywhere Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, Osipova made a concerted and admirable effort to keep her artillery in check in the interests of aristocratic restraint. Here in Bright Stream, she rightly let rip with both extension and jump, although she wasn’t insensitive to the role’s quieter passages. The role was created for the Bolshoi’s Maria Alexandrova, whose attack and jump are also dauntless. While Abrera is a versatile dancer, I wondered if she had the stamina to field the part, but Saturday night she too easily rode its crest and provided her own shade of swagger.
In the afternoon, Osipova’s Bolshoi colleague Ivan Vasiliev made his ABT debut as Zina’s straying husband. Characteristically, Vasiliev gave a performance that was exciting in its size and spirit and dexterity, but also disconcerting in its recklessness. By type, Vasiliev is a demi-caractère or juvenile virtuoso, but fortunately he wasn’t cutesy.
Alexandre Hammoudi is a different type, an incipient danseur noble. He was Pyotr in the evening: the matinee leads were all short; the evening cast tall. Part and Hammoudi were paired together several years ago in Ashton’s Sylvia, where as Terpsichore and Apollo they did look like residents of Parnassus. But while Hammoudi wisely didn’t attempt the extra fillips of flash that Vasiliev added in the afternoon; nevertheless his first act solo was slipshod. His second act solo was better. Ratmansky’s ballets have done a lot to boost Hammoudi at ABT; more tidy dancing would be a good way to return the favor.
The Ballerina and her partner, called simply Ballet Dancer, get to cross dressing in act 2 to flummox an elderly couple whose vanities they find ripe for skewering. In the matinee it was Daniil Simkin who borrowed pointe shoes and a frothy skirt from the wardrobe of romantic ballet. Simkin had first done the role in Washington. Since then it would appear that he has been told not to throw his leg so high to one side, particularly if he can’t do it as high to the other. It was good advice well taken. Simkin made a more deliberate attempt to recreate romantic style than taller and bigger Cory Stearns, who danced it at night. Stearns instead traded on incongruity, going for flat-out parody. He showed more presence and sparkle than he has in the past.
Shostakovich’s score boomed out of the pit in all its festive cacophony, supplying irresistible dance impulse in the form of marches, waltzes and polkas galore. Today, the skittish overtones in the music certainly register as a reflection of the high anxiety of life in the Soviet Union in the mid-1930s. This week ABT will dance more Bright Streams, with these same as well as other casts well worth seeing.
Read more by Joel Lobenthal at Lobenthal.com