Julie Kent and Roberto Bolle in the Lady of the Camellias pas de deux © Gene Schiavone
Julie Kent and Roberto Bolle in the Lady of the Camellias pas de deux
© Gene Schiavone
 American Ballet Theatre’s second program of their tour is the All Star Gala, not just a star-studded pas de deux evening but those pieces sandwiched between two one-act pieces. The gala opened with George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations and closed with Alexei Ratmansky’s Piano Concerto no. 1, both brilliant embodiments of music into choreography and showing the ability of the company’s corps de ballet dancers as well as the principals.

Balanchine’s Theme and Variations is a love letter to Tchaikovsky’s music, the beauty of the music itself visible in the movements and the symmetrical placements of the corps. But it is also a technically hard-boiled ballet with high-adrenaline solos – one of the most demanding ones, although the piece is only 23 minutes long.  Daniil Simkin, the wunderkind known for his pyrotechnics, performed the diagonal solo and combinations of multiple tours en l’airs and turns with such ease. Isabella Boylston's long limbs sailed beautifully to the music. However, Simkin was struggling with partnering Boylston and, as a result, they could not be as musical as Balanchine might have intended. Kudos to the 16 corps de ballet dancers and 8 soloists that decorated this work with both athletic movements and regal beauty paying homage to Imperial Russia. Misty Copeland was a standout of the soloists with her musicality loyal to Tchaikovsky. 

Then come several pas de deux. It is a shame there were no props, but Yuriko Kajiya as Giselle was as light as air, with fluid and eloquent arms, literally floating in Herman Cornejo’s hands, lyrical and warm. Cornejo executed virtuoso leaps with the elegance of a prince as Albrecht. Hee Seo’s charms as Aurora portrayed such sweetness of a fresh rose and Alexandre Hammoudi, back from a major injury was a gallant partner. Ivan Vasiliev cancelled his appearance and Natalia Osipova danced the 2nd act solo from Manon, displaying her strong pointe technique and bold interpretation to the role. And Roberto Bolle was sparkling as Armand in Neumeier’s Lady of the Camellias, magically manipulating the fragile Julie Kent with his splendid partnering, and showing such steamy passion that almost created visions of white flames.

The evening closed with Ratmansky‘s Piano Concerto no.1, set to Shostakovich’s music. The décor designed by George Tsypin were inspired by Russian avant-garde design: hammers, stars and bolts hanging in the back, with red and gray costumes (designed by Keso Dekker) symbolizing Soviet ideologists were highly effective. Ratmansky shows his unusual gift as an innovative choreographer, by making use of the formations of corps de ballet effectively. There were circular groups of male and female dancers, all the corps males lifted the women overhead in beautiful shapes, and, marching diagonally, one principal woman and a gang of 4 male dancers performed much athletic work. The vivid usage of the corps fit perfectly with Shostakovich’s several dialogue-like motifs, such as piano solos and trumpets.

Skylar Brandt in Piano Concerto no. 1 © Rosalie O'Connor
Skylar Brandt in Piano Concerto no. 1
© Rosalie O'Connor

The two female leads, Gillian Murphy and Skylar Brandt, were both stunning and strong, and although in the first half they appear separately, they show a bond between the two of them as they circle around the stage chasing one another in fast movements like ice skating. Cory Stearns soars high and virtuosic with clean landings, but the revelation of the evening was Gabe Stone Shayer, a corps dancer displaying eye-popping split leaps and crisp brisés volés. The symmetrical pas de deux of the two couples are unique in the way that the female dancer supports the pirouettes of her male counterpart. This is a work which visualizes Shostakovich so freshly with its creative and unusual structure, and the accelerating and dashing finale displayed sheer festive delight. Such a brave and inspiring marriage of movements, music and art, allows us to feel how Ratmansky brought in creative and positive atmosphere to the company. The piano played by Barbara Bilach and Trumpet by Jin Ueda were eloquent, making the piece even more enjoyable.