Daniil Simkin is already well known in the dance world for his bravura technique. He also, less typically for a dancer, displays unparalleled media savvy and a keen awareness of the business. He seems ubiquitous as he dashes from one festival to the next during breaks from performing with American Ballet Theatre. With INTENSIO, a program of new dances he commissioned, Simkin is clearly making a major move. These star-driven shows are on the rise and we’ve seen several of them in the last few years but Simkin seems to be reaching for something more, making a serious attempt to become an impresario. With his ability to draw top notch talent to perform with him it should be fun to watch as he moves forward.

Daniil Simkin © Yi Chun Wu
Daniil Simkin
© Yi Chun Wu

For the record, INTENSIO includes Céline Cassone of Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal and from ABT, Isabella Boylston, Cassandra Trenary, Hee Seo (who didn’t perform in this show), Alexandre Hammoudi, Calvin Royal III, James Whiteside, Blaine Hoven and Simkin. Cherry pick a terrifically talented bunch of dancers like this and it’s a guaranteed, can’t-miss evening of entertainment. It’s probably only a slight exaggeration to say that you could sell tickets just for the opportunity to watch these dancers in ballet class.

Jorma Elo’s Nocturne/Étude/Prelude featuring Simkin with Boylston and Whiteside opened the show. For me, this piece didn’t hit its stride until the closing Nocturne. The opening Toccata was choppy and staccato, seeming forced and more thought than felt. With the Étude, it began to loosen up and finally seemed like something was happening in the last segment. It ended before it could really have an impact. Gregory Dolbashian’s Welcome a Stranger was a dark, modern work. It was more of a mood piece than a narrative. Trenary surprised with her fluidity in a starkly modern piece while Hammoudi projected more personality than I think I’ve ever seen from him.

Céline Cassone and Calvin Royal III © Paula Lobo
Céline Cassone and Calvin Royal III
© Paula Lobo

Two collaborations with Alexander Ekman completed the opening half of the program. The popular YouTube film Simkin and the City was much enjoyed. Simkin and the Stage paired film projection with Simkin dancing live. It began with a disquisition on the art of ballet by Jennifer Homans. Kind of dry and not much fun for me. It was the second half, when Simkin began to get personal and talk about himself and his early life that the piece took on some real poignancy. Home movies of his childhood training showed a serious faced boy and gave a feel for how hard he works to do what he does. We learned that he dreamed of becoming a dentist and likes apples and that his mother is taller than his father. It was refreshing to see behind the public persona.

With Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s fast-paced, fun choreography and imaginative lighting effects by Dimitrij Simkin (Daniil’s father) Islands of Memories was by far the strongest dance of the show. Ochoa managed to find time to give each of these great dancers some time in the spotlight to do what they do best. Cassone threw herself into it with wild abandon, Trenary was faultlessly fluid and lyrical Boylston nearly broke our hearts with her vulnerability. Among the men, Simkin flew and spun like a top, Whiteside was quick and powerful, and Royal was exuberant. Ochoa put it all together seamlessly, moving the dancers on and off the stage and changing up the pairings. It was lots of great dancing without devolving into a succession of tricks which had to be a temptation with so much talent to draw on.

Isabella Boylston, Céline Cassone, and Cassandra Trenary © Paula Lobo
Isabella Boylston, Céline Cassone, and Cassandra Trenary
© Paula Lobo

Daniil Simkin is a keenly savvy showman with an astute understanding of what people want. While this program had some weak spots he clearly knew the pulse of the audience. Given that this was the New York City première, the audience for this show was fairly full of ballet insiders and luminaries who were pre-disposed to love it. The real test of Simkin’s future as an impresario will be putting together the next show, when expectations will be higher.

***11