Balanchine famously said that when you put a man and a woman on stage you already have a story; but what is not always acknowledged is the narrative power of putting a black man and a white woman together on stage in one of dance history’s most abstractly erotic dances during a time in America when racial separation, rather than symbiosis, was the rule. Thus Agon may be one of the abstract ballets but it is undoubtedly informed by the cultural politics of the time it was choreographed in – not only by the hyper-frenetic New York City of the Beat generation but also by the events at Little Rock and across the nation. The original casting of Arthur Mitchell and Diana Adams suggests the influence of this era on the ballet, if not in direct and purposeful rebellion than at least in some sort of subtle irony. So the pairing of Eric and Carla, with this knowledge, becomes even more striking; not to mention they are two of the most gorgeous people in ballet.
Damian spoke of the format of UpClose as conducive to creating footholds for the audience members, some of whom maybe be wholly unfamiliar with not just the history but also much of the choreography; it is so much more enjoyable to watch a performance and recognize musical and choreographical moments with more understanding and intelligent perspective. Heather, Carla and Eric worked on the famous sequence in which Carla is in a penchee and Eric drops to the ground on his back and promenades her as he lays on the floor; undoubtedly the public loved seeing it again on Saturday night and felt like privileged insiders when they got to see if Heather’s advice worked out for Carla and Eric…if it didn’t that might have been awkward but of course it did and Carla and Eric were nothing less than stunning in performance.
The audience also got to see Joaquin and Daniil rehearse the Chopins/Robbins duet that was last danced by Damian and ABT principal Ethan Stiefel at the Bolshoi years ago, and before that, never since 1979…Then Herman and Misa came on for some Don Quixote and the open rehearsal version of the Keigwin world premiere, Rock Steady - with Tiler, Joaquin, Robbie and Sokvanarra - closed the evening.
The gala on Saturday night had been sold out for weeks and was a huge success. In the New York Times, Alastair Macaulay likened the two international programs to a mini UN of dance and there is probably no more apt way to describe it. Countries represented on stage included Argentina, Japan, Russia, Germany, the UK, Denmark, Spain, Cambodia, Brazil and the United States; companies represented included American Ballet Theater, New York City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Boston Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Keigwin + Company, Tangueros del Sur, the Royal Ballet and Royal Danish Ballet. I will never forget the rousing standing ovation for the three Ailey men- Clifton Brown, Jamar Roberts, and Matthew Rushing - at the end of Sinner Man; three such powerful guys with so much intensity and ferocity, even, in their movement…yet that same movement is also so warm and organic and provides moments of calm freedom in an otherwise feverish dance.
Don Quixote with Herman and Misa of course brought the house down as did Daniil in his gala fare solo, Les Bourgeois. He’s young and cute and that’s what makes his parody of cynical French nonchalance charming; of course the solo is also inflected with ridiculous virtuoso tricks that no one can match Daniil in. Here is a an excerpt from the performance.
Also, some footage of Sarah Lamb and Eric Underwood in rehearsal for International Evenings of Dance; on Friday night they danced Wayne McGregor’s Limen and on Saturday night they danced Christopher Wheeldon’s Tryst. The two of them are capable of such lyrical plasticity and have gorgeous physical chemistry together; she is so angelic and frail, and he is quite the opposite- dark and powerful - and when they are together they are otherwordly.
After the performance, patrons and dancers danced and mingled until midnight at a tent flowing with champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries, set up at the Betty Ford gardens. Memorable moments included Sarah sliding across the floor in her platforms Jackson-style, Keigwin/New York City Ballet dancers freestyling, and tango star Gabriel Misse leading a train through the tent, seducing men and women, and being the general Argentinian life of the party.
Saturday night’s international evenings of dance was punctuated by the special brand of live theatrical spontaneity that isn’t easily produced or replicated. Nothing has stopped festival performances this summer. Audiences huddle in parkas through thunderstorms, assembled together in bunches under rare umbrellas; dancers perform way above sea-level in the midst of the mountains, with oxygen masks resting on benches in the wings for use in rare pauses during pas de deuxs. On Saturday, Herman and Misa were to close the first half of the show with the second act pas de deux from Giselle; after a breathtaking opening pas de deux, Herman came on for his solo and was greeted instead with the closing coda music. He smoothly walked off but upon his return it was the same coda music. So the coda music played for a bit, and then Damian, who had run like I didn’t think was possible backstage after Herman’s first entrance, came onstage and announced that due to a technical mishap we would break for intermission. The whole thing was handled so smoothly and graciously that most of the audience weren’t positive anything was amiss. After the intermission, we saw Wendy in the Ratmansky solo, Fandango – the ending is unforgettable, a deep backbend on her knees with her arms flat on the ground behind her, chest upward to her band of seven as the flamenco reaches a climax (watch for footage soon). Then Damian came back on to announce that Herman and Misa have generously insisted on dancing the opening pas de deux of Giselle once more to lead into Herman’s solo and ultimately, the coda. I was imagining this happening at the MET Opera House and concluded that NYC balletomanes would die happy if they got to see a Giselle encore and after reading this would probably pay off stagehands to pull a Tonya Harding and injure the forearm of the first violin or something to that effect. Herman and Misa are both so amiable and giving; all smiles, they kept repeating “It’s okay, it happens!” I was blown away by their artistic and tenchnical consistency; their second time around they were better than the first, and when Herman flew on with his unparalleled cabrioles everyone went wild. All were so poised and composed, especially Damian, ever the hero, who brilliantly turned the malfunction into a real dance event that the balletomanes would kill for.
And then Misa, as though she hadn’t just danced the Giselle pas de deux twice along with all its other constituents, came on with Daniil to deliver the most sensational Le Corsaire pas de deux I’ve seen since Noche Latina at ABT; thirty-two spot on fouettes with doubles and triples casually thrown in…it was unbelievable. Daniil as the slave is something I am sure we will be seeing for many years to come; he may be blond (cough cough) but is he fierce… I would say I’m well-versed in ballet vocabulary but I doubt if there are names for half the things he effortlessly throws in there.
Other highlights of Night Two included Carla and Robbie Fairchild in the White Swan Pas de Deux, Sarah Lamb in the Dying Swan, Tiler and Joaquin in 3 Chopin Dances and an always ethereal Wendy with a fresh out of retirement Albert Evans in Wheeldon’s After the Rain. I loved this when Rachel Foster and Jeffrey Stanton danced it last week but there is nothing like Wendy in that soft pink leotard, her blonde hair keeping pace with the wind and the piano and her famously sculpted legs carving out the heartbeat of the music.
Afterwards, the entire cast gathered at Pazzo’s restaurant in Vail Village for pizza, pasta, salads and for some, shots. Lots of photos were taken, toasts were made, numbers exchanged. Around midnight most were shuttled back to the hotel to get some rest for their early flights; Herman, for example, was due to dance with Angel Corella’s company in Spain in the following forty-eight hours, and Daniil was soon en route to Japan where he is guesting with Tokyo Ballet.
Heroes all around.
Stay tuned for more about closing night, with Gabriel and Natalia leading Romper el Piso, as well as more video and photo footage/reportage from International Evenings of Dance and UpClose: Tango with Damian, Natalia, Gabriel and Suki Schorer. And don’t forget about the hundreds of photos on the Vail Valley Foundation Flickr.