Ballet Under the Stars 2016 – Classical Weekend

1. Bournonville Divertissements

04 bournonville buts 2016

My life is made simple by the fact that I’ve talked about this before. Yippee.

I think SDT has performed this quite a few times, and it shows, because everything falls into place and is sharper and cleaner this round, even from the same people who performed it previously. It gets no easier, but it definitely looks very good. I’m not sure how much of the audience understood that, though — they were okay with it, but I think that they reacted more favourably towards Shadow’s Edge (on Saturday night) and Paquita (because that’s a showstopper). To each their own. But it’s Bournonville. It’s great that these classics are brought in for audiences (before this, I’d not heard of Bournonville).

I think Napoli is an easy favourite, but La Ventana is enjoyable: Cheah May Yen as the alluring veiled lady who always reveals her face to her friends, but never to her suitor; Yorozu Kensuke playing up the whole role of desirous suitor very well; Cheah May Yen running nimbly en pointe (which I imagine isn’t particularly easy), and Kensuke whisking through his portion with ease.

The pas de trois is always tricky: developpe, arabesque to the back and lean right over, arm extended, and clock right back up. Beatrice Castenada and Nakahama Akira pull it off steadily, and then it’s  off to the races with Huo Liang (in a role previously danced by Jake Burden), who rises right up to the challenge and accomplishes the task at hand well. It’s been lovely watching these 3 dancers over the last few years; watching time and all their hard work pay off  — I think we recall Huo Liang from 2013’s Nutcracker, and it’s been 2.5 years since, and he’s taking on more soloist / major pas de deux roles, so that’s great.

Miura Takeaki and Reese Hudson are new (I think) to Bournonville; the former, unassuming but capable, and the latter a firm presence on stage. It will be interesting to see them in future performances. Tanaka Nanase’s joined Bournonville too, and (as always) even in a smaller role, stands out.

(I think it goes without saying that Chihiro and Etienne Ferrere make a charming pair for the Flower Festival. I wasn’t able to catch Kwok Min Yi and Nakamura Kenya in it, but I think that’s an interesting development, and it would have been good to see that performance. Quite possibly it was supposed to be Rosa Park with Etienne Ferrere and Chihiro with Nakamura Kenya — if so, then kudos to Kwok Min Yi for stepping in, in what appears to be a horrifically difficult pas de deux — rondes in the air and right to the back in arabesque; frozen arabesques with turns of the head and arm to the side, anyone?)

We cannot close without special mention of Jason Carter, whipping through pirouettes in the opening act, and proving an excellent partner for Li Jie in the closing scene.

I think the general sense from Bournonville is: It’s always good to see people getting better than they already were. It’s always pleasant. A random analogy might be seeing Benedict Cumberbatch break out of the roles he’s been playing recently, and doing something else (I don’t know what, I’m not being fair to him here, but — ok yes I’m not being fair, let’s drop this analogy).

2. Shadow’s Edge

05 shadow's edge buts 2016

I’ve talked about this too, before. There’s a pattern here. Yes, the previous review was pretty sketchy. So’s this one. It’s not possible to quantify Shadow’s Edge. The frenetic, frantic action and music keep the audience awake, on the edge of their seats; you can’t foresee what’s going to come up next. There’s Chihiro stepping into Rosa’s role, and Chen Peng returning for a last time to dance out his pas de deux with here.

I’m remembering now that this was the first time I saw Li Jie dance with Nazer Salgado, I think, in that mind-shattering moment where her arms are spread, falcon-like, and he holds just one part of her (–an ankle? a wrist? he is the fulcrum keeping her from falling) and they stay frozen like that while Nakamura Kenya and Maughan Jemesen go through a rigorous pas de deux that can hardly be over quickly enough for Li Jie’s single ankle anchoring her to the ground.

And Alison Carroll in her pas de deux with Etienne Ferrere: a compact, well-matched pair, precision coupled with speed.

The audience lapped it up in 2014, and the Saturday night audience gave it the applause it deserved.

3. Paquita

We all need a reminder that the costumes have been updated: bedazzled, glammed up, drool-worthy gems worth every sequin, gold petal and frill.

06 paquita buts 2016


Do look at all the names in the cast. They put in a solid performance, every single one of them. These are, after all, the ladies who are responsible for the perfect feet-in-first of Balanchine’s Serenade, the perfect synchrony in said Serenade (these being things perhaps not always being achievable even by the original company on an unexpected night >_< though it must be said NYCB’s scissor-arms are impossibly soft and there was a very spirited solo in one of the movements); and for the impeccable Dryads and Swans of the last few performances. A friend said Ruth Austin and Ines Furuhashi-Huber were very good — the memory recalls lines of dancers in fours, very polished, every single one of them.

I was a little worried that it would be of a stretch sitting through this without any story, but the dance carries itself well throughout, with a stamina-chewing pas de trois, and matching pairs taking to the stage (e.g. Nakahama Akira and Tanaka Nanase). Tanaka Nanase has a well-deserved solo, ending in Italian fouettes pulled off with a steady precision that sort of confirms hidden thoughts…

Li Jie and Nakamura Kenya are quite well-matched. It’s not something one might realise intuitively, but theirs is a  worthy (of what?) combination.  Breathtaking confidence and trust in the male principal allows Li Jie to dance to the fullest of her capabilities, to soar in the pas de deux. Her dancing has been changing over time — not merely the fluid arms and gorgeous extensions of before, not only imbued with intent and meaning, but also with spirit and character. There’s a very treacherous set of fouettes in Paquita that I didn’t expect (being unfamiliar with Paquita), and Li Jie works her way through them quite decently for a start  — I don’t recall that she’s had the chance to perform those onstage before. Kenya is excellent (as mentioned before — the long great luxurious extension of the leg when he leaps into the air; and then a strong performance all around). It is a pleasure to watch him; the sort of pleasure you get from knowing that he is accomplishing exactly the sort of dancing that Paquita calls for.


There we go. If I could re-watch anything, I’d choose Incomparable Beauty and Paquita. I’ve watched quite a few of the others a number of times. Incomparable Beauty is really incomparably long, but it bears sitting through and completing. Paquita needs re-watching because it’s such a gem, and it is surprisingly entertaining. All right, I’ll admit I don’t ever get tired of bits of Blue Snow.

Next up – Masterpiece in Motion. I do hope I at least get through Schubert Symphony. The other 2 should take a much longer time.

This time, procrastination has given us another characteristic interview with Zhao Jun (wherein, amongst other things, he thanks his knees):

And it has yielded a review by an actual dance reviewer:

Oh, here’s another:

[Review] Masterpiece in Motion













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