Yesterday, in light of ample leisure time created by the postponement of the Worlds, I decided to take a peek at the Youth Grand Prix Dance Gala taking place at the City Center in NY. This was a fantastic experience, and I am already dreading how this would clash with the Worlds next year! The atmosphere reminded me of the skating competitions: lots of little ‘tiffed’ ballet kids running around, their excited families speaking a multitude of languages (I heard predominantly Italian and French not so much Russian), but somebody was always shouting “Igor, Igor” (which I always take to mean Shpilband). Since there were so many connoisseurs, the reception for the dancers was the most enthusiastic I’ve ever heard in NY! Whenever someone did an exciting technical feat, the crowd would get extremely loud and at the same time, they would be silent when dancers made mistakes, even if there was a musical crescendo,
so it was very refreshing to be among such a knowledgeable crowd. During the closing defile, the music suddenly stopped (technical glitches during this program were innumerable), but the audience clapped for the dancers until the end. And now about the highlights (and the low points) in terms of dancing that evening:
Act I: Among the grand prix finalists (there are two divisions junior (up to 16) and senior (up to 19), I liked the 12-year old Israeli girl (sorry I don’t know anyone’s names) who did a modern take on break/hip hop dance—she reminded me of Stephanie Rosenthal, very fluid and amazing body movements. I also like the girl who did a river-themed dance—I believe she tried to move like water, very impressive—she would make a good Rhythmic gymnast. The couple that won the junior division was very good: she is only 15 but they danced a pas-de-deux from Coppelia with good control and great stretch from her—I could not help comparing her to figure skaters of the same age (Adelina, Liza, Yu Na, Mao, Tara) and concluding that one can achieve more in figure skating by that age, but then, figure skaters retire sooner. In men’s, I liked the second place senior finisher from Japan—marvelous jumps—he did the Slave variation from Corsair which calls for a naked torso and I was a bit disturbed by how skinny he was. The first place finisher from Korea was quite blah, almost catatonic to me. The senior ladies winner from Brazil was great. She did a modern Carnival inspired number and she moves amazingly and has great charisma.
There were two interesting dance numbers from China: both of them had the same theme—dehumanization—and were rather disturbing. I don’t know if that’s a political protest, or an exploration of culture, or both, but if the former, it proves Shostakovich’s maxim about subversive powers of non-vocal expression. There was a dance of a tormented person in rags (one of the winners of the competition), whose moves were unbelievable, a veritable rag doll. It was very unpleasant and seemed to represent physical tortures and not being fed for days...it was a bit too much for me, but I give it to the dancer for making such a strong impression and having such control of his body. Then, there were students from the Beijing Dance Academy doing a modern piece called “Pointe and Line” in which they represented marionettes tied to long white cords that they gradually stretched across the stage (took them about 10 minutes to get from one side of the stage to the other). To me they looked like human cogs on musical note sheets. It was repetitive and the music was occasionally bordering on static noise, but I thought it was a very powerful number as it drew one in like a funnel, i.e. when you stare at something very monotonous for a long time and you notice little variations and then you actively look for them and you pay attention to the most minute details and this search for details becomes enthralling and exciting. All that coupled with an amazingly precise execution and fantastic harmony of body types made me appreciate this piece as a cerebral masterpiece of modern dance, although I cannot call it entertaining, especially in comparison with the Gallim’s Company energetic modern dance to Balkan music performed in the Second Act.
Act II: The highlights of the evening for me were Yuan Yuan Tan and Ivan Vasiliev, but having a program in front of me, I can describe each performance. Francesca Podini of La Scala did a number to Pagani, choreographed by Marcelo Gomez. Francesca is a stunning presence and would do perfectly in the Eifman Dance Company. She is extremely tall and extremely skinny (even by ballet standards), but she is very fluid and expressive. I liked her, but I cannot imagine her being soft and lyrical at all (no Giselle here). Gomez as a choreographer was very decent, with the second piece, Ami, being stronger than Paganini. Ami to Chopin seemed to explore a homosexual relationship—and reminded me of a wonderful movie that I just watched—The Quiet Man. Although who knows, maybe it was about race? It featured an interesting use of the two light circles, with each man dancing inside of his own circle, and sometimes these circles would come together or move apart. I loved one of the guys dancing this piece, I believe he was Thomas Forster of ABT. He was very lithe, with great jumps and expression. He reminded me of Vladimir Malakhov by body type. Then there was a completely forgettable couple (Peck/Angle) from NYC Ballet (now I know why I never go to NYC Ballet) performing an extremely dull Wheeldon’s choreography to Shostakovich. Next was a guy from Ballet Basel, a modern dance company, whom I did not care for at all. Then Melanie Hamrick and Jose Correno did a nice number to Fado music, very solid from both. She reminds me so much of Julie Kent, and when Julie retires, they would have a made to order replacement. Myriam Ould-Braham and Karl Paquette from Paris Opera Ballet did variations to Delibes. I thought they were the weakest professional couple of the evening, and if that’s the general level of Paris Opera Ballet where they are Principals, then I just found my first reason not to be jealous of the Parisians. Mr. Paquette’s redeeming quality is that he is an eye candy. Then there was a highly energetic and entertaining Balkan number that I mentioned earlier. Great job to Andrea Miller, the choreographer. Then Dan Ulbricht of NYC Ballet jumped like Oda to Piazzola, unfortunately, the rest of his movements, again somewhat like Oda, were not on par with his jumping. Then, there was a VISION of perfect beauty and what ballet should be like at its best: Yuan Yuan Tan! I never saw her before, and now I was smitten. To me, the most expressive parts of her body are her back and her elevee—if I were Tarantino, I would probably be more obsessed with her feet than with Uma Thurman’s or Diane Kruger’s. Ms. Tan’s every movement is so convincing (aside from technical perfection), she lives through each one of her moves, they are an organic whole. I love this maturity that endows dance with meaning. I loved the piece which she performed with Mr. Spaulding (who was good, but clearly in her shadow). It was called “Diving into the Lilacs” and it was poignantly beautiful, with clean lines reminiscent of Balanchine. This is probably what it must be like jumping into the lilacs, internalizing love and losses, a very Proust like feeling watching this. Yuri Possokhov did the choreography to the music of Boris Tchaikovsky. I don’t know either of these gentlemen, but to live with the surname of Tchaikovsky for a modern composer must be really tough. To their credit, the music was lovely with a fantastically appropriate choreography. Bravo, bravo, bravo! Ivan Vasiliev of Bolshoi and Viengsay Valdes of Cuba Ballet concluded the evening with a crowd pleaser variations from Don Quixote. Vasiliev is another artist with a famous last name who is trying to come into his own and he is doing this in a grand style that would give Vladimir Vasiliev a run for his money. In fact, I think he is already better than his namesake, although I have to admit that I saw V. Vasiliev live when he was nearing 40 and I was about 10. In any event, Ivan made a stunning Basilio and the crowd went absolutely wild. There was a funny moment when in the second variation, to show off his technical ability, he started a series of pirouettes way before the music started, and everyone thought that they are having another musical malfunction and started to clap right away. Ms. Valdes was good, probably very good, and the crowd loved her prolonged unassisted balances on pointe and her energetic fouettes, but to me she lacked the pizzazz and the “IT” factor of……Ilynykh, and on that note I realized how much I am looking forward to the Worlds!