Stars of the 21st Century

February 11, 2008

“Stars of the 21st Century”

New York State Theater, NYC

February 11, 2008

Reviewed by Nicole Dekle Collins

Introducing audience members to dancers they’ve never seen is surely one of the raisons d’être of a gala program like “Stars of the 21st Century,” in which principal dancers from companies around the world converge for a single evening. This purpose is both gratified and frustrated, however, by the format of such programs, which typically abound in well-known—often too well-known—pas de deux. Excerpting strips the duets of their drama and thus some of their interest.

    Anastasia Matvienko’s technical aplomb and bright vivaciousness in the Le Corsaire pas de deux, for example, left one wishing to see her in a more individualistic work. She and her husband, the lean, dignified Denis Matvienko—both principals at St. Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky Opera and Ballet Theatre—showed a different aspect of their dancing in a contemporary duet by Edward Clug. In this subdued, barefoot work (unfortunately titled Radio & Juliet in a nod to its score by English rock band Radiohead) husband and wife brought an intimate delicacy to Kylianesque partnering and a sometimes semaphoric movement vocabulary. The work revealed the shadows in their dancing, very different from the sunny extroversion of Le Corsaire.

    Spanish dancer Lucia Lacarra and her husband, French-trained Cyril Pierre—principals at the Munich Ballet—gave fully shaped, dramatically complex performances of Roland Petit’s Thaïs pas de deux and the third-act pas de deux from John Neumeier’s Lady of the Camellias. In Thaïs, to Jules Massenet’s limpid score, Lacarra and Pierre infused Petit’s fluid choreography with melancholic tenderness. Lacarra’s long, thin arms undulated like underwater tendrils in the wavelike movements that form a choreographic motif. In her performance, the audience saw a dancer, a woman, reveal her humanity. Her supple, melting torso betrayed romantic vulnerability, while her legs and feet pierced like arrows through space to suggest the depth of her feeling and the strength of her character. Pierre responded to her open-hearted performance with understated adoration.

    The Bolshoi’s Svetlana Lunkina brought a pliant upper body to the second act pas de deux from Giselle, her expressive fingers seeming to trail through water. However, this was the duet least well served by being severed from its plot. In Petit’s La Rose Malade, Lunkina’s dramatic arms conveyed the love-sick, fading rose of the title.

    Winsome, detailed épaulement was the hallmark Lunkina’s performance of the La Sylphide pas de deux. She was especially touching in the opening mime, her hands alive and palpitating with the movements of the butterfly she catches for James (performed by The Royal Ballet’s David Makhateli.

    New York City Ballet’s Maria Kowroski and David Hallberg of American Ballet Theatre gave a technically assured, respectful rendering of Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux. Among the male dancers, Hallberg and Denis Matvienko had a pleasing ease in their virtuosity, maintaining an elegant demeanor in the flashiest of steps. The irrepressible Daniil Simkin (above), who performed two humorous solos in addition to closing the evening in the Don Quixote pas de deux, was a favorite of the audience, which liked the quirky solos and applauded his high leaps and multiple turns in the pas de deux.

    Opposite Simkin, Brazilian ballerina Roberta Marquez, of The Royal Ballet, brought a serene joyousness to the Don Quixote duet. Charming and innocently flirtatious in the fan work of her solo, she, too, brought a striking ease to a bravura role.

(Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Stars)