Saturday, March 7, 2009

Jared Matthews's Hilarion and Maria Bystrova's Bathilde, ABT's Giselle in Ottawa, February 28th matinée continued

Saturday, February 28th, afternoon matinée continued:

Jared Matthews is another of my favorite dancers. I have known him since he was 16 years old and was invited to dance Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake with my children's ballet school. Less than 2 years later he was back to perform Hilarion with the school’s company, Canadian Ballet Theatre.

He spoke to me then of learning the part from Victor Barbee as well as Ethan Brown, and he was very excited to perform it, having been inspired by Barbee's coaching. His rival Count Albrecht in that production was the National Ballet of Cuba's Oscar Torrado, his Giselle, Laura Hormigon (also National Ballet of Cuba).
Jared Matthews and Gennadi Saveliev

Last Saturday was his debut as Hilarion for American Ballet Theater, and he has changed some in the 6 year interim, but still comes through as the nicest Hilarion I’ve seen.

The role was performed with everything done just right, but, alas, there were no memorable moments. Jared proved his mettle as a soloist, but where was the moxie of the character?

An inconsequential prop malfunction was dealt with without missing a beat:

At the point when Hilarion emerges from the hunter’s hut with Albrecht’s sword and horn, his stage business is to sling the horn (it’s on a cord) around his body so he can partially withdraw the sword from its sheath and reinsert it, showing the audience definitively what he has discovered.

But the horn’s strap refused to drape over Matthew’s shoulder and he had to display the sword while still holding the horn.

For a Hilarion debut that you want to go just right, this tiny difficulty, unnoticeable by 99% of the audience (or more – the theater seated 2500) can throw the dancer off his game a smidge. I’m hoping Jared just thought “Oh jeez!” and didn’t let it trouble him for even a second.

Jared has occasionally gotten a lukewarm reception in the press since becoming soloist. He is a detail-oriented, hard-working dancer with strong technique and a personable onstage presence.

Very good-looking to boot, and with excellent ballet physique, Jared's jumps are lofty, his arabesques eye-catching, his turns high, fast and straight.

But even I have to say that he’s still working on developing pizazz. I’d like to see a bit of seasoning – and I don’t mean further brewing in the ABT cauldron. I’m talking about spice! Jared needs us to sit up and take notice of his many talents.

Admittedly, living in Canada, I don’t get to New York often enough to see everything ABT presents. I missed Jared (and everyone) in “Brief Fling”, for example, and I haven’t seen his Espada (Don Q) or Head Wrangler (Rodeo). I wish I could remember more of his Hilarion.

I recall funny things, like the way those knee-length boots made all the Hilarions plod in an inelegant, almost lumbering way when they first walked across the stage.

(Check out “The Village Idiot”’s blog – link in an early post of mine in this thread – for a hilarious account of boot agony by a Giselle super.) I feel I owe Jared more of a review. Or does he owe us more to review? (Sorry for the tough love, Jared, I do adore you.)

Maria Bystrova was Bathilde to David Hallberg’s Count Albrecht and Maria Riccetto’s Giselle, and an imposing Bathilde she was. Her presence filled the stage, extending far beyond her regal garments.

Her Russian training was substantiated by her grand, sweeping gestures, the high tilt of her head, the coordination of her shoulders to all her movements, even the iconic Vaganova style in which she held her fingers.

The mime sequences were thus formulaic, but just what the doctor ordered for the way in which she portrayed the character. ABT has a valuable treasure of a character actress in her.
Maria Bystrova in rehearsal for Fall River Legend
Matthew Murphy photo

Unfortunately, she seems destined to stay primarily a character dancer.

She is still given soloist and corps roles to dance, but not often enough. Bystrova is very tall – around 5’10” ?– limiting her pas de deux opportunities, a sorry situation since classical ballet is her forté and she’s so pure in line and execution.

I am eager to see her whenever possible in contemporary works where height doesn’t matter.

I missed her forays last year – one can only afford so many tickets – but perhaps next season I’ll get to see her in more than the last line of a Petipa corps.

I remember how amazing she was as a 15 year old at the Kirov Academy of Ballet, showing the potential for a corps-to-soloist-to-principal trajectory, and feel sad that she’s been in the corps for so long with others leap-frogging over her.

Her Bathilde had an attitude of nose-in-the-air, high-born snobbery that made Count Albrecht look all the more like a privileged young man, barely out of his teens, who had not yet learned to be supercilious. He seemed light years away from attaining her level of haughtiness.

All decked out and heavily made up, Bystrova looked about 40 years old (in reality, she and Hallberg are the same age), a veritable Mrs. Robinson to Hallberg’s boyish Count.

Maria Riccetto
photo from Gaynor Minden site
She treated Giselle (Maria Riccetto) more like a capricious young girl than someone she could bond with, fiancée-to-fiancée.

Instead of purposefully undoing her necklace and kindly reclasping it around Giselle’s neck (as did the other Bathildes), Bystrova’s Bathilde sorted through her many necklaces to find perhaps her least favorite? – and practically flung it over Giselle’s head.

When the revelation and ensuing mad scene occurred, Bathilde looked on as if she weren’t really a part of any of that nasty business, and with a rustle of her petticoats, turned heel, and head held high, rushed away from it all, entourage in tow.

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