Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Myrtas

Gillian Murphy (February 26th, 2009, 8 pm. Thursday evening)
(Moyna: Melanie Hamrick; Zulma: Kristi Boone)

Simone Messmer (February 27th, 2009, 8 pm Friday evening)
(Moyna: Melanie Hamrick; Zulma: Leann Underwood)

Michelle Wiles (February 28th, 2009, 2 pm Saturday matinée)
(Moyna: Isabella Boylston; Zulma: Zhong-Jing Fang)

Veronika Part (February 28th, 2009, 8 pm Saturday evening)
(Moyna: Simone Messmer; Zulma: Yuriko Kajiya)

Gillian Murphy
Gillian Murphy as Myrta in Giselle, Act II
Andrea Mohin photo

With menacing music to set the mood, the curtain opens on a clearing in the middle of a forest. There is a lake in the distance.

Huge, dark trees surround the glade. It is close to midnight and an indigo aura is suspended over the woodland. Hilarion is down on one knee fashioning a cross for Giselle’s grave.

All of a sudden, a gossamer apparition scurries across the far side of the clearing. Massive strobe light flashes illume the atmosphere.

Another wraith, and then another, flutters across the space.

Hilarion, after planting the finished cross, runs into the woods. Out of the blue haze, a veiled phantasm bourrées diagonally across the clearing with a fleet-footed swiftness that can only be compared to the blur of a hummingbird’s wings.

Who IS that masked Wili?!!?

Gillian Murphy reenters after doffing her veil, to begin Myrta’s arabesques in promenade to penché, one sequence on each leg. Then, she starts her ritual of claiming the glade for the night.

Murphy’s assured arabesque hops, her mime calling for the Wilis to rise from their graves, her grands jetés, entrechats, entrelacés, step piqué turns, were well, if perfunctorily, performed with authority and a straightforward approach.

The only thing that tainted her incredible initial effect was the clunky sound of her pointe shoes in the slow bourrées which followed the opening diagonal. I couldn’t believe it was the same dancer who had soundlessly sped over the same ground just seconds before. (In fact, I had to ask a dancer backstage the next evening if it had, indeed, been Gillian. Doesn’t she wear Gaynor Mindens?)

Part of the noise factor was due to my seat being in the first row, just an orchestra pit away from the stage, and the softness of the music. When the Wilis came onstage and began their dance, the clatter of their feet also belied their diaphanous appearance.

Gillian Murphy’s Myrta qualities can be described as somewhat remote, insular, and arctic cold. Although the character might warrant such a portrayal, Murphy did not leave me with the impression that here was an outstanding Myrta. (I had to wait until Veronika Part’s Myrta to feel that way.)

Melanie Hamrick’s Moyna was beautifully danced, with lilting sautés and delicate, expressive arms. Her piqué to arabesque was sharp and precise every time.

Kristi Boone, with her longer limbs, provided an expansive contrast. Lovely, floating arms and sustained hold on her renversés – those attitude turns where you leave your head behind, bending it toward the audience as you turn.
Melanie Hamrick and Roman Zhurbin

The corps de ballet was, for the most part, a cohesive unit. However, in the Wilis’ famed crossing (as well as in the Act I village girls’ always exciting long rotating line, the Count at one end, Giselle on the other) there was one head toward the back of the pack bobbing out of sync with the others, always a fraction of a second behind.

When it came time to dance the men to death, Murphy’s Myrta hardened even more, carrying her stiffness into her back. She proved an immovable force, but was not all that interesting to watch, much is the pity.

Her major dancing work is done and she must now wow us with her acting. There wasn’t anything distinctive in it, no unique touch.

So, I only have one memorable Myrta moment to share with you, the Act I opening bourrées. They were so spectacular that I expected something to match them in Act II.

I have an orchestra moment, though. Two of them, in fact, both occurring in the same performance, the first one, on Thursday.

1) As the first violinist guides his bow to draw out the plaintive strains which accompany Count Albrecht’s steps toward the grave, his very first tone is off and he has to slide up to the correct note. The result is truly a mournful cry!

2) Later on, and I no longer remember where in the ballet, a brass instrument blatantly honks our a sour note. Poor guy, but so funny!

Simone Messmer

Simone Messmer
Richard Termine photo

With nicely turned-out bourrées, much, much slower than Gillian Murphy’s (the new hallmark), Simone made her entrance in her debut as Myrta. 

Her reverential bend to the ground (while quite beautiful) was softer than the other Myrtas’ had been, and lingered a fraction longer. 

The arabesques in promenade were secure, the steps following accomplished, but Messmer did not stage enough of a foreboding environment.

Her severity increased as Act II continued, and by the time Hilarion (Isaac Stappas) was brought before her, she was a match for his Act I arrogance.

He was dispensed with and Count Albrecht (Marcelo Gomes) brought in without delay.

The Count’s complex personality was more of a test for Myrta, who adopted a determined stance in order to deal with him. Messmer commanded, Gomes complied, but with a flair, even in his despair, that took all attention off the Queen of the Wilis.

Melanie Hamrick as Moyna turned in another lovely performance and the debut of picked-from-the-corps Leann Underwood as Zulma was well-noted.

It’s nice to see young talent given such opportunities so early in their ABT careers, but I think I would prefer to see a corps member who’s been giving her all for years get such a break.

Underwood did do a beautiful job – she’s a beautiful dancer – and it was nice to get a better look at her, nonetheless.

Michele Wiles
Michele Wiles as Myrta
Gene Shiavone photo

Michele Wiles is an enigma to me. I’ve seen her do spectacular things since she was in her early 20’s. She is superbly trained and her career soared in an enviable flight path, the perfect dream of young ballerina hopefuls everywhere.

Yet, in certain ballets, she just leaves me wondering why I was not more impressed with her prodigious talents.

As Myrta, she has no opportunity to hold endless balances, turn phenomenal pirouettes, or even to move fast.

In fact, her chance to really move during her opening bourrées was not optimally used, and her feet were relatively slow. (Of course, by the time I saw her Myrta, I was measuring opening bourrées against the incomparable Gillian Murphy’s.)

Even her pointe shoes didn’t seem to be right for her beautifully shaped feet (I know her feet and these shoes made them look like someone else’s), and their trademark color pink was too jarring for this white act. I also wanted to see more turnout in her bourrées, more heel-to-heel action.

Taken by itself, Wiles’s performance was outstanding. Her strength of technique, flying jetés, rocket-straight jumps, and effortless turns carry her through the role, but hers is a frigid Myrta who seems to be off in her own world as she goes through the motions her character makes, movements that must be second nature to her by now.

I wish I had more illuminating things to say about her performance. I spoke of her moving fingers in the Myrta roundtable, and that was a curious thing.

It occurred as she stood to the side with Moyna and Zulma, and because of my end of the front-row seat on the same side, I could see her almost vibrating fingers close up. It seemed involuntary, but one could read plot-led motivation into it, if one wanted to conjecture. At least, it made for an interesting thing to watch.
Isabella Boylston and Cory Stearns
 in Black Swan PDD

Isabella Boylston danced Moyna with such polish and richness of movement she reminded me of a chilled Bavarian cream – cold, smooth, and refreshing.

Cold as a Wili should be, but with a creamy smooth delivery of dévelopés and arabesques, and a refreshing new dimension to Moyna that I had not seen before.

Isabella gives Moyna’s choreography a nudge as she holds a balance longer, step piques more sharply into a high arabesque and lets her leg continue to rise... she flies high and covers space voraciously in her glissades assemblés, fairly spins in arabesque, and piqué-turns down a diagonal with high-passé-ed rapidity.

Zhong-Jing Fang
Susan Biddle photo for The Washington Post

Zhong-Jing Fang's Zulma was danced correctly, but, if she was feeling it, her emotion didn't translate over the apron of the proscenium stage.

She made an attractive cohort with her beautiful renversés, but her performance was otherwise unmemorable, at least to me.

(I have to admit I was distracted by revisiting Isabella’s performance in my mind while I was watching Fang.)

Veronika Part

Veronika Part as Myrta
Be still my heart! We’re not supposed to fall in love with Myrta! How can we not, however, when she is one of the most beautiful creatures that ever walked the earth?

She is the coldest Queen of the Wilis of the four Ottawa Myrtas – imagine, even the city presented a proper setting of chilling, shivering temperatures -- but you warm up to her immediately.

Does that make any sense? She was Marcelo’s match for charisma, sheer gorgeousness, inducing you to watch her every move. Her prey – Hilarion Gennadi Saveliev and Count Jose Manuel Carreno.

They didn’t have a chance in her hell. Xiomara Reyes should have been putty in her hands, but proved to be a capable redeemer for her Count, love winning over torment.

Veronika Part (who is Estonian on her father’s side, thereby sharing a nationality with me, making me doubly proud) is an open dancer with a meticulous Kirov technique.

Years in the States, and dare I say, years as a soloist, have enhanced her performance skills by stretching her abilities in all directions.

She has been ably challenged with modern choreography, in which she excels, as well as classical warhorses which have given her some battle scars but which have also brought to the fore her strengths and many virtues. She’ll be cast as the star in one ballet and demoted to co-soloist the next.

By the time she’s made principal (Kevin McKenzie, do you hear us?) she will have earned her rank through blood, sweat, and tears.

She talked about leaving ABT last year. I surely hope she has incentive to stay beyond this season’s contract.

Everything Myrta is choreographed to dance, Part takes to a new level. Her jetés are long, gliding, space-eating leaps, carried by the wind like paper airplanes.

Her développé à la seconde is lifted with the steadiness of a hand-held helium balloon slowly allowed to rise by releasing its string in increments with utmost care against the pull of the earth. Her downstage jetés in attitude come right at you as they reassert her ownership of the space.

Part successfully tempers her frostiness with velvety arms and épaulement. Lovely things happen in her upper body that do not detract from her pitiless posture nor mitigate her intensity.

Part brings passion to Myrta in the form of cold obsession. Not everyone could pull this off and still appear menacing. It’s part superb training, part the voluptuousness of her curvy body, part Part.

This Wili’s rebuke to the pleading Giselle is to haul her Count over the coals. Were it not for the mystical strength of love equal to Myrta’s own supernatural power and the chiming of the four o’clock bells, Count Albrecht would have been doomed at her hands.

All that’s left to say is Brava!

Simone Messmer’s Moyna showed that she was still wearing the previous evening’s mantle of Myrta as she carried off the sequences of steps in her variation with a vivid frostiness.

Yuriko Kajiya danced an engaging Zulma, being so physically suited to the part. With an introductory dévelopé exhibiting her lovely line, a floating renversé in her variation, she looked lovely.

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