Ballet can be a spectacle, but the big companies tend to sublimate this aspect in deference to emphasizing the classic stories, its rich history, the ever-present sublime beauty. So there’s something refreshing, if blunt, about the frank populist appeal of Kings of the Dance which took place at City Center last week. Produced by Ardani Artists, if the artists involved weren’t truly world-class, the title would be more humorous than serious. Fortunately, the cast boasted local stars Marcelo Gomes, Jose Manuel Carreno, David Hallberg (all ABT), Desmond Richardson (Complexions), and Joaquin de Luz (NYCB), plus Guillaume Cote (National Ballet of Canada), Denis Matvienko (Mariinsky), and Nikolay Tsiskaridze.
This year’s densely-packed 2.5 hour program was well put-together for such a star vehicle. It led off with Christopher Wheeldon’s gentle For 4 (2006), which opens with the four crisply silhouetted like a pantheon of, well, kings, with each man’s solo overlapping with the next to Franz Schubert’s music. I think the men were striving to look relaxed, but at times it bordered on feeling unrehearsed. Given the demands on these artists’ schedules, that would be understandable.
A long series of solos by various choreographers comprised the second act. Logic dictates choosing the appropriate roles for each dancer’s strengths, which of course applied here. In Small Steps by Adam Hougland, Gomes’ penetrating dramatic presence seemed to boil in the sharp downlighting of designer Elena Kopunova (Bolshoi Theater), before being released in his full-out athletic style. Matvienko’s winking humor found a home in the multiple roles of Leonid Jakobson’s Vestris, originally done by Baryshnikov. Hallberg glowed and floated like an Apollonian god in Ashton’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits, a perfect cloud/vehicle for him.
De Luz’s sweet charm and agile playfulness came across clearly in Five Variations on a Theme, by David Fernandez. I wish we’d seen more of De Luz in Sunday’s performance, but as New Yorkers, at least we see him regularly with NYCB. Richardson looked perfectly at home in Dwight Rhoden’s Lament, full of bravura stop-and-start poses. Boris Eifman created Fallen Angel on the super-dramatic Tsiskaridze, but it felt slightly garish amidst the otherwise tasteful programming. Gomes paired with Cote in Roland Petit’s Morel et Saint-Loup, a sensuous male duet which is a rarity in ballet. Gomes is a peerless partner, and he was no less reassuringly assertive than usual, complementing Cote’s lovely lines.
Nacho Duato’s trio, Remanso, exemplified a kind of modern ballet with subtle metaphors that many European choreographers do well. It featured a small wall, to hide behind and climb over, and a rose passed among the men. It was fascinating to see Richardson dance with Hallberg, as the two couldn’t be more different in style and physique. And Carreno, one of the older dancers, turned out to be most “on balance” of all of them, augmenting his pure classicism with multiple clean pirouettes. The grand finale was a show of splits and soaring leaps, fireworks to cap an effervescent, entertaining program.
Photo of Marcelo Gomes and Guillaume Cote by Gene Schiavone.