Thursday, June 25, 2015

Off topic: the sleeping prince's awakening

It's been five years since I wrote more than a line here about this publication's official off-topic topic: ABT's Veronika Part.

In that time, all too many of Part's lead performances have been dragged down by the use of New York native and recentish (2011) principal Cory Stearns as her primary ABT partner. As absent as she was present, as callow as she was wholly formed, Stearns -- whose actual steps and jumps, to be fair, have certainly gained focus -- left the balletic tragedienne little-or-nothing to work with. Most of her successes have been in her irregular pairings with Gomes, Bolle, et al.

So it was one of the biggest shocks to find that the man who, in last night's Swan Lake, catalyzed as thorough and profound an expressive triumph as Part has ever had was, in fact, this same Cory Stearns. Or maybe not the same: the man on stage certainly shared a name and body with his predecessor, but he has what that predecessor did not -- a self, a presence, a being on stage fit for the tragic story and its heroine. And it showed even before he began to dance: his bearing even in mime (and now I wonder -- was it his work with Ratmansky in the Russian's new/old Sleeping Beauty that awoke this spirit?) is now simply his own, free from the self-doubt and puppyish wanting-to-please that made him an impossible partner for Part. His Prince Siegfried is still (as he should be) in over his head, but he acts decisively on his own desires, as a man -- even one just come of age -- should.

And with this Siegfried Part's Odette shared her awful secret with a depth and fluidity of expression she has never (as far as I can recall) surpassed. As in a great opera performance, it was the extended spans of concentration that impressed most, as Part wove every gesture and every choreographed step of the couple's Act II and Act IV pas seamlessly into two grand spells of love and loss. In between, Part's Odile played Siegfried with the irresistible shamelessness and confidence she's shown at least since her 2009 promotion.

With the company's most sympathetic conductor -- Ormsby Wilkins -- in the pit, Tchaikovsky's music did its excellent part despite an oboist in a hurry. And if Marcelo Gomes weren't so good as a leading man, I'd want to see him as the villain every time. This season not only his non-swamp Rothbart here but his Carabosse (!) was a big success.

Part is now 37. It's good to know that the company now has a suitable non-guest partner for her, with whom she can give one of those performances that justify a company and art form's existence.