Love and death

By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  May 9, 2007

Lorna Feijóo wasn’t here for the company’s previous Ballo (she arrived in September of 2003), but she guested in the three spring-rep performances New York City Ballet gave in 2004, on Ashley’s recommendation, and drew a “fabulous” and “not to be missed” response from the New York Times’ Anna Kisselgoff. She was scheduled for opening night, but a cold kept her out of action all weekend, and Erica Cornejo filled in. An Argentine dancer who came to Boston Ballet from American Ballet Theatre last year, Cornejo is a bright, nippy performer with class, sass, and sex. She doesn’t have Ashley’s weight or gravity; where in the polka variation Ashley sat on those hopping pointe turns, underlining the transfer of weight, Cornejo whipped through them as if they were corps material. She spun on pointe like a top, nailed the freeze-frame succession of leg positions at the end, and generally zipped around like the Energizer Bunny, all with that big smile and a hint of mystery. Only in the piqué turns where the leg has to shoot out in arabesque did she falter. It wasn’t Ashley; it was Balanchine.

James Whiteside was scheduled to partner Feijóo; the company decided to leave him on with Cornejo, and they were fine together. A second soloist, he has the presence of a principal if not the full bravura technique. In this role, presence is everything; he looked regal, and he showed control in easing out of multiple pirouettes, quick turns and splits, authoritative beats and jumps, and lots of articulation. In the last section, he whipped off stage with such pace and power, I half expected to hear the PA announce that “James Whiteside has left the building.”

Saturday afternoon, Cornejo came out with her scheduled partner, corps member Gabor Kapin, less powerful than Whiteside but with a boyish spontaneity and well-delineated entrechats and brisés volés; they looked perky, almost conspiratorial together. Saturday evening Whiteside was back with a corps member Melissa Hough, who hadn’t been scheduled to dance the role at all. Built more like Ashley, and more of a modern than a classical ballet dancer (she’s been a rock in the company’s Jorma Elo commissions), she was tall and true enough. The smile was steady and confident; if some steps were hesitant (not the shooting leg in arabesque, however) and there were only flashes of Cornejo’s brio, she was unexpectedly melting in the pas de deux with Whiteside.

The four demi-soloists in the waltz section — Rie Ichikawa, Lia Cirio, Melanie Atkins, and Heather Myers in the first group, Misa Kuranaga, Hough, Kathleen Breen Combes, and Dalay Parrondo in the second —had the right kind of fluff. Atkins, in the same role she danced in 2003, was predictably the freest in her pelvis and legs; in the strutting-circus-pony section she and Breen Combes covered ground like Street Sense gobbling up the stretch at Churchill Downs.

Maurice Ravel wrote Valses nobles et sentimentales in 1911 and La valse in 1920, one a prediction of the catastrophe that was about to consume Europe and the other a reflection on it. The swoony strings and rippling harp and tambourine and snare drum are right out of ’50s Hollywood, An American in Paris or Gigi, before hints of Vertigo-era Bernard Herrmann emerge. Perhaps that’s why Balanchine, with his tulle prom skirts and long white gloves, seems to have in mind post–World War II America.

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