Theater archives

Ballet Is (Dead) Woman


In 1984, in Seoul, Korea, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon and his wife founded the Universal Ballet for Julia Moon, the fiancée of their son who had recently died in a car crash (she was married to him posthumously). The Cold War still raged, and Russian ballet still had a nurturing home in what was then Leningrad, sending tendrils of influence to neighboring land masses. The Korean troupe embraced the Russian style long before Oleg Vinogradov (who directed the Kirov for 20 years) took over as artistic director in 1998.

A year later, Universal, supported by Moon to the tune of $3.56 million a year, premiered its staging of La Bayadère (it played at the New York State Theater August 1, 4, and 5). One of the earliest Petipa warhorses (first produced in 1877), it’s set in India.

Viewing it right after Sylvie Guillem’s re-engineered Giselle, one is struck by similarities of plot. In each work, a betrothed nobleman falls in love with a woman from a lower class; when he is found out, the consequence—death—is wreaked exclusively upon the deserted paramour. The faithless cads grieve, to be sure. Solor, the tiger-hunting warrior of the Petipa piece, smokes opium and conjures a fantastic vision of his dead sweetie, accompanied by 32 other ghostly temple dancers and a couple of acolytes. Albrecht, in Giselle, visits a similar netherworld, where he avoids being danced to death because the woman he wronged has compassion for him.

In the Universal’s La Bayadère, at the Sunday matinee, the beautiful Nikia, a temple dancer, was danced by the fluent Seh-Yun Kim, and Gamzatti, daughter of the Rajah, was performed by the Russian Irina Komarenko. Other performances featured different combinations of Russian and Korean principals, and in general the company seamlessly integrates its diverse national cadres—mainly Korean, Russian, and American (the troupe has a school in Washington, D.C.). Large groups of students attend on the nobility.

Universal is competent and opulently supported; you rarely find yourself parsing nationality as you watch. You do wonder whether others notice the inherent misogyny in these classic plots, and if these sacrificed-maiden stories will continue to dominate the ballet repertory.

Small ballet troupes, without the means to mount the full-evening works, take steady steps in other directions. DanceGalaxy, led by former New York City Ballet principal Judith Fugate and her husband, French dancer Medhi Bahiri, showed four dances (all by guys, but who’s counting?) including two premieres last week at the Joyce. The headliner was Reflections, the first ballet Peter Martins has made outside the confines of NYCB, accompanied by a new but traditional-sounding composition by his son Nilas, more generally known as a principal dancer at NYCB. The choreography for Christina Fagundes and Alex Lapshin kept them coiled around one another, rarely out of touch; each of the work’s two sections ended with a sudden, frozen lift.

But for sheer kinetic excitement, Stanton Welch’s new Orange, a sextet danced fast and hard, walked away with the evening. Fluttering limbs and stolen kisses, twists of limb and torso, made passion visible. Adam Miller’s Flow Bear Waltzes had its kinetic pleasures, too, especially the dazzling turns by Akop Akopian. Galaxy’s dancers are relatively mature and broadly experienced; they attend to one another with rich care and flirtatiousness. Flow Bear is basically virtuoso ballroom dance; no one dies or moons, and that’s just fine.

Down at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, 240 young ballet dancers displayed their recently honed chops August 8 at the culminating performance of American Ballet Theatre’s Summer Intensive program. Students from all over the country, who were in residence at ABT’s studios for six weeks, performed excerpts from the classical repertory and a few newer works, including a punchy modern dance by Karla Wolfangle and a creepy, jazz-inflected exercise by Roberta Mathes. Their sheer numbers (way more girls than boys, but a lot of boys), commitment, and enthusiasm won me over. Watching the youngest guys struggle with placement, and then seeing the older ones execute jumps and turns confidently, gave me hope for the future of the form and reminded me that ballet is an extremely useful discipline for kids. Now, if only someone could convince me that the genre’s twisted plots are good for them. . . .