It lasts the blink of an eye, the American Ballet Theatre’s season at the Metropolitan Opera. Just a month and a half. But it can be an intensely satisfying blink. Maybe an audience member appreciates the ABT’s season all the more, for its brevity? In New York, you can take the orchestra or opera season for granted. It goes on and on.
This year, ABT concluded with a show called Tchaikovsky Spectacular, a medley of dances to music by the composer, and by Mozart, too. (I will explain.) I attended the performance on Friday night.
It began with Mozartiana, which, musically speaking, is also known as the Orchestral Suite No. 4. It consists of Mozart pieces arranged by Tchaikovsky, with some creative license on the part of the arranger. Tchaikovsky loved Mozart—revered him, really (smart composer). (Both of them.) I will tell you a personal story.
Like a lot of kids—maybe especially boys—I didn’t really like Romantic music. Too soupy, too emotional, too lovey-dovey. I liked Baroque and Classical music, and some of the music of the modern period (which, frankly, is getting less modern all the time). Therefore, I was not much of a Tchaikovsky man, or kid.
But I liked the Serenade for Strings, because it was Classical (in style). I also liked Mozartiana (naturally). And I would allow that the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture was well structured.
Soon enough, I left childish things behind and embraced nearly the entire corpus of Tchaikovsky—a corpus that, honestly, is suffused with Classicism.
Mozartiana is in four sections (the orchestral work, I mean, not the ballet). It opens with Tchaikovsky’s treatment of Mozart’s Little Gigue for piano, K. 574, an ingenious, wacky piece. Why pianists don’t program it, I’m not sure. Maybe too short (at just over a minute)? (In fact, the Gigue is shorter than Chopin’s “Minute Waltz.”)
Dancing in Mozartiana on Friday night were Hee Seo, Jeffrey Cirio, and Cory Stearns. Each exhibited the desired style. In the orchestra, tempos were sluggish, at least to my sensibility. And playing was sometimes uncrisp. I have a feeling that crispness in the orchestra aids crispness onstage, and that the lack of it may also have an effect.
Scheduled to be next on the program was the Act II Pas de Deux from The Nutcracker. For reasons I know not, it was exchanged for the Act II Pas de Deux from Swan Lake. I was rhapsodizing about this ballet only a few weeks ago (here), so will say no more about it. I will say that this pas de deux was danced by Misty Copeland and Herman Cornejo. As the music wends, so did they. As the music blends strength and grace, so did they.
Tchaikovsky had melodies falling out of his pocket. It was one of his glories as a composer, and it is a reason for the envy he has long provoked. There are plenty of fine and intelligent composers to whom melodies don’t occur. You can learn about composing all you want, and you can learn a ton of math—but melodies don’t grow on trees. Tchaikovsky seemed to have an undying, undiminishing orchard at his disposal.
For Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky composed an extra pas de deux, which was promptly lost, not to be discovered until 1953. George Balanchine choreographed this music, and the result is known as the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.
On Friday night, it was danced by Gillian Murphy and James Whiteside, who were dynamic. Technically precise, yes, but also dynamic, which lifted the dance, and, afterward, lifted the audience to its feet. I’m not sure this kind of dynamism can be taught, but it means a lot in art.
Ending the evening was Aurora’s Wedding, a.k.a. the last act of The Sleeping Beauty. (It is Prince Désiré’s wedding, too, but everyone knows that a wedding really belongs to the bride, not the groom.) The proceedings tickled the eye and the ear, as they must. Skylar Brandt and Zhiyao Zhang made a fine, flitting Florine and Bluebird. Isabella Boylston was Aurora, and she is reliably, as my grandmother would say, to eat.
There were a couple of unexpected guests at the wedding—unexpected by me, that is: the Chinese Dance and the Russian Dance, both from The Nutcracker. Perhaps such guests are traditional when The Sleeping Beauty’s Act III is performed as Aurora’s Wedding. Sort of like songs and arias brought to the party in Die Fledermaus, Johann Strauss Jr.’s New Year’s Evey operetta?
At any rate, the Chinese Dance, the Russian Dance, and other Nutcracker dances can drop in whenever they want, as far as I’m concerned. Do you know what Rodion Shchedrin said when he was asked, “What music are you prepared to listen to right now?” (He is an important Russian composer, the widower of Maya Plisetskaya, the immortal ballerina.) He said The Nutcracker, “because each and every section of the score is a masterpiece.”