Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Not a night you’d expect

Boot camp in Central Park at 96th Street. 7:40 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011. Very hot summer days and nights, in the 80s at midnight.

Last night at Lincoln Center. The White Nights Foundation of America held its annual benefit last night with a gala performance of the Mariinsky Ballet’s U.S. premiere of Anna Karenina with Diana Vishneva, and conducted by the great Valery Gergiev. Mr. Gergiev is the Artistic and General Director of the Mariinsky. The Mariinsky Ballet is part of the Lincoln Center Festival of 2011.

Last night was not a night you’d expect people in New York at a gala benefit for the ballet. I’d assumed it would be black tie since it was the Met and there was a dinner afterwards at the Mandarin Oriental ballroom five blocks down Broadway. Fortunately, I checked the invitation (groaning) only to discover the attire was “Festive.”
Lincoln Center. 9:00 PM.
“Festive” is a popular attire designation these days. I have no idea what it means except it means no black tie. I put on a suit although I felt like I’d rather be in a polo and a pair of khakis. To my surprise, when I got to the Metropolitan Opera House, there were a lot of people wearing just that, often with a jacket -- although not everyone. Many of the men were also in suits.

The Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg includes several institutions – the ballet, the orchestra, the opera and the Academy for Young Singers and Young Musicians Orchestra.

Last night’s opening was very special, I soon realized. The Met was packed right up to the top tier. The week, I was told, is sold out. There was of course a large contingent of Russian-Americans attending as well as balletomanes and lovers of the ballet. The White Nights Foundation had intended to honor the legendary Maya Plisetskaya and her husband Rodion Shchedrin who composed the music for Anna Karenina. The role was originated by Plisetskaya, who is widely regarded as the greatest Russian ballerina of the 20th century. However, Mr. Shchedrin is hospitalized in St. Petersburg and Mme. Plisetskaya chose to remain at his side.
All the critics were there for what was the opening night of a week of performances by the Mariinsky (including another performance on Friday night). A friend of mine who is very connected to the dance world pointed them out and filled me in on how they’re viewed by the world of dance. Some are nice and some are not so. Nevertheless, they are regarded as powerful and their work is followed and read and weighed (and even feared at times) with eager sensitivity. The ballet, like the opera, is a way of life for many people and it evokes tremendous passion.

Tremendous passion is what the Mariinsky Ballet gave to New York last night on the stage of the Met. Although I like the ballet and have become somewhat more familiar with it, I am not a devotee. So my expectations are not high and I would not surprise myself if I fell asleep during a performance.

Alexei Ratmansky, the choreographer.
Ironically, I never have. However, last night, knowing it was going to be the balletic version of the great Tolstoy novel, I was thinking of a thousand pages of small print and so it occurred to me that I just might doze off. Because I know I snore, it even occurred to me that if I did doze, I would be seated between two good women friends who would alert me if I started to snore.

That was my self-drama as I took my seat and waited for Maestro Gergiev to appear with his baton. I don’t know why I got into it, considering that it had never happened before. Maybe it was the heat that I had just come in out of.

Alexei Ratmansky choreographed the ballet. Mr. Ratmansky, who has created and choreographed for many of the greatest ballet companies in the world, is now at the American Ballet Theatre and he is the ballet master’s version of a rock star. I was told that he is adored by his dancers and that they work extra hard for him.

Well, when the curtain came down on the First Act, I couldn’t believe it was final. I looked at my watch and was shocked to see that almost an hour had passed. I was caught up in the amazing tale. Ratmansky’s dancing in this production was “expressive,” the word used by my friend who is very knowledgeable about dance. I could see what she meant. Very dramatic.

The second act, which was more intense and action-packed flew by. The Russian dancing seems more athletic yet sensitive. You can see why it is a “popular” art form in their culture: it speaks directly to you, the audience. You find yourself relating to the characters the way you do in theatre.

I need to add: my favorite dancer is Fred Astaire. I have never tired of watching Fred Astaire’s dances. I concluded long ago that what makes him so compelling is his style of movement, right down to the way he strides when he walks. When he dances you feel like you’re dancing too; your whole self is moving with the rhythms and the music. I felt some of that last night watching the Mariinsky at the Metropolitan Opera House. It came home with me.
Jimmy Russo, Kristina Kovalenko, and Tony Cointreau Randy Jones and Selwa (Lucky) Roosevelt
Stephanie and Jeanne Lawrence. Jonathan Steinberg and Maria Bartiromo.
Among the guests were Baryshnikov, Darren Aronofsky, Maria Bartiromo and Jonathan Steinberg, Ann Dexter-Jones, Patricia Field, Randy Jones with Selwa (Lucky) Roosevelt and her grandson Sam Hornblower, who is a producer on “Sixty Minutes,” Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, Cynthia and Leon Polsky, Patsy Tarr, Sharon Hoge, Elie and Marion Weisel, Mort Zuckerman, Lally Weymouth, Elaine and Jim Wolfensohn, Paula and Leon Root, Susan and Sam Lehrman, Jean Lawrence and her daughter Stephanie, Chloe Malle who has moved from the New York Observer to Vogue as a social reporter; The Honorable James and Mrs. Symington, Matthew Settle, Carolina Herrera, Peter Lyden, Prince Dimitri.

The Gala’s chair was Fred Iseman. His vice-chairs included Sid and Mercedes Bass, Fiorenza Scholey Cohen, Kristina Kovalenko and Mrs. George Votis.

The performance was sold out and when taking their bows the principals and the entire company received a long standing ovation. The final bows were also visually intriguing, employing some of the stage set’s devices as you can see in the series I took. A very good night in New York.
The final bow begins ...

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