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American Ballet Theatre: Manon (Julio Bocca's Farewell)
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Rachel S. Moore, Executive Director
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova,
Georgina Parkinson, Kirk Peterson
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
Susan Morgan, Press Associate
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 22, 2006 and June 23, 2006
(See Reviews of American Ballet Theatre.)
Manon (1993): Choreography and direction by Kenneth MacMillan, Music by Jules Massenet, Staged by Monica Parker, Orchestrated and arranged by Leigton Lucas, with the collaboration of Hilda Gaunt, Sets and costumes by Nicholas Giorgiadis, Lighting by Thomas R. Skelton. The student, Des Grieux, at a courtyard of an inn near Paris, meets Manon, as she departs for a convent. An old gentleman is attracted to her, but Manon and Des Grieux fall in love immediately and escape with money stolen from the old man. Lescaut, Manon's brother, makes a bargain with the old man to give him Manon, but then a wealthier Monsieur G.M. also wants Manon, and Lescaut switches the deal.
When Des Grieux leaves his studio to post a letter, Manon meets G.M., through her brother, and accepts his bribery of jewels and money. Lescaut tries to bribe Des Grieux in the deal and later persuades Des Grieux to take G.M.'s money at cards to re-acquire Manon, who is now torn between her patron and her lover. Manon again rushes away with Des Grieux, after the card game goes wild, and they declare love. Manon is arrested as a prostitute, and Lescaut is shot by G.M. Manon is deported to America, followed by Des Grieux, and the jailer assaults Manon. Des Grieux stabs the jailer and escapes with Manon into Louisiana's swamps. As they flee, Manon dies in Des Grieux' arms. (Program Notes).
June 22, 2006: Conductor: Charles Barker, Performed by Alessandra Ferri as Manon, Julio Bocca as Des Grieux, Herman Cornejo as Lescaut, Gillian Murphy as Lescaut's Mistress, Victor Barbee as Monsieur G.M., Sascha Radetsky as The Jailer, Georgina Parkinson as Madame, Carlos Lopez as Beggar Chief, Kirk Peterson as Old Man, and the Company as Courtesans, Actresses, Gentlemen, Clients, Harlots, Beggar Boys, Innkeeper, Maid, Skivvy, Townswomen, Garrison Soldiers, Ratcatcher, Servants, Guards, Footmen.
June 23, 2006: Conductor: Charles Barker, Performed by Diana Vishneva as Manon, Vladmir Malakhov as Des Grieux, Gennadi Saveliev as Lescaut, Stella Abrera as Lescaut's Mistress, Victor Barbee as Monsieur G.M., Isaac Stappas as The Jailer, Georgina Parkinson as Madame, Craig Salstein as Beggar Chief, Kirk Peterson as Old Man, and the Company as Courtesans, Actresses, Gentlemen, Clients, Harlots, Beggar Boys, Innkeeper, Maid, Skivvy, Townswomen, Garrison Soldiers, Ratcatcher, Servants, Guards, Footmen.
On June 22, Julio Bocca danced his farewell ABT performance, with longtime partner, Alessandra Ferri (I sat behind her husband and daughter). After twenty years as a principal with American Ballet Theatre, having been originally tapped by then Artistic Director, Baryshnikov, after winning an international ballet competition in Moscow, Julio Bocca retired at age 39. He will continue dancing one more year with Ballet Argentino and then work in choreography, dance education and administration, and other unique projects. In 1993, Mr. Bocca partnered Ms. Ferri in Manon, with Victor Barbee as the Jailer (in this performance he was Monsieur G.M.) and Georgina Parkinson as Madame (same role once again). The Met Opera House was sold out, aisles moved at a snail's pace, and the energy was intense. A large contingent of Argentineans was present, as Mr. Bocca is known to sell out stadiums, like a rock star, when he performs in his native country.
The Massenet score is sumptuous and Kenneth MacMillan's choreography is replete with pas de deux, so rapturous that they seem other-worldly. The plot is complicated, too complicated, and it was on the second viewing of this rarely produced ballet that I absorbed the full stage of characters (on the 22nd, all eyes were only on Mr. Bocca and Ms. Ferri). Des Grieux and Manon are star-crossed lovers, the inherent story of most ballets, and, as usual, one succumbs at the finale. There are themes of wealth and poverty, greed, lust, violence, travel, illness, and passion. Nicholas Giorgiadis' sets are larger than life, with a canopy bed that rises to the rafters, a boat, a swamp, a courtyard, a jail, and a party. Giorgiadis' costumes match the circumstances, silk and embroidery to torn, slashed cottons. Thomas Skelton's lighting and Monica Parker's created a vision that transported the audience to Paris and Louisiana. Chares Barker juggled conducting after or through the repetitive accolades.
Mr. Bocca and Ms. Ferri were locked in wild kisses and embraces, with astonishing leaps en air, as Ms. Ferri triple-spun against Mr. Bocca's torso. He carried her upside down, against her bare thigh, and caressed her (This is the choreography) bare legs. The solos were flawless and riveting. Ms. Ferri transformed from wispy ingénue to new lover to wealthy mistress to reunited lover to distraught prisoner to dying woman, all in a couple of hours. The chemistry in this twenty year partnership is evocative of that of Nureyev and Fonteyn, and I did not want it to end. Ms. Ferri will remain at ABT for the immediate future. Mr. Bocca managed a rapid spin, arms close, in an impassioned effort to reach Manon cross-stage. He also ran in "princely" fashion, arms extended, chasing those who claimed his object of desire. In the two murder scenes, one shooting and one stabbing, Mr. Bocca proved himself a top-rate actor, at the peak of theatrical form.
To extend the Latin cast on the 22nd, Mr. Bocca's Argentinean protégée, Herman Cornejo, was Lescaut, and Carlos Lopez was Beggar Chief. Mr. Cornejo is an extraordinary actor and dancer, and he engages the audience at every moment. As Lescaut, he was devilish and devious, daring and dynamic. He was the epitome of a brother from Hell, who sold his sister twice over. Mr. Lopez had one sensational solo and led the beggars through some astounding athletics. Gillian Murphy used camp and charm to extend her interpretation of Lescaut's flashy mistress. Victor Barbee was the quintessential, lustful courtier, with body language that reeked of pain and power. His gestures are incredibly accurate to the moment.
As the Jailer, Sascha Radetsky exuded vicious strength, but with a human touch. Georgina Parkinson re-created her 1993 role as Madame, and, as always, she exuded seasoned dramatics. The Company was impeccable, especially as Harlots and Beggar Boys, in crouching and crawling choreography, with shorn hair and torn clothing. One dance, with females grasping and circling their heads, then falling lifelessly, was mesmerizing. Another mesmerizing dance involved Manon, as she was passed from gentleman to gentleman, falling into their arms, raising her leg straight up, sitting on shoulders, being idolized by strangers and lovers. Her black-gold dress and silky coat, plus the symbolic diamond necklace and bracelet, here and there, formed a stark contrast to the ultimate costumes of rags.
For Mr. Bocca's farewell, shining confetti, thousands of flowers, bouquets, and two floral horseshoes were presented. Mr. Bocca was lifted on the shoulders of Marcelo Gomes and David Hallberg, and the bravos and applause lasted twenty minutes. The curtain calls went on forever, and, finally, Mr. Bocca was offered an Argentinean beer and an Argentinean flag, which he draped on his shoulders (even more meaningful in the midst World Cup competition). Next week, the week of Swan Lake, will not be the same. There was no finalSwan Lake, and my mind returns to another, although somewhat briefer, partnership, that with the Bolshoi-trained, Nina Ananiashvili. Their Swan Lakes were show-stoppers for years. Many of Mr. Bocca's current and former partners (such as Susan Jaffe and Cynthia Gregory) were on hand for his farewell, but Ms. Ananiashvili probably could not travel from her native Georgia.
Kudos to Julio Bocca.
On June 23, Diana Vishneva was Manon, with Vladmir Malakhov as Des Grieux. The Russian cast was extended with Gennadi Saveliev as Lescaut. Mr. Malakhov is the epitome of a Russian prince, dramatic, leggy, fair-skinned, light, straight hair, and the chemistry between this Des Grieux and Manon, Ms. Vishneva, was thick. Mr. Malakhov is more the actor than the virtuoso, but his pas de deux were seamless and attentive. The impassioned choreography in his studio and in the final scene brought the house down, with many Russian fans in the audience to see these two glowing principals. Without the edge of the previous night's farewell performance, I could concentrate on choreography, scenery, staging, and Manon is surely a ballet to become a staple in ABT's Spring Season. The music drew me in, even more, especially in those hypnotic pas de deux.
Ms. Vishneva is a Prima Ballerina, a diva of ballet, and on stage and at curtain calls, she bowed and knelt elegantly, to her partner, the conductor, and the audience, with humility and grace. She exudes energy and Kirov-trained arm undulations, reminiscent of the Bolshoi-trained, Nina Ananiashvili. Mr. Saveliev seemed a bit self-possessed, not as poised and uninhibited as Mr. Cornejo, but he, too, is a magnetic and pulsating presence. Stella Abrera danced with exceptional coyness and charisma as Lescaut's mistress, and Craig Salstein managed gravity-defying leaps as Beggar Chief. Isaac Stappas was a bit too swaggering and crude as the abusive jailer, although an actual sexual assault at that time would probably have been quite similar to the one choreographed in Manon.
Mr. Barbee and Ms. Parkinson repeated their roles on the 23rd, and Kirk Peterson, Ballet Master, was the Old Man on both nights. The Company was splendid in the various representations of Courtesans, Clients, Townswomen, Soldiers, Footmen, etc. This ballet has no watershed corps dance, such as Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, Swan Lake, La Bayadère, except the dance of falling harlots, so the two leads assume enormous responsibility to carry three acts. Tonight, Ms. Vishneva and Mr. Malakhov succeeded in this challenge. Kudos to Jules Massenet, and kudos to Charles Barker, who conducts with his hands and delivers remarkable resonance.
Alessandra Ferri and Julio Bocca in Manon
Photo courtesy of Gene Schiavone
Alessandra Ferri and Julio Bocca take a curtain call
Photo courtesy of Tommy Ng
ABT applauds Julio Bocca after his final performance
Photo courtesy of Tommy Ng
ABT applauds Julio Bocca after his final performance
Photo courtesy of Tommy Ng