ABT Says Farewell to Roberto Bolle

Bolle's curtain call, photo @Kent G. Becker

ABT's spring season is now officially into warhorse territory. Last week we had Le Corsaire, which I reviewed for bachtrack. (In a sign of the times Le Corsaire now comes with a disclaimer in the program.)  I was lucky enough to see Daniil Simkin's Ali before he got injured. Last night ABT said farewell to longtime danseur noble and uber-hunk Roberto Bolle. The ballet: Kenneth MacMillan's L'Histoire de Manon, which is actually the first ballet I ever saw Bolle dance (he was partnering Alessandra Ferri in her first "farewell").

Bolle and Seo, photo @ Gene Schiavone
Bolle and Des Grieux are a nearly perfect fit between dancer and role. Bolle has the same long lines and elegant carriage as Anthony Dowell, the originator of the role. He was never a bravura dancer but is skilled at those pirouettes in arabesque and adagio exercises like the slow raising of the leg in développé that were a Dowell speciality. When Bolle does those leg lifts his pointed feet were practically a work of art. And of course he's a very strong partner, so necessary for this very physically exhausting ballet.

With that being said, Bolle's farewell performance was really not all that. For one, Bolle was hampered by Hee Seo, a pretty, competent dancer who somehow manages to project nothing and generate zero excitement. The story of Manon is so tawdry that for the ballet to work one has to believe in the grand love between Manon and Des Grieux. There has to be sizzling chemistry. With Seo and Bolle there was nothing. They did all the steps, all the passionate embraces, all the desperate flailing in the final swamp pas de deux. Seo's legs and feet and extensions were beautiful. But there was about as much heat between them as there is between, uh, Donald and Melania. Seo displayed more convincing emotion when her brother Lescaut was killed. And while Bolle is still an excellent partner, his adagio solos didn't have the smoothness they had in the past.

Abrera as the Mistress, from her IG account
There was more chemistry between the Lescaut (James Whiteside) and his mistress (Stella Abrera). You could believe these two had a satisfying enough physical connection to keep them together. Their drunk pas de deux was funny and dare I say sexy? The drunk pas is actually my favorite piece of choreography in Manon --  it's quirky and funny, two qualities I don't normally associate with MacMillan. I was thinking the whole time what a great Manon Abrera would have made -- she's kittenish and projects youth even though she's been with the company for over 20 years.

ABT's roster of character actors is strong -- Roman Zhurbin imposing and sleazy as Monsieur GM, Alexandre Hammoudi appalling as the jailer. But the infamous jailer scene in which the Jailer forces Manon to, uh, service him fell flat. I've seen Manons handle this scene different ways. Some crumple to the ground in disgust. Others seem bear it with the stoicism of someone who is, after all, a professional. Seo didn't have much of a reaction either way.

Veronika Part and Bolle, photo @ Kent G. Becker
At the end of the evening there was a heartfelt celebration for Bolle. In addition to the current ABT roster, Bolle received warm embraces onstage from Veronika Part, Irina Dvorovenko, and Julie Kent. I saw many dancers from both within ABT and elsewhere in the audience. It was a fitting sendoff for a classy dancer. I just wish the actual performance had been more exciting.

Thankfully Bolle's career has been remarkably well preserved on video. In fact, there's a commercial video of Bolle in Manon at the Paris Opera Ballet that is a much stronger performance. Check it out.

Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo
Everything that was lacking in the Bolle farewell was present earlier when Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo made their debuts in Manon. Sarah Lane is always astonishing -- petite, dark-haired, intense, with a pliant back and beautifully arched feet, her Manon was a bewitching seductress. She used her large dark eyes to great effect -- sometimes they looked cold and calculating, other times genuinely terrified, and occasionally both calculated and terrified.  In the famous Act 2 solo where she's passed around from man to man her eyes flashed all over the stage, as if she were surveying her potential customers. Her small size worked to her advantage -- yes she was a gold-digger who abandons Des Grieux when her brother Lescaut shows up with a rich man and a diamond necklace. But she's so cute and innocent-looking that you could believe Des Grieux would fall for her charms again and again. She made the infamous scene with a jailer horrifying. Brava Sarah.

The chemistry between Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo is very special. Their connection in their pas de deux covers an arc -- from the immature romance in the Act 1 bedroom pas de deux to the anger and resentment after Manon returns to Des Grieux but refuses to give up her diamonds to the desperate physicality of the final swamp scene. Cornejo like Lane is small and fearless, with an intensity that belies his boyish looks. They both are tiny dancers who dance huge. Ordinarily I'm not a fan of the extremely physical, violent pas de deux MacMillan choreographs for Manon but Lane and Cornejo made it work.

Hoven and Trenary, from Hoven's IG
Strangely though Lane and Cornejo weren't the dancers who surprised me the most. Blaine Hoven is usually a technically efficient but bland dancer. As Manon's amoral brother Lescaut he was transformed -- swaggering, sleazy, and in the famous "drunk" solo and pas de deux with his mistress hilariously wasted.  Cassandra Trenary as his mistress wasn't able to match Hoven's comic chops, but she does have the requisite glamor.

Manon (my favorite MacMillan is actually Mayerling) will never be my favorite ballet, but overall I enjoyed this run way more than I thought I would, thanks to the strong performances from Lane and Cornejo. No one will ever match the pairing of Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes but Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo are now a close second.

And now here is a video of Bolle's farewell:


  1. Thank you for your wonderful review. It almost makes me want to see Manon again. Funny enough, the only time I saw this ballet was with Bolle. He was brought in as a guest to partner Ferri for her farewell season and I was very impressed by him. On the other hand, once was enough for me as far as the ballet itself . All those acrobatic pas des deux devised by McMillan just make the story more tawdry and misogynous. On the other hand, I can understand why it may be a favorite of certain ballerinas, especially when they are getting older. As far I can remember, in this ballet poor Manon seems to be constantly manhandled by men. She hardly ever dances by herself. That means that men is doing most of the work for her. On the other hand, I love the opera version of the story. May be this story works better when it is sung. As for la Corsaire, it is a trick fest and pure kitsch. I am always little appalled that this ballet is now a staple of western ballet. The fact now that ABT is putting a disclaimer is making it even more ridiculous.

    1. Manon is a big favorite for ballerinas I think bc it's not that technically demanding but is a great dramatic showpiece. Sort of like Juliet.


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