… a feast …

… although hard on the male dancers …

“All-Classical Masters,” a program of five ballets and ballet excerpts, is a sheer orgy of loveliness.  The dancing, choreography, design, costumes, lighting bring in one sparkling jewel after another — all in different tones and colors.

The choices are over-oriented toward the ballerinas, leaving the great male dancers of the American Ballet Theatre who accompany them with not much more to do than the heavy lifting, even in the selected pas de deux.  Nevertheless … what an evening!

In Allegro Brillante, choreographed by George Balanchine to Tchaikovsky’s Third Piano Concerto, starring Gillian Murphy and Ethan Stieffel, the choreography follows the music with concentrated literalness — one can hear Balanchine drawing his cues from rises and falls, notes and rhythms inTchaikovsky, guiding the dance with a constraint that intensifies the feeling of a tour de force: when it ended, you had the sense that the entire audience had been holding its breath.  The colors are luscious and contrasting vibrant pastels.  The stage seems enveloped in a delicious sheen of lighting and dance.

Things turn darker in “Romeo’s Farewell to Juliet”  from Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Antony Tudor to music of Delius, starring Xiomara Reyes and Gennadi Saveliev.  The spotlit rectangular, rumpled bed on the dim stage anticipates the stone tomb in the crypt — soft and hard, night an day, life and death are visually crushed together.  Joy and grief share a sharp edge in Juliet’s frantic dancing as Romeo pulls away.  The ballet segment seemed too short to fully develop the emotions yet at the same time one didn’t want it any different.

Thais Pas de Deux is an exotic fantasy clothed in orange and saffron and gold, choreographed by Frederick Ashton to Massenet’s “Meditation,” from Thais.  Hee Seo is picture-perfect as the dark and delicate Thais, partnered with exceptional harmony by Sascha Radetsky.  It’s exquisite.

In the Pas de Deux from Act I of Manon, choreographed by Kenneth Macmillan to music of Massenet, the poet, while furiously engaged in writing, is seduced from his work by the passionate, impatient desire of his lover, the prostitute Manon.  Again, the segment is all about her —  and when we have Jose Manuel Carreno as the poet!  I really would have liked to see more from him.  But Diana Vishneva’s Manon is astonishing.  She’s tiny, flexible, liquid — no bones, it seems, and yet powerful, how is it possible?  And she dances as if hectically possessed — able to twist herself into knots but nothing is tight, flow is everywhere.

Just to watch a human body at the outer margin of strength and untrammeled limberness is in itself a thrill but Vishneva extracts meaning from her unique ability.  Her speed and flexibility convey all that is tragic in Manon — socially marginal, non-conforming, and driven to fling herself all the way toward whatever tragedy may take her.

The Dream, choreographed by Frederick Ashton to Mendelssohn’s’s music, is a full one-act ballet after Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the wonderful interplay between the “real” human lovers and the fairy world of the woods, Titania’s drugged passion for the donkey-headed Bottom, Puck’s wicked playfulness, and Oberon’s magisterial kingship of the fairy world.  Mist really rises in this totally as-you-like-it dream — the dream as it looks, thanks to Shakespeare, in our communal imagination.

Here at last, in this evening, the men come into their own.  Marcelo Gomes as Oberon covers one end of the Metropolitan Opera’s vast stage to the other — and the whole of his magic realm — with lean mastery.  Julie Kent is pretty as the ditsy — but it’s not really her fault, is it? — Titania.  Craig Salstein is a vibrant, athletic Puck (though his legs didn’t always reach the same positions on the second of his paired leaps).  Good we got to see more of the strength of Gennadi Savaliev (Romeo and Juliet) as the mortal Demetrius.  Isaac Stappas brought out the fascinating incongruity of the human dancer’s body with the donkey’s head — shades of Equus — or rather the other way around.

It’s a joy and a privilege — the best of the best — to see the American Ballet Theatre’s “All-Classical Masters.”  For more information about performances and about the other great artists whose work went into this production, click on link