July 11, 2011
A roster of international guests are spicing up ABT casting options, but many fine dancers toil within the ranks, in the shadow of the touted guests.
One such example is Gillian Murphy. Statuesque and dedicated, she swept into the dual role of the Swan Queen Odette-Odile partnered by another American David Hallberg.
Transformed from a beautiful woman to swan by the evil Rothbart (Isaac Stappas) the marriage-shy Prince Siegrfied (Hallberg) escapes the royal court’s dull maidens and goes a-hunting in the magical forest where he encounters—celestial swan women.
Much beloved, the ballet swoons over the lush music of Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky and the white tutu clad corps. Technically, Murphy and Hallberg are on strong footing. But more than its panoply of acrobatics, this 19th century ballet demands emotional nuance.
Murphy’s athleticism suits the bad girl-Odile more than the fragile Odette, but as she moved through the shock of meeting a Prince and claims of ever-lasting love, Murphy softened, becoming demonstrably more and more receptive to Hallberg’s protestations of love. Although facially her range is limited, Murphy’s physical expressivity is gaining breadth of range.
By the end of Act I, Hallberg and Murphy were dramatically bonded. In the ballet’s signature arabesques, Murphy extends her long legs to the back, easily holding the leg’s height even as she dips down to her standing toe or twists her torso to another facing.
Attentive and classically clean, Hallberg’s partnering elicits confidence and ease during multiple pirouette turns and the awesome over -head lifts. Each ballerina finds a personal way of expressing the winged Odette, and in this case, Murphy’s approach is more direct, employing long arm waves rather than rubbery flutterings favored by many international stars.
The next night, determined to marry-off her son, Queen Mother (former ABT principal Susan Jaffe) arranges royal speed-dating festivities with all the eligible ladies of the land. Suddenly, a black tutu-clad, wild, and myserious Odile breaks into the ball on the arm of the evil human representation of Rothbart (a muted Gennadi Saveliev) Mesmerizing the prince, Odile plunges into dart-like arabesques, razor-sharp toe work and whiplash turns of increasing difficulty. She goads him into her arms and thus he forsakes his vows to Odette.
Finally, a despairing Prince flees the ball and finds his Odette in a sea of white swans---a visually stunning white chorus of legs and wavy arms. Refusing to stay imprisoned by Rothbart’s spell, Odette flings herself into the lake. The grief-struck Hallberg follows her suicide leap—body arched up before the fatal plunge.
It’s always satisfying to watch excellent performances by dancers born in the USA.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis