Two nights at the opera, or were they on the Riviera?
May 20th, 2017.
Myriam Ould-Braham, who owned her chipper loose run –the feet didn’t drag behind her, they traced tiny semi-circles in the sand, and the hips swayed less than Marilyn but more than yours should — called all of us (onstage and in the audience) to attention during the first movement. She was that girl in high school so beautiful but so damned sweet that you couldn’t bring yourself to hate her. Mathias Heymann was the guy so gorgeous and popular in theory that no one ever dared try to get close to him, so he ended up being kind of lonely. Both cast a spell. But you sensed that while She was utterly a self, He yearned for that something more: a kindred spirit.
The second movement went off like a gunshot. Ould-Braham popped out of the wings upstage and stared — her body both still and expectant, both open and closed – at Heymann. From house left, Heymann’s back gave my eyes the illusion of his being both arrow-straight and deeply Graham contracted, hit. You know that feeling: “at last we are alone…uh oh, oh man oh man, am I up to it?”
Like two panthers released from the cage that only a crowd at a party can create, they paced about and slinked around each other. At first as formal and poised as expensive porcelain figurines, they so quickly melted and melded: as if transported by the music into the safety of a potter’s warm hand. Even when the eyes of Ould-Braham and Heymann were not locked, you could feel that this couple even breathed in synch. During the sequence of bourrées where she slips upstage, blindly and backwards towards her parner, each time Ould-Braham nuanced these tiny fussy steps. Her hands grew looser and freer – they surrendered themselves. What better metaphor does there exist for giving in to love?
Look down at your hands. Are they clenched, curled, extended, flat…or are they simply resting on your lover’s arm?
During the first and third movements of the 20th, the corps shaped the easy joy of just a bunch of pals playing around. On the 23rd that I was watching two sharp teams who wanted to win. I even thought about beach volleyball, for the first time in decades, for god’s sake.
Here the energy turned itself around and proved equally satisfying. Amadine Albisson is womanly in a very different way. She’s taller, her center of gravity inevitably less quicksilver than Ould-Braham’s, but her fluid movements no less graceful. Her interpretation proved more reserved, less flirtatious, a bit tomboyish. Leading the pack of boys, her dance made you sense that she subdues those of the male persuasion by not only by knowing the stats of every pitcher in Yankee history but also by being able to slide into home better than most of them. All the while, she radiates being clearly happy to have been born a girl.
As the main boy, Josua Hoffalt’s élan concentrated on letting us in on to all of those little bits of movement Robbins liked to lift from real life: during the slow-motion swim and surf section – and the “Simon says” parts — every detail rang clear and true. When Hoffalt took a deep sniff of dusty stage air I swear I, too, felt I could smell a whiff of the sand and sea as it only does on the Long Island shore.
Then everyone runs off to go get ice cream, and the adagio begins. Stranded onstage, he turns around, and, whoops, um, uh oh: there She is. Albisson’s expression was quizzical, her attitude held back. In Hoffalt’s case, his back seemed to bristle. The pas de deux started out a bit cold. At first their bodies seemed to back away from each other even when up close, as if testing the other. Wasn’t very romantic. Suddenly their approach to the steps made all kind of sense. “Last summer, we slept together once, and then you never called.” “Oh, now I remember! I never called. What was I thinking? You’re so gorgeous and cool now, how could I have forgotten all about you?”
Both wrestled with their pride, and questioned the other throughout each combination. They were performing to each other. But then Albisson began to progressively thaw to Hoffalt’s attentions and slowly began to unleash the deep warmth of her lower back and neck as only she can do. Her pliancy increased by degrees until at the end it had evolved into a fully sensual swan queen melt of surrender.
She won us both over.
A tiny and fleeting gesture sets off the final full-penchée overhead lift that carries her backwards off-stage in splendor. All that she must do is gently touch his forehead before she plants both hands on his shoulders and pushes up. It can be done as lightly as if brushing away a wisp of hair or as solemnly as a benediction, but neither is something you could never have imagined Albisson’s character even thinking of doing at the start of this duet. Here that small gesture, suffused with awe at the potential of tenderness, turned out to be as thrilling as the lift itself.
Both casts evoked the spirit of a passage in the gorgeous English of the Saint James’s translation of the Bible: If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. (Psalm 139). I dare to say that’s also one way to define partnering in general, when it really works.