Alessandra Ferri soars and delights in ‘Art of the Pas Deux’ at MOT
DETROIT, MICH.–There is no art form more romantic than classical ballet, and no variation more romantic than the pas de deux. Characteristic of exalting the feminine form, for hundreds of years this form of dance, the step for two, places the woman in the center of things even as she’s lifted, supported through the air, held as she’s spun like a spinning top. She is adored, guided, bolstered by her partner, but her beauty, strength, and grace is all her own.
Michigan Opera Theatre’s Alessandra Ferri: Art of the Pas de Deux, at the Detroit Opera House Valentine’s weekend was an extraordinary celebration of this most romantic dance that emerges from the most romantic art form but with tremendous diversity and variations as well as a spotlight on ballet legend Alessandra Ferri, one of 11 dancers since 1894 to receive the title Prima Ballerina Assoluta, a dancer whose artistry and achievements surpass all others. Ferri, 55, utterly embodied her title in this flawless performance.
With pas de deuxes from “La Sylphide,” the first Romantic ballet as well as other exquisite, famous, classical duets from “Swan Lake” plus edgy, contemporary choreography from Christopher Wheeldon and Artistic Director Marco Pelle, among others, principal dancers from celebrated companies including American Ballet Theatre, English National Ballet, La Scala Theatre Ballet, and the Boston Ballet offered a breathtaking night of ballet in this two-hour program.
The show opened with the pas de deux from “La Sylphide” in which Oksana Maslova’s lightness and ethereality captured the famed weightless quality of this dance. In a series of cabriolets, she appeared to never touch the ground, and the final tableau in which she landed in a 180 degree arabesque was truly amazing. She brought a similar quality with her stunning extensions, arabesques, and backbend lifts in the “White Swan Pas de Deux” performed with Herman Cornejo.
Solo dances punctuated the program with wonderful drama. Misa Kuranaga’s “Dying Swan” brought tremendous expressivity in her arms and chest, and Marcelo Gomes’s bare, undulating torso offered a study in the chiseled masculine form accentuated by lights in the achingly beautiful “Mirrors That Hang from Family Trees” choreographed by Nicholas Palmquist.
These dances as well as the high-energy “Black Swan Pas de Deux”, Lar Lubovich’s gorgeous pas de deux between two men “Concerto Six Twenty Two” and Marco Pelle’s visually astounding “Shall I breathe?”, accompanied on stage by opera singer Mary-Hollis Hundley, were all marvelous in their own right and offered the highest of high art; however, when Ferri took the stage, there was no doubt we were in the presence of the Prima Ballerina Assoluta.
Her first appearance, at the end of Act I in Wayne McGregor’s intriguing “Witness” with Herman Cornejo was completely and utterly about her, such is the choreography and such is her unparalleled stage presence, her emotionality, her expressivity that transcends even what her unbelievable body can do. He lifted and guided her, she slithered into repose on the ground, they moved in perfect tandem as a pole of cool light stage right and a box of warm light down stage left signified the play between cool and hot, romantic and sexy, in this gorgeous piece.
Then she showed her incredible suppleness in Wheeldon’s “After the Rain” with Marcelo Gomes. They began shifting away from each other only to share their weight at crucial moments throughout the dance. They leaned away from each other then leaned toward each other until finally they were utterly intertwined on top of each other. She bent all the way backward until she was on all fours but with chest facing up; he lifted her up in this position then set her down again with nary a change to the figure she made. It was a marvel to watch.
As was the twirl in the final dance, “Le Parc.” What began as a rubbing of faces against the other’s chest became locked lips from which she spun, nearly horizontally.
Isn’t that what romantic love feels like at its best?
“Great dancers can take you on a journey,” Artistic Director Marco Pelle said in a curtain speech. “They make you . . . witness a beauty that is a beauty of the heart.” Undoubtedly, this program was full of dancers so great they’re transcendent. And to have been in attendance was not only to witness an incredibly romantic beauty of the heart, but to have experienced something worth feeling and talking about for years to come.