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Under the guidance of Kevin McKenzie, American Ballet Theatre has become an ensemble of depth, probably more so than at any time in its nearly sixty-year history. The depth is more technical and interpretive than choreographic, however.

All but eight of the company's sixty-four spring season performances were devoted to full-length, nineteenth-century spectacles, including Don Quixote, Le Corsaire, and La Bayadere, plus twentieth-century additions, including Kenneth MacMillan's Anastasia and Ben Stevenson's Snow Maiden.

Anastasia was billed as an "American Ballet Theatre premiere." Actually, the company has had the third act since 1985. The ballet concerns the plight of the woman who believed herself to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, the only surviving offspring of the murdered Tsar Nicholas II, and consists mostly of melodramatic flashbacks. The first two acts have now been added. They are leisurely views of carefree days aboard the royal yacht and at the Winter Palace. It's a strangely disjointed trio, largely because MacMillan seems to have remained outside his subject matter, and perhaps affected by this, Bob Crowley's sets are more eccentric than enhancing.

Of the three principals whom I saw, only guest artist Viviana Durante balanced Anastasia's early spunk against her eventually hypertonic behavior. Julie Kent glowed in the first two acts but seemed to protect herself from the unleashed emotions of the last, while the sensitive Alessandra Ferri gave herself heroically to a role that is too roughhewn for her.

Most of the secondary characters were so sketchily drawn that it was up to the dancers to make something of them. I liked Victor Barbee's simply stated Tsar, Christine Dunham's gentle Tsarina, and Irina Dvorovenko's touch of grandeur in the same role. As Rasputin, even a resourceful dancer-actor like Ethan Brown could do little more than skulk about.

Sometimes there were unintentionally funny touches, as when the young Anastasia tottered about on roller skates attached to her pointe shoes or when she later threw herself on the floor in a fit that resembled swimming. At Anastasia's coming-out ball, Maryinsky ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska and Her Partner dashed on for a pas de deux that looked underrehearsed but was actually under-choreographed. Ashley Tuttle and Marcelo Gomes danced it conscientiously, while Paloma Herrera and Giuseppe Picone seemed to add embelishments of their own.

Nestled among the nineteenth-century leviathans was Giselle. Since the days of Markova and Dolin, it has been an ABT talisman. As poet May Sarton wrote, "Form is always a safety." Giselle is a jewel of form. What's more, its emotions are as clear as they are tender, and the dance passages are perfectly balanced with the mime.

As in all great works, varied inflections can be given to the principal characters. Like Tuttle and Julio Bocca (replacing the injured Angel Corella), they can be shy yet ardent. Durante's explosiveness was underscored by the passionate assurance of Jose Manuel Carreno; and Susan Jaffe's thoughtful building of the character in a way compensated for Ethan Stiefel's occasionally insecure partnering. His brilliance as a soloist has yet to be extended to the needs of his partners.

Perhaps because he had Shakespeare to inspire him, Prokofiev's stalwart score to sustain him, and the prior ballet versions of Leonid Lavrovsky and John Cranko to lend an idea or two, MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet is his most richly realized ballet--with a verve and intelligence of its own. Like a Renaissance fresco, the ballet is rich in detail. For example, a beggar hobbles across downstage. He then dashes up a flight of stairs, tosses away his crutches, and whirls merrily on a balcony. After Tybalt and Mercutio have been killed, he is seen suspended above the street as though crucified.

Of the five pairs of "star-crossed lovers" that I saw, Yan Chen and Corella were especially touching. With her fluid arabesque and gently poised arms, she seemed to move in an aura, while he accented his boyish flights with moments of feline stillness. Ferri and Bocca performed not only with each other but also for each other.

Petipa and Stevenson are both danse d'ecole choreographers. In Le Corsaire, Don Quixote, and La Bayadere, Petipa is liberated by the proscenium. Even in the burnished symmetry of the Kingdom of the Shades in La Bayadere or the Jardin Anime in Le Corsaire, his focus is on the audience.

Stevenson, on the other hand, can't quite make up his mind. In The Snow Maiden he adheres closely to the classroom. Much of the ballet's magic lies in Desmond Heeley's sets and costumes: his sparkling icescape with its bluish undertones; the wedding scene with its distant, dreamlike onion domes; and the penetrating brilliance of the costume colors.

Nina Ananiashvili is the most poetic of the ABT ballerinas. As the creature of ice and snow who falls in love with a mortal, she lifted the ballet's theme to the level of parable, while Bocca set her off with his sturdy simplicity.

The season's surfeit of full-length ballets was leavened by two mixed bills. The first, led by a leisurely version of Balanchine's Symphonie Concertante, was otherwise negligible. The second was distinguished. It consisted of Paul Taylor's Airs, Jiri Kylian's Stepping Stones, and Twyla Tharp's Push Comes to Shove. The velvety lyricism of the Taylor, the bold mysticism of the Kylian, and the contrapuntal challenges of the Tharp were all knowingly danced, with the exception of the Push Comes to Shove solo indelibly associated with Mikhail Baryshnikov. In it, Stiefel has yet to find his timing, while Carreno (replacing Corella) was miscast. Gil Boggs, who made his farewell appearance in Airs on June 9, might well have been entrusted with the role. He used to perform it with great charm.

As the season wound down, I returned to Don Quixote, not to retrace the Don's meanderings, but to see Dvorovenko and Maxim Belotserkovsky as the lovers, Kitri and Basil. Small wonder that they were bombarded with bouquets at the end; professionalism can be totally satisfying.

With few exceptions, McKenzie was keenly aware in his casting of the qualities of individual dancers and of their potential. One could see artists like Chen, Veronica Lynn, and Joaquin de Luz literally grow with each new assignment; and corps members, notably Carmen Corella, Gomes, Vladislav Kalinin, Sara Mau, Anne Milewski, Carlos Molina, and Gillian Murphy, emerge as distinctive soloists.

The company is also blessed with two masterful conductors, Ermanno Florio and Charles Barker. Both paid attention to the momentum of individual dancers, and yet the pacing of each ballet was as firm as it was flexible.
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 1999
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