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American Ballet Theatre.


American Ballet Theatre's fall season at City Center has, within eight years, taken its place as one of the major delights in the New York dance season. The dancing is glorious (and the plots aren't usually too glum). The ability to see such gifted dancers up close in this relatively intimate theater is often thrilling. Artistic director Kevin McKenzie has made intelligent, savvy choices, blending old rep and new and illuminating the diverse dancers in his care, including an exceptional cadre of men.

This season McKenzie brought in a reworked version of VIII, Christopher Wheeldon's 2001 work for the Hamburg Ballet. Set to Benjamin Britten's Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, the dance takes its inspiration from King Henry VIII's quest for an heir. Wheeldon is resident choreographer at New York City Ballet, but this dramatic work aligns with those of Antony Tudor, another Englishman and one of ABT's founding choreographers. Not the gifted Wheeldon's most successful work, VIII nevertheless has craft and theatricality. Angel Corella made a grim, taut Henry, dancing first with the clinging Katherine of Aragon (Alessandra Ferri) and then with Anne Boleyn (Julie Kent, back to form after childbirth), as ghosts of his eventual six wives appeared in sheer, black period dress. Kent's Anne Boleyn, an innocent lamb to the slaughter, eventually stood alone on a riser as the large Tudor rose in Jean-Marc Puissant's backdrop went blood red and a curtain dropped to the level of her shoulder, symbolizing her beheading. She was barely out of the way, of course, before Henry offered his arm to another woman. In the dance's eeriest image, Kent peered from behind Corella's waist, his arm cradling her doomed head. In subsequent casting, Sarah Lane delivered Anne as a rather nasty little minx in the first pas de deux, when she's seducing the king, then as a frightened creature, foreseeing her fate, when they danced together again. Kristi Boone was an earthier Katherine than Ferri, and Gennadi Saveliev found gravitas as Henry.

Commissions are always part hunch, part educated guess. Unfortunately, Trey McIntyre's brand new Pretty Good Year (pretty good title, downhill from there) resembled nothing so much as a perpetual motion machine. The dance for seven, set to excerpts from Dvorak's Piano Trio in B-flat Major, moved at essentially the same high energy throughout; one longed to see the slower phrase, the more thoughtful moment. Despite some promising partnering, the dancers expended a great deal of energy to little effect. In different performances Herman Cornejo and David Hallberg, excellent men both, worked to shape their leading part in the first movement especially, but it was a losing battle--and frustrating to the audience--as the dance progressed with relentless pacing. Stella Abrera tried particularly nobly as well.

No such problem with Les Sylphides, Michel Fokine's early 20th--century reverie to Chopin (one guy, umpteen sylphs), which has drifted in and out of ABT's rep since 1940. It's an agreeable choice for the poetic Maxim Beloserkovsky and a promising preview of the all-Fokine program to come during the company's spring season at the Met.

Indeed, older dances from ABT's varied stable consistently served the dancers better than the new additions. Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes, unusually attuned to one another, danced a particularly lovely Theme and Variations. This Balanchine is a glorious piece of architecture, the most complex choreography on view during the season. Despite her strength and super-power turns, Murphy projected an appealing fragility, and Gomes emitted a boyish sense of hopefulness.

Jiri Kylian's dramatic Petite Mort for men and swords, his comedic Sechs Tanze (escapees from the institution), and his Sinfonietta, with the dancers flying joyfully across the stage, showcased the dancers' range. Significantly, Kirk Peterson's blazing Amazed in Burning Dreams and William Forsythe's workwithinwork, with its convoluted positions and movement, displayed the dancers' extraordinary technique in more grounded, modern work. For instance, Paloma Herrera, who looked as if she were pulling back from some of the more demanding turns in Corsaire, seemed completely present--and wonderful--in the Forsythe.

The season was often a young man's--and woman's--game. Undeniably, there was David Hallberg, with his glorious long lines, his aristocratic bearing, a modern day danseur noble. Eric Underwood was bursting at the seams with strength and oomph. Danny Tidwell brought elegant clarity and refinement to Peterson's Dreams. And Carlos Lopez gave a fascinating, intense reading to the squiggly, complex central male role in workwithinwork.

Of the women, Kristi Boone is like a cup of full-bodied coffee, and Misty Copeland projects the image of an all-American gal--strong, healthy looking, and athletic. Watching Erica Cornejo in the super-speedy section of the Peterson is like eating peanuts: You can't keep your eyes off her in this sprightly little automaton-like role.

In the "personal lives" department, an injury sidelined Ethan Stiefel this season, and Irina Dvorovenko was barely off the stage as The Dying Swan when a press release announced her maternity leave. In the "overt bravado" department, Corella and Jose Manuel Carreno each turned in gasp-worthy performances in the pas de deux from Le Corsaire, although the usually sunny Corella looked strained.

And then there is the matter of Herman Cornejo. When he first flashed into my consciousness with his cheery gigue in Balanchine's Mozartiana last season, I thought he had springs on the bottoms of his feet. But his ballon is only one of his many beauties. Although short and modest of hearing, Cornejo doesn't get lost in the spectacular crowd. You recognize his completeness of form everywhere. McKenzie's programming of another Fokine, Le Spectre de la rose, was a perfect choice for Cornejo in the Nijinsky role--his beautiful profile in the arms-overhead pose redefines that famous image. His dancing is enormously pleasing, quietly spectacular.

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Title Annotation:Fall Season 2004
Author:Smith, Amanda
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Feb 1, 2005
Previous Article:Just married, still dancing.
Next Article:Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

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