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American Ballet Theatre.


Following City Center's popular Fall for Dance series and high-profile engagement of Sylvie Guillem, American Ballet Theatre defied marketing wisdom and presented three weeks of repertory there--to crowded and even sold-out houses. The best programming offered works from the company's treasure chest of modern classics--de Mille's Rodeo, Tudor's Dark Elegies, Jooss' Green Table, Robbins' Fancy Free and Afternoon of a Faun, and Tharp's In the Upper Room. Outstanding performances by younger company members added to the season's excitement. In varying degrees, however, the new works and revivals disappointed.

Tharp's Sinatra Suite, for instance, never quite found the right combination of effortless classicism and casual sophistication that came so easily to Baryshnikov, for whom the ballet was created. Of the two casts I saw, Marcelo Gomes came closest to Baryshnikov, although his smoldering intensity seemed a bit too Latin for a role steeped in old-time American dreams of Saturday night glamour. Herman Cornejo strained for dramatic effect, often overacting, and his partnering of an insecure Sarah Lane had many rough spots.

Jorma Elo's Glow-Stop, a world premiere, also fizzled. Set to the fourth movement of Mozart's Symphony No. 28 followed by the second movement of Philip Glass' Tirol Concerto, it lacked structure, shape, and development. The dancers glowed in Zack Brown's red-velvet tunics and unitards, yet in the unusually dark lighting they seemed faceless, ciphers in an aerobic celebration of speed, virtuosity, and athleticism. At times the hurtling and semaphoric arms started up a kind of conversation, but the exchanges remained gibberish. Trained as a classicist, Elo uses the components of ballet vocabulary, including pointe work, with skill, and he knows how to challenge dancers. But he eschews metaphor. The couplings and lifts that open the Glass half of the piece quiver with emotion, but like the "conversations" and shifting musical atmospheres, they lead nowhere.

Although much can be said for ABT's policy of presenting one-act repertory ballets at the more intimate City Center and full-evening "big" ballets at the Metropolitan Opera House, some repertory works do benefit from the larger stage. A case in point is Mark Morris' Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes, which premiered at the Met and used its cavernous space to advantage. Morris placed the piano at center stage and in front of a horizontal band of white light, through which the dancers crossed and recrossed in a light-hearted conversation with Virgil Thomson's music. With the piano elsewhere, the City Center stage belongs wholly to the dancers. Morris' wit remains evident (in one memorable sequence a trio of women does echappes in canon to a ragtime), but the changes in staging undermine the original spatial design and the dancers' visual connection to the music.

Revivals of Stanton Welch's Clear and Lar Lubovitch's Meadow added little to the season, except opportunities for stars. In Clear, this meant Angel Corella, lighter and more refined than ever, a creature of the air, and the ever-decorative Julie Kent, the only woman in this work for seven iron-pumping men. Meadow paired Kent and Gomes at the opening gala (with Stella Abrera and David Hallberg replacing them later in the season) in sculptural duets that celebrated male heft and beauteous female line, unfolding in continuous harmony.

With its intermittent pleasures and often plodding corps work, Balanchine's Symphonie Concertante falls short of his best work of the 1940s, including Theme and Variations, which it partly anticipated. Veronika Part's plangent line and inner tragic elation imparted a mystery and emotional depth to the ballet that Balanchine almost certainly didn't intend.

The season offered many unexpected treats. One was David Hallberg, who continues to gain in physical strength and emotional projection, evident in Meadow but especially in The Green Table, where, as Death, he exuded both corporeal mastery and cold, demonic power. Among his victims, Jennifer Alexander as The Young Girl revealed a fine dramatic instinct, an inner stillness (and eloquent demi-pointe) that made the role suddenly visible. Another treat was Afternoon of a Faun with Abrera and Jose Manuel Carreno, a glamorous pairing that highlighted her cool beauty and his unforced eroticism, wrapping her in desire. Yet another was Sascha Radetsky as the sweet-faced sailor in Fancy Free and The Champion Roper in Rodeo. What freedom he brings to his characterizations, what energy and definition to his movement. In Tharp's In the Upper Room he burns up the stage. Finally, there was Kent, ABT's senior ballerina, who cast a spell of eternal springtime over Symphonie Concertante, like Aurora in the first bloom of youth. See
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Author:Garafola, Lynn
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Feb 1, 2007
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