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Divas are a dime a dozen. Pop singers are divas, actresses are divas, models, anchor ladies, female CEOS, even women who snap at cabbies are divas. The term "diva" has its most revered usage at the opera, where it is enshrined in a spectral aria--"Casta diva"--sung by Norma, the title character in Bellini's masterpiece. Norma is a Druid priestess who, duty and desire at swords' points, goes up in flames for love, a flashpoint you might say, for the kind of power that now dominates in America: dark power, chthonic power, the id simmering, "issues" spitting, entitlement and empowerment stirring in the brew. There is something of witchcraft about divas. Singers plant themselves onstage (think of Judy Garland's wrestler's stance) and pull up their arias through the ground, the gut, the ribcage, the clavicle, the throat. Incanting, decanting, they obsess about phlegm and sediment, fearing they will open their mouths and hear nothing, the cauldrons below gone cold (Kathleen Battle, a diva well named, threw fits if anyone looked at her lips). Temper is never plucked from blue sky.

Great female ballet dancers are not called divas, or even prima donnas, though they may act like ones. They are ballerinas. Or prima ballerinas. Or prima ballerina assoluta--it doesn't go any higher. And yet these glorious titles have gone out of use. It is now only and simply ballerina.

Ballet dancers pull up too. It is part of the technique. The five positions of ballet positions of the feet and the alignment of the body over them--are primary, placements, architectural foundations. But they are not dug in, planted. In any position, weight must hover, angelically poised, above the balls of the feet. In this way the dancer is ready, like a dandelion puffin a breeze, to lift in any direction--light, effortless, a different kind of power. Classical ballet is not earth and fire, it is water and air--the dewpoint of a culture. Ballerinas are not bitches throbbing out molten wants and recriminations (though in postmodern ballets they're often asked to stomp and throb). They are cultivated like pearls or white peacocks or royal roses. They are trained on the luminous. National treasure and north star, the ballerina's floating authority is informed by all the arts--music, painting, poetry, history, fashion, as well as la danse--with a little Euclidian geometry as underpinning. Like Cinderella, mothwing and spider's web are her adornments, a toilette of tulle and tiara. As for the fairies, sylphs, wills, sprites that are so often her subject, well, today we understand these folklore apparitions are not so much tricks of the eye as they are events of energy, thermodynamic transmutations--flash, blur, ripple, wave--a healthy wood or meadow in a split-second bliss of iridescence, a shiver of pleasure escaping. This is what a ballerina must be, an extent of pure unplanted energy, and why she is so rare.

Today, the term itself is slippery. The general public thinks any girl who makes a living in toe shoes is a ballerina. Subscribers, a bit smarter, assume that the top of the roster--"principal dancers"--are the ballerinas, though it is wrong to think they are simply corps girls grown up: the mark of ballerinadom is often perceived way back in the academy, where one girl is already different, more, than her peers. Balletomanes like to play with the word, sometimes using it to describe an aura of romance or theatricality: "He's not strong," I once heard it said of the French dancer Alexander Proia, who wore his hair like Liszt, "but he's a real ballerina." Then again, it's not unusual to hear a 'mane despair, deadly serious, of a major ballet company: "But they have no ballerinas." Which is not to say the company is without stars. You can be a star without being a ballerina (just look at ABT's Paloma Herrera), and today there are many ballet stars trouping the world's stages (just not many ballerinas).

The late David Daniel, a dance and music critic of easy erudition, had a particularly withering phrase for the classical dancing he was seeing at the end of the twentieth century. "But you know, dear," he would say, "it isn't dancing. It's what I call"--and here the poison pause--"doing ballet." That glib verb redolent of corporate lunches and busy-bee lists--to do. For David there was an unbridgeable difference between dancing and doing, between artistry and athletics, art and airs, a dancer answering the history encultured in her muscles and one who hears little, who gives a silhouette of a performance, a facsimile, all steps accounted for, a faceful of agony or ecstasy pulled on cue. It was the difference, finally, between going to the theater and staying home. "Have-a-nice-day ballet" is what the critic Joel Lobenthal calls it--dancing that is shiny, smiley, skinny.

In the seventies there was a corps dancer at American Ballet Theatre named Fanchon Cordell. I never saw her perform with the company, but I met her at the ballet studio of Albertine Maxwell in Nashville, Tennessee, where she took daily class with the advanced students while on a two-week visit home. Her presence was electric. We all worked harder trying to pull up to her level, to learn from her, secretly hoping to hear an encouraging word from this young woman who was The Real Thing. I vividly recall an afternoon in the dressing room when we gathered around and she talked about ABT, specifically, of Natalia Makarova and Gelsey Kirkland, each having joined the company in the early seventies. Makarova's awesome flow, Kirkland's heartbreaking ardor--the arrivals of these two women, Cordell explained, were a huge jolt to the company's female dancers. Everyone, she said, worked harder. Makarova and Kirkland, each in her own way, showed how much more one could give.

What is that more? With Kirkland it was a commitment that came across the footlights, a mighty myopia in that babydoll face. Kirkland was trained at the School of American Ballet and came of age at the New York City Ballet. Rebellious since a child, she couldn't see her way to George Balanchine's rule, "Don't think, just dance." Not thinking was not in her nature. Kirkland joined ABT where her relentless thinking about her dancing, her seeking after its soul with coach after coach, her quest for meanings in a wordless form, all this desire gave charging grandeur to her dewy. pointillist precision. Walk into the Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the Lincoln Center Library and somewhere in the room, on one of the video screens, a young dancer will be viewing the 1978 Kirkland-Baryshnikov performance of Theme and Variations. Misha's wonderful in it, but he's not the reason they're watching. It is Kirkland, dancing in the crystal castle of her technique, meticulous, swift, a silvery joust, her French twist gleaming, her hummingbird heart full and pumping. You feel the moat of air around her, see the prismatic transcendence within, her energy so much higher, hotter, more pure than Misha's. "Gelsey always looked like she was beamed in from another planet," my husband remembers. "She was like a hologram." Exactly. She was from another planet, each performance a visitation, a fresh search for answers. Indeed, one of Kirkland's early answers was Makarova--inspiration and jolt. Kirkland admits she imitated Makarova's seamless line; she could not imitate her Vaganova Academy training, hence the need for teachers.

Makarova didn't lay her heart so plainly before the audience, perhaps because she'd grown up with answers. At the Imperial School of the Mariinsky Theatre, questions of meaning ("Is Prince Siegfried reading Shakespeare or Lermontov?") were debated after class. And Makarova knew--because it's in the Kirov curriculum, hence conscience, to know--every interlocking level of theater, from the right way to breathe, to how to rescue a step, to the dramatic verities of the great ballets, for instance, that the role of Giselle is not a series of set pieces but a single phrase that goes from sun to sun, a long arc of ever more out-of-body implosions (yes, the ballerina must dance a contradiction). Where Kirkland's Giselle was a psychosexual fever, all that anxiety and longing compressed, Makarova's was a kinetic surrender, an artist bringing a supreme simplicity into the darkened passage of Act Two. It was a performance built on ballon and on the catching momentums of a breathing epaulement, so soft it seemed to be all essence, the murmuring energy of Kirov generations: illumined, lunar, a rising fealty, then sinking into darkness, the woods, which is of course what happens in Giselle. At the ballet, imagination and energy are the same shape, the same property. When these women were onstage you never wondered, as one so often does today, why they were the standard, i.e., ballerinas.

This spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House, ABT staged a new production of Raymonda, Marius Petipa's full-length ballet of 1898. It's a strange ballet, famous for its glorious score by Alexander Glazunov, and infamous for its story, the consensus being that there is not enough of one (Balanchine called the story "nonsense"). In Act One, Raymonda celebrates her birthday; pines for her betrothed, Jean de Brienne, who is off fighting the Crusades; receives a tapestry portrait he has sent of himself; then takes a nap and dreams first of Jean and then of the Saracen chief, Abderakhman, who is wooing her in Jean's absence. In Act Two Jean comes home and wins Raymonda back, defeating the Saracen in a duel. Act Three is the marriage celebration. Raymonda is a bit like The Sleeping Beauty (the dream scene works like Beauty's vision scene; the male lead arrives late) only without the fairy tale balance, the twin peaks of Lilac Fairy versus Carabosse. In fact, except for the duel, Raymonda seems to go from valley to valley, the score less a narrative with a feisty through-line than a collection of ballads, reveries, dreams, hummingly lovely Ballet emerges from the quiet of a culture, and the ballerina from a quiet of her own creation; you could say Raymonda is about nothing less than this. It is a landscape of Raymonda's contentments, desires, and fears, her interior life in a tutu. The role has five solos and four codas, a number that looms, and all are laid bare, no plot twists or mad scenes from which to draw color or camouflage. She's alone with the character of her dancing.

It's fascinating, in a bad way, how long a shortened full-length ballet can feel. As is the trend at both ABT and NYCB, this new Raymonda was wedged around one intermission, making for long sits on either side. What story there once was is now so cut, futzed-with, and abridged, the ballet feels more like a Raymonda hit parade. But at least it's pretty. Zack Brown brings a touch of twilight to his Arthurian sets, veiled layerings in frost blue, lavender, persimmon--William Morris Medieval--and it works against the concert-version flatness of the production, plumping it up. His costumes remind me of Adrian's wonderful work for Lerner & Loewe's Camelot--"confectioner's gothic" it was called. Disturbingly, AnnaMarie Holmes and Kevin McKenzie have done away with the symbolic tapestry that prompts Raymonda's dream. In this version, Jean de Brienne is no longer crusading during Act One; he's made it to Raymonda's birthday where he hangs around so long he doesn't seem special anymore. Meanwhile, Raymonda never has to long for him, or suffer she may have lost him, a fear that leaves her naked to the Saracen. Now she's just another dumb birthday girl. The whole emotional plumb is lost, the weight of the place Raymonda visits in her dream, in her heart. Gone too an epic sensibility, the land waiting for Jean's return. So much pointless alteration here, or perhaps preemptive, as if to protect ABT'S principal women, and maybe its audience, from a role that's too artistically revealing.

Of the performances I saw, ABT'S Raymondas were all over the map. Xiomara Reyes, a cloying dancer whose principal status baffles me, was without nuance or a glint of understanding. ABT'S roster has always included one or another of these chirpy soubrettes, Junior Mints for the "isn't she cute?" clucks in the audience. But to cast this type as Raymonda is ridiculous. And what does it say to the dancers below? That a Reyes Raymonda is good enough for management? That's the standard? Gillian Murphy, whom the company is promoting with great gusto, did better. She had pluck, more lightness than is her norm, and gave us ... not a Raymonda, really, but a gutsy Aurora. Murphy is athletic, a natural turner, and the speed she brings to pirouettes, fouettes, chaines is her specialty, so if it's speed you want, Murphy's your girl. But when she isn't pulled taut to the vertical, as dancers are during turns, problems blink at you: the blockiness in the body, knees that don't always straighten, the weak leg extension en avant ("forward"--in sheer physics the most difficult of all extensions, stumpy when badly done, a prophetic unfolding when strong), and then there's the stunning lack of melody in her dancing. Many think Murphy a virtuoso (it's the turns), but to my eye the dancing is dotted, technically thick. If the head cheerleader became a ballet dancer, she'd be Gillian Murphy. Nina Ananiashvili was my third Raymonda. We first saw Ananiashvili in the 1980S, when the Bolshoi came to town with a slew of ballerinas. Ananiashvili was the youngest, and so leggy, linear, she was embraced as more western than the rest. In the last twenty years she's become an international star, guesting here and there, though recently she's settled in at ABT. Ananiashvili continues to wear her Bolshoi background lightly (she never had that eagle-has-landed Bolshoi swoop and drive), and this continues to be her charm. Older now, there's a childlike, coloring-book quality to her dancing. All the steps are there, but mostly outline, airily done, impulsive patches of color within. Ananiashvili can be quite brilliant--her allegro in Raymonda glittered--but she doesn't work deep in plie and this robs her of roundness, makes her seem a bit stick-figure. Yet this too is part of her charm, that dash of naivete, the way it simplifies, sweetens, her jet-set theatricality. When Ananiashvili dances with her longtime partner Julio Bocca they're like two old troupers taking their art, or the best that's left of it, to the provinces--except the province is New York City. And still they're irresistible. Is Ananiashvili a ballerina? Her fans, a formidable claque, would howl at the mere question. Certainly there's nothing exploratory about Ananiashvili's dancing, and it's not kinetically interesting, but the way she catches her own light--it's a late-day sun--and shines it into the audience, that too is power.

No one, however, had the resonance in Raymonda that came from a soloist only two years with ABT, Veronika Part. Trained at the Imperial School of the Mariinsky Theatre, Part was dancing ballerina roles with the Kirov by the late nineties. When the company brought its Jewels to the Met in 2002, she danced "Emeralds" as if born in its forest. Later that week, her Saturday matinee Swan Lake was epiphanal: there were still depths in Odette. At that performance, the critic Don Daniels said New York hadn't seen such a Swan Lake since Makarova's. He was talking about something in Part's physical nature, her freedom within a phrase, a strength that allows her a further path. If a ballerina must show us something that we've never seen before--and I think she must-than

Part is the most important ballerina dancing today. And she isn't even a principal. Part never danced the lead in Raymonda, but stole the show as Henrietta, one of Raymonda's friends (the beautiful friend who may secretly dream of the convent). At ABT's opening night gala, an evening of razzle-dazzle, the Raymonda Act Two Pas de Sept took everyone by surprise, because of Part. She didn't seem to realize it was a gala. She was at a different party, the one for Raymonda. Her solo rolled out like a song pianissimo, as when you sing to yourself outdoors and alone, allowing yourself a sudden syncopation, a floating hold, a deeper low note (as in sinking to the floor) that returns you to a wider sky. Deeper, lower, lighter, higher, stronger, softer, stranger--Part's dynamic range is amazing, opulent, and this solo shivered with little graces, time-space undulations. The audience was silent, stunned, not the usual gala response where screams are the order of the evening, but the usual response to Part. She is commanding in every, way.

Dance critics don't talk much about bodies anymore, or rather, female bodies. It seems to have been deemed politically incorrect, impolite, as if it's unfair to discuss something that can't be changed. But the body is where it all begins and Part's is one of the wonders of ballet today. Actually, I think she scares people. The beauty, of her proportions aside (and feet bunheads dream on), Part does not conform to ballet's standard of sinewy thinness. She's 5'8", tall for a ballerina, and her figure has a nineteenth-century cadence, an hourglass allure. Her legs, long and straight as they are, boast continental curves in the thigh and calf, not the cut muscles of a runner, but grand-piano curves, planes rounded in rosewood. She has long arms set in wide shoulders, and this, coupled with her Russian training--that legendary calm at the clavicle, the Romanesque vaults in the port de bras--gives her enormous breadth and play above the bust, the reach of a huntress. She has a bosom, not big by civilian measure, but for ballet a downy decolletage--next to all those flat chests she's a little bit snowbound. And then the snow princess face: white white skin, black hair, a young Ava Gardner, a big white rose. She's completely voluptuous.

A little too voluptuous, actually, when she joined ABT in the fall of 2002. Part made her ABT debut at New York's City Center in the hallowed role of Symphony in C, second movement. The audience was packed with tout le monde, and the tone of the place was a mix of anticipation, admiration, and ill will (jealousies stir outside a company as well as within). Part had put on weight, perhaps ten pounds, and ABT did not have a principal man to support her properly. Instead of borrowing a tall man from another company, and in a most unchivalrous manner, ABT sent her out to the hounds with a reed of a cavalier. Part was heroic. No, she didn't have the freedom she needed in the middle register, but that lotus-blossom aplomb, the extension en avant--an ivory scepter!--the pacific delicacy in the wrist and hands, the high horizon of the bust, one saw the endowments in relief, not the engine but the icecaps, and the vast poetic landscape spread before and beneath her.

By all accounts, hers included, it was a tough transition. All ballet companies are competitive, but where Kirov dancers have grown up together as family, coddled and coached the whole way, the ethic at ABT is sink-or-swim. Isolated by language, her outsider status, a spate of small injuries, her seriousness in rehearsal plus a tendency, to tears, not to mention the usual resentments of rivals, Part was slow to climb, and ART doled her out with an eyedropper. But artists draw strength from isolation, and Part's key solos were astonishments, Diaghilev's ettonez-moi meets Vreeland's "Give them what they never knew they wanted." Who'd have thought one could love the third shade in La Bayadere, the most tortured of three solo variations? Part took what usually looks like a dread physics test--all those delayed developpes and dead stops in fifth--and made it seem a cat-and-mouse with moonbeams. Legato is her bowl of cream. And speaking of those leg extensions, correct, strong, long, they come up like a law of nature, almost animal, and stay like light. At intermission, a young dancer in the audience called Part's developpe "3D," and she was right, it's not a step when Part does it, but a glory. Even in the heavily gowned, secondary role of Romeo and Juliet's Lady Capulet, Part found her way to a couplet. Opera glasses were trained on her hands, which had a Renaissance elegance, a painterly precision--pure theater. Part doesn't toss steps off, she takes the ballet in. As Queen of the Dryads in Don Quixote, in those swinging Italian fouettes, she seems to make an untouchable turret of that return perch in attitude, looking out the arched window, amber and amethyst, of her arm in high fifth.

"Veronika is never empty," said the great Kirov ballerina and now ABT coach, Irina Kolpakova, knocking a fist to her heart. "There is always more."

Finally, this spring at the Met, fit and slimmed in her fourth New York season with ABT, Part was moved into the spotlight. The ballet was Mozartiana, a company premiere for ABT, and the centerpiece of the company's Balanchine evening, an homage to the master's centennial year. Choreographed in 1981, Mozartiana is Balanchine's last masterpiece, a ballet about reverence, dedication to an art one loves, and to the life-consuming requirements of such dedication--hence the four little girls, then the four big girls, then the ballerina. And yet audiences don't love this ballet. Perhaps the kalaidoscope Balanchine makes with the number four, symmetrically opening then closing space, is too mathematical a Mozart, too formal or distant a view. Perhaps the ballet-recital gradation, little, bigger, biggest, taps into a collective unconscious of endless recitals long past and good riddance. Perhaps the ballet within the ballet, the superb pas de deux with its storm pitch of drama, its circling paths and tiny cliff, is too abstract. Or maybe it's the whisper of that black tulle veiled over white, the knowledge that no amount of love will hold us here, that we must each leave in our time. Watching Mozartiana, it can feel as if Balanchine composed it not from the ground, but from above, looking down on the stage. Suzanne Farrell, the woman on whom it was made, described the ballet with words from the Lord's Prayer: "on earth as it is in heaven."

Meanings knit up in Mozartiana. The bow/curtsy that ends every ballet class, an homage to the teacher and to the privilege of dancing ballet, is called reverence. It is but a deeper, more elaborate version of the bow that lives in the Baroque (when ballet was born), a point made in the ballet's third movement, the Menuet. Balanchine connects class to classicism, and like leaves or fruit falling, drops that bow lightly, poignantly, all through the ballet. It's a little Mozartian world, chilly then sunny then trembling, built on the emotions of women and the inspiration of the one woman, the ballerina (and in his feeling for women, Mozart was right up there with Balanchine). The Gigue, always cast with a slight young male virtuoso (in black satin knickers--the trouser role!) could be Figaro's Cherubino singing of love's conundrums. And after all, the music itself is a reverence: Tchaikovsky orchestrated these Mozart melodies out of love for the great Amadeus.

Mozartiana is about endings and beginnings. Notice the steps. Skips, hops, jetes--schoolyard steps, tossed like seeds. And look at the way Balanchine takes first-year ballet steps and devolves them for the ballerina, almost deconstructs them, the way one must in the beginning, to learn them. Those arabesque-passe-passes in the opening Preghiera (Prayer), like steps on stilts; the slow-motion chaines in the ballerina's solos; the echappes done with a scissory half turn--these simple steps scaled greatly acquire grandeur, like late Matisse cutouts. Mozartiana is something to be scaled, and so the prayer at the beginning, the ballerina posed in a garden of little girls, is the invocation before the ascension. This ballerina must be big.

Maria Calegari, the former NYCB dancer and a Rococo flame in the role herself, staged Mozartiana for ABT and chose three women for the lead: Ashley Tuttle, Nina Ananiashvili, and Veronika Part. Turtle was miscast, too small literally and figuratively. Ananiashviii brought her usual charms to the role, and there were those who liked her Mozartiana best, no doubt because it was closer, superficially, to Farrell's. There are physical similarities between the two, for instance, the stork legs with widening thighs. Also, both came to the role older, their plie shallower and so their dancing cooler, though Farrell, because of her spontaneity, was always dewy. Ananiashvili is not spontaneous. There were dead spots in her performance, seconds in which she had to wait to begin because she'd finished too soon, on the beat but off the wit. Farrell made even her flubs look witty.

Obviously Farrell's performance of Mozartiana is the point of comparison. It was constructed to her strengths--that flying crane scale, her mysterious stamina, her playing with the music, teasing it with a head toss. When the ballet premiered Farrell was thirty-six, a dancer approaching the end of her career, just as Balanchine was nearing the end of his life (he died two years later). It was a time when Farrell's life-long extravagances--her almost religious commitment to dance, her whirlwind abandon--were less acts than inflections. Two hip replacements soon in her future, Balanchine gave Farrell sacred weight in the Preghiera with a series of reverential temps lies (a sliding through space in demi-plie, here with the hands pressed in prayer). The rest of the role, however, has a skimming brilliance, the hover and flash of a dragonfly. Balanchine had already noted the change in Farrell in 1980: her iconic solo in Robert Schumann's Davids-bundlertanze has been called "the Dragonfly." And even as early as the celestial Chaconne, in 1976, the Farrell part is principally about pointe, heights, shooting-star extensions-all rays and flares--with minimal plie (and then, mostly plie on pointe), and the ache of adagio, its palpable cantilena line, receding from her realm. So a leggy, skimming style warms the hearts of fans who want late-Farrell roles performed by late-Farrell types, which is to say, with quixotic late-Farrell alignments (or is it limitations?). It's the treasured memory as judgmental ghost light.

I haven't seen every lead in Mozartiana since 1981, but I've seen many, and I've never seen one like Part's, simply monumental. She did it her way from the start, bringing that dynamic amplitude and lyric hearing to Balanchine's tricky simplicities. And Part's cameo glow--she's bonbon beautiful in her black satin bodice--it's crucial to a role in which She is Everything. In the Preghiera, Part was something of the captive princess grieving amid her court of little girls, and something of Mozart's Countess Almaviva, pouring her soul into "Porgi, amor," heartbroken, but why?

"I feel there's some secret in this ballet," Part told Time Out magazine in the week before her debut. "I haven't found the answer yet." A ballerina doesn't have to find the answer, only to feel for the secret.

After the Preghiera the ballerina is offstage during the Gigue and Menuet. She returns for the Theme et Variations, a long back and forth between the ballerina and her cavalier, a dialogue that ends in an unusual pas de deux, flirtatious play that peaks heatedly, a bit Titania and Oberon, a touch of Chaconne, then ends on a thin ledge of repose, an aerie not quite of this world. It was in Part's solos that we began to see phenomenon unfettered, a complete integration of power and delicacy. Part dances in 360 degrees and you see it clearly in Mozartiana, where so many steps are cut from their moorings. So much dancing today looks en face even when it's not, as if it's happening on a flat screen. This is because dancers are concentrating on what happens to the front of the stage and ahead of their bodies; you'd never know there are eight fixed points on the stage, three of them to the rear. Part dances, as she was trained to, with her shoulders, bust, back, head, and hands, as well as legs and feet. She'll wing a renverse around back and her whole being follows--she's not afraid of where her momentums will take her, those moment-to-moment displacements, and some of them are outrageous. A lunge into releve en arabesque is a skydive from heaven into a cloud of white mile--white space she nests in. The moment is impetuous, yes, even frightening in its force (her supporting leg like a downward trajectory) and in the pressure it puts on those long sapling feet that are sometimes soft--but it also feels pulled from her like poetry. Part brings her own gravity onstage.

And her own rules. It would be easy for Part to settle on portrait prettiness. And yet this dancer whose muscles seem fed by some luminous inner spring, and who needs that spring to support her breadth and length in body and limb, is willing to give us physical peril, plunges into risk, just as Farrell did. Some have called Part slow. Well, she's slow like a big cat with a terrific pounce. If anything, the word is sloe--the dark plum of the blackthorn--dancing that is rounded and full. Where Farrell's Mozartiana was a strand of sparkling recoveries, Part's is more maiden and minotaur, beauties sloe-ly unspooled. And if Farrell seemed to be lifting away from earth as if to follow Balanchine, Part is still reading this world, her body one with its curves and contours, still hearing its sad chthonic rumbles. It's that "more" Kotpakova spoke of. When Balanchine makes an existential game of chaines turns on a diagonal, throwing a passe onto each pointe and slowing them down 'til they're a turning tightrope walk, Part plays her own game. She doesn't wind down to a gawky tick-tock like everyone else does (even Farrell), she creates a sensation: how slow can this go and not fall and still flow? I'll never forget those chaines, like mist on still water, the audience rapt.

We live in a time when strength has come to mean a buttoned-up performance, clean as a gymnastics routine, cool doing ever more two-dimensional, presentational, airtight. This is what people respond to in the dancing of Svetlana Zakharova, Sylvie Guillem, a whiplike dominatrix control that pushes you back in your seat in submission. But when you over-control you lose what is unknown, magical. Part is bucking every trend in ballet. She uses her strength to touch the precarious, to go where others can't or won't. And she shows us everything, making herself vulnerable (and pulling us forward for more). On a smaller scale, so does Roberta Marquez, a South American who danced two La Bayaderes with ABT and proved, lest we forget, that a balance can be a living, breathing thing. The mysteries of ballet are bound up in its volumes, and artistry in its listening physical harmonics. Part began Mozartiana ravishing and ended a little ravished, because she was never not dancing. What more is there?

Swan Lake, of course. Part was awarded one performance, partnered by the young comer Marcelo Gomes, big-limbed, dark, and perfect for her. It was the most awaited casting of the season, and quite a different Swan Lake from the one Part danced with the Kirov in 2002. That was a performance of undertows, Part a recessive Odette, the momentums of the role caught in her breast and back, those elemental legs pulling away. In her ABT Swan Lake, Part revealed the heart that's been in lambswool these last two years. Here was an emotional Odette, passionately pitched, her narrative flights clear and momentous, and the delicacies, those trilling entrechat-passes en arriere, for instance, like water singing. When Odette first allows herself to lean back upon Siegfried's chest, Part tendrils against him in something between rest and wrest. You never forget she's trapped in feathers, in Rothbart's spell. And when Odette approaches Siegfried with a full circling swoop of the arms that pulls her up to pointe, Part powers a whoosh so huge we see the danger of her love--she actually startled Gomes, overwhelmed him--the supernatural size of her, it is the conjuring of the spell blowing through her, white rush and strange heart, Wingwraith. This is imagination, wild and precise, rehearsed and released, big, bigger, biggest. This is Veroulka Part, making bliss of the art once again.
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Title Annotation:a review of American ballet dancing
Author:Jacobs, Laura
Publication:New Criterion
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Oct 1, 2004
Previous Article:Gulliver's travails: the U.S. in the post-Cold-War world.
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