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Ballet: The Daring Project.

Presenting first-rate dancers in a showcase of aesthetic mediocrity is hardly daring, in spite of claims by artistic directors Valentina Kozlova and Margo Sappington. And at least since the 1930s, jazz idioms have been vividly incorporated into the ballet repertory by such true revolutionaries as Balanchine, Robbins, and Tharp. What the Daring Project collaborators have exploited is the notion of "ballet as club act," splitting each program into classical chestnuts, followed by titillating routines appropriate to a smoke-filled room where the clinking of glasses provides accompaniment.

Dourly partnered by Charles Askegard, Kozlova opened the New York season with the Black Swan Pas de Deux, portraying Odile with a sensibility that called for rim shots on a snare drum. Her rendition of The Dying Swan was more self-absorbed, though less moving. With Sven Toorvald in "The Kiss" from Sappington's Rodin, Mis En vie (1974), Kozlova gave an eroticized version of what might have been Fay Wray's encounter with King Kong.

The shopworn display pieces of noted Russian ballet teachers--Diane et Actaeon (1935) by Agrippina Vaganova and Victor Gzovsky's Grand Pas Classique (1949)--were reminiscent of the Soviet-style "art for the masses" goal of aiming for the lowest common denominator with flashy tricks in a politically correct context. To their great credit, the delectable Irina Dvorovenko and Alex Lapshin in the former, and elegant Christina Fagundes with Askegard in the latter, performed with polished aplomb. The jewel of these "classis" was Bournonville's Flower Festival in Genzano PDS de Deux impeccably danced by Fagundes with Lindsay Fischer, whose subsequent accident on opening night disabled him for the rest of the run. Consequently, New York premieres of Sappington's Magyar Dances (1996) and Don't Bring Lulu (1995) were canceled and Cobras in the Moonlight 1986) had only a single peformance.

A pair of bouncy Sappington works--One Summer Night (1996), with music by Paco de Lucia, and Jazzmania (1994), set to a tuneful smorgasbord from masters like Ray Charles--seemed interchangeable. While it is always a pleasure to see such artists as Cornel Crabtree, Deborah Dawn, Lissette Salgado, and Christian Holder, it is troubling to watch them invest such personal panache in material as easily executed by casino dancers. That was not the case with Contrabajissimo (1987), Sappington's hallmark solo for Holder that assimilates many of his onstage idiosyncracies into a tour de force of theatrical dancing.

The premiere of For Ella (to music sung by Ella Fitzgerald) featured Kozlova and Victoria Rinaldi, with swiveling-hips and neon-dipped pony-tails, as the high-kicking, honky-tonk enticers of four swains. By her nun confession, bored as a classical dancer with the Bolshoi and New York City Ballet (and often boring, as spectators attest), Kozlova has at last found her true metier. Whether motivated by need or greed, the results are not attractive.
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Title Annotation:Joyce Theater, New York, New York
Author:Hardy, Camille
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Feb 1, 1997
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