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American Ballet Theatre

Mixed Repertory, Mixed Accomplishments

'Raymonda' divertissements, 'Without Words,' 'Within You Without You'

by Jeff Kuo

February 4, 2004 -- Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.

"Raymonda" divertissements (Holmes after Petipa/Glazounov)

In a curious quirk of thankless programming, the work that should be the show stopper, "Raymonda" divertissements, began the evening; and the lightweight fillip, the George Harrison medley, "Within You Without You" ended it. In between, however, came a real epiphany, Nacho Duato's "Without Words," as if to chastise the management for making "Raymonda" seem like less than it is and for making "Within You Without You" seem like more.

The parenthetical subtitle, "divertissements" attached to the "Raymonda" is somewhat misleading -- "lowering the bar" to use Washington dance critic Sarah Kaufman's acerbic phrase. Rather than offering a mere sampler, the "Raymonda" divertissements offered almost the entire Act III wedding. It just seemed like sampler.

But what with the minimal set and the less-than-impressive costumes, everything acquired an unfortunate bargain basement quality. With their trim red caps and tunics and forbidding mien, the men of the Grand pas Hongrois looked like bell boys with an attitude. We get enough of that at area hotels.  The women of the Grand pas Classique were costumed in white tutus made to look like fitted coats with black fur lined collars, but it looked like those faux fur lined jackets of trailer park princesses.

Though the production had a diminished feel -- and did not compare well against the only other "Raymonda" production I've seen, San Francisco Ballet's revival of Act III just a few years ago with those huge Georgiadis sets -- there was nothing diminished about Paloma Herrera and Marcelo Gomes as Raymonda and Jean de Brienne. Bright, fast, confident, and sure -- Herrera and Gomes did not fail to please. I'd like to see them in a fully realized "Raymonda" Act III.

David LaMarche conducted the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra.

"Without Words" (Duato/Schubert)

This is a suite of six dances (at least, I think it's six) for four pairs of dancers to songs by Franz Schubert arranged for cello and piano by Mischa Maisky. The dancers are costumed in flesh colored tights for the women and briefs for the men. The stage is bare with black wings and backdrop; the only set is a curtain from which dancers emerge and which holds a screen onto which dim black and white images of the dancers are projected.

The choreography reflects the strains of wistfulness, intimacy, nostalgia, and regret of the Schubert score. Much of the ballet choreography I am acquainted with assumes that beauty is artifice -- a formal property of set piece choreographic forms like the ballet blanc or the pas de deux. "Without Words" shows that beauty paradoxically can exist without story and romance -- certainly; but also almost without love. It's a revelation. The cast was Stella Abrera, Gennadi Saveliev, Gillian Murphy, Isaac Stappas (replacing Carlos Molina), Ashley Tuttle, Angel Correla, Xiomara Reyes, and Ethan Stiefel.

The music was by Amy Frost Baumgarten on cello and Barbara Bilach on piano.

"Within You Without You: A Tribute to George Harrison" (Parsons/Reinking/Weir/Welch to songs of George Harrison)

This clearly is the feel-good-look-good piece of the evening. And, I mean that in a good way though for the most part the choreography is just sort of there. But, in their brick red Calvin Klein jeans, the dancers look simply delicious. It's difficult to believe that the solo "Something" for Carlos Lopez, which makes almost no impression, was created by the same choreographer, Stanton Welch, as "Isn’t It a Pity" (for an ensemble of ten), which looks contemporary and retro but always slick. "I Dig Love" by Natalie Weir is for Marcelo Gomes (for Carlos Molina), Craig Salstein, and Michele Wiles with a mischievous smile.

When Sascha Radetsky strokes Sarawanee Tanatanit's body as if she were a guitar in "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (by Ann Reinking) it doesn't seem like an adolescent conceit but a glossy high art one, and I'm not complaining. The title song seems perfunctory -- "Within You Without You" by Weir and danced by Herman Cornejo and Simone Messmer. "My Sweet Lord" by David Parsons, a kind of artificial, upbeat parade of smiling-happy dancers, concluded the evening. "My Sweet Lord" may be artificial but it's the good kind of artifice -- that of good hygiene, well flossed smiles, toned bodies, and designer jeans.

Edited by Lori Ibay.

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