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American Ballet Theatre

A Tribute to Balanchine: 'Theme and Variations,' 'Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,' 'Mozartiana,' 'Ballet Imperial'

Balanchine and Tchaikovsky brighten ABT's day

by Lori Ibay

May 24, 2004 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York City

The weather in New York City was unpredictable on Monday evening. As I navigated through the 7th Avenue subway on my way to the Met, I passed many of the unlucky, unsuspecting victims of the sudden rains that caught them outside without umbrellas on an otherwise pleasant day. The climate inside the Metropolitan Opera House for the first night of ABT’s Balanchine Tribute Program was similar to the unpredictable showers that clouded the sky for minutes, then cleared away.

The curtain rose on the bright pinks and lavenders of “Theme and Variations” as the orchestra led by Charles Barker began the score, the final movement of Tchaikovsky’s Suite No.3 for Orchestra . However, the atmosphere quickly changed when the usually radiant Paloma Herrera looked off-balance in a string of pirouettes and pas du chats, then completely lost balance in her closing pirouette. A cloud seemed to hang over the women corps as well -- light, fluttering bourrees connected developpes that were slightly out of sync.

Luckily, Marcelo Gomes cleared the air with crisp beats and pristine pirouettes, showing off power and balance in a sequence of alternating double tours and double pirouettes. Unfortunately, the four women framing Gomes (Sasha Dmochowski, Anne Liceica, Maria Riccetto, and Adrienne Schulte) continued to have problems with unison.

Herrera returned, showing that she had regained her balance as she transitioned through steady poses while the corps, in a straight line, weaved patterns through each other. Opposite Gomes, Herrera held unwavering, extended arabesques, and along with Gomes’ strength and grace, the pair danced smoothly and fluidly with regal poise. The storm had passed.

The men’s corps, led by David Hallberg, Sascha Radetsky, Gennadi Saveliev, and Eric Underwood brought back the ensemble’s composure. The four featured men showed their athleticism, executing clean high beats, double tours, and grand jetes with muscle. The full cast danced a high-impact finish, ending in wonderful synchrony.

After a brief pause, Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky made grand entrances for “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,” set to music that was originally intended for the pas de deux in Act III of “Swan Lake.” Perhaps because the pair usually exhibits easy and unforced partnering, a sudden stumble on a supported pirouette seemed to surprise them both, although they quickly recovered.

From then on, Dvorovenko was her usual dainty self, hopping on and off pointe effortlessly and showing off her extension that seems to stretch indefinitely. Likewise, Beloserkovsky dazzled with his leaps and perfectly centered grand pirouettes a la seconde. The pair finished with solid partnering that had the audience gasping as Dvorovenko dove into her partner’s ready arms, her confident smile never leaving her face.

The orchestra was conducted by David LaMarche.

The next piece, “Mozartiana,” began with Nina Ananiashvili framed by four students from the School of American Ballet -- Sara Adams, Callie Bachman, Saige Miller, and Whitney Rose Pymn -- all in black costumes with white trim (which were oddly reminiscent of French maid uniforms). Ananiashvili danced a graceful and solemn “Pregheira” (Prayer) with beautifully expressive arms and slow, sustained movements.

Herman Cornejo changed the tone, bringing lively energy in “Gigue” with his quick feet and sharp angles. “Menuet” brought another change of mood with slow, deliberate choreography danced scrupulously by Kristi Boone, Sasha Dmochowski, Erica Fischbach, and Sarawanee Tanatanit. With a change of tempo, Angel Corella infused firepower into “Theme et Variations.” With quick jumps, quick pirouettes, and even quicker footwork, Corella looked as if he was playing beat the clock -- and with a playful flip of his hand and a smile to end the sequence, he seemed to say that he always wins.

As a pair, Ananiashvili and Corella danced with spirit and animation, Ananiashvili showing her own quickness and agility with crisp beats and wonderfully centered pirouettes. The entire ensemble returned in the “Finale,” closing the piece with vigor and refreshing unison. However, perhaps the most refreshing aspect of “Mozartiana,” considering the performances preceding it, was the consistency of the entire cast.

The orchestra was conducted by Charles Barker.

The final piece of the evening was “Ballet Imperial,” set to Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No.2 in G for Piano and Orchestra, Op.44 conducted by David LaMarche with pianist Barbara Bilach. The corps, costumed in light blues and royal blues, matched the imperial blue and white of the grand set, designed by Rouben Ter-Arutunian. With the women in glittering tiaras and the men’s ceremonious gestures, the piece carried a regal air.

Michele Wiles danced solos with stately poise, and showed grace and elegance in a pas de trois with David Hallberg and Ricardo Torres. Gillian Murphy seemed one with the music, dancing with impeccable timing and technique, and was well-matched by Carlos Molina. Together, the pair danced with the necessary grandeur, but also with tenderness and emotion.

The women’s corps, led by Anna Liceica and Maria Riccetto, created fluid forms that flowed and parted like waves around Molina and Murphy. For the most part, the corps transitioned smoothly through the ever-changing formations of arcs, lines, and circles, but an unfortunate slip and fall in one of the last transitions reminded the audience how difficult it can be to gracefully cover so much ground. The cloud passed quickly, however, and the piece ended with the majestic ensemble of thirty-one moving forward in grand unison.

Though the program was consistent -- all Balanchine works set to all Tchaikovsky music -- the performances were somewhat dampened by unexpected stumbles. The audience seemed forgiving, however, and applauded contentedly at the final curtain. Making my own way home, I was relieved that I wouldn’t need my umbrella for the rest of the evening.

Edited by Jeff.

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