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American Ballet Theatre

'Theme and Variations,' 'Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,' Mozartiana,' 'Ballet Imperial'

by Kate Snedeker

May 31, 2004 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York City

On the final Monday of May, American Ballet Theatre's celebration of the the Balanchine Centennial continued with a superb evening that showcased Balanchine's choreography to Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky's music. The program included two ballets that have long been in the company's repertory, "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux" and "Theme and Variations," as well as "Mozartiana," new to the repertory this season, and "Ballet Imperial," which has returned after a long break. All four displayed the full range of ABT's talents, showcasing both bravura dancers and the elegant "princes" of the company.

The evening's most wonderful performances came from two of the company's top soloists, the elegant David Hallberg and Carlos Molina. Hallberg and Michelle Wiles led a solid performance of Balanchine's "Theme and Variations," set by Kirk Peterson. Though Theoni Aldredge's pink costumes give the ballet a candyland-like feel, it is replete with technical challenges. Both Wiles and Hallberg were solid, with Hallberg's long lines and beautifully pointed feet adding to his elegant performance. He sailed through the tricky tour-pirouette sequence and was a gracious partner to Wiles. A dancer who has been "one to watch" over the past few seasons, Hallberg has come into his own this year. He is no longer a prince-in-the-making, but a prince. David K.H. Elliott designed the lighting.

The next ballet, "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux" provided a change of pace, with the company's newest principal dancer, Herman Cornejo, a high flying cavalier for Ashley Tuttle. Cornejo seems to defy gravity in his leaps, but yet has found the right blend of flash and control. His jumps are breathtakingly high and his pirouettes stunningly fast, but all clean and neatly finished. If the test of a real principal dancer is the ability to not just do the fancy tricks, but to do them with control and blend them seamlessly into the rest of the performance, than Cornejo has passed with flying colors. Tuttle also delivered a satisfying and nuanced performance, bringing out the emotion in Tchaikovsky's music. Though there were a few rough edges in the partnering, the final dives were completed without a hitch.

Elegance reigned in "Mozartiana," set on ABT this year by former New York City Ballet dancer Maria Calegari. With her refinement and depth of dancing, Nina Ananiashvili was perfectly suited to the main role. Each footstep and each hand position seemed to have meaning, yet flowed into a seamless whole. Angel Corella was a solid partner in the “Theme et Variations,” but is perhaps not best suited for this role, which is more prince than bravura. Though his beats were crisp and dancing tidy, he sometimes seemed to be cramming more dancing into his solos than appropriate to the music. Yet, the dancing was exciting and his obvious joy in performing always makes him a pleasure to watch. Jesus Pastor, who joined the company last fall, was crisp in the "Gigue." The costumes were designed by Rouben Ter-Arutunian, who was also responsible for the ones in "Ballet Imperial" and the lighting by Mark Stanley.

The evening closed with Balanchine's regal "Ballet Imperial," a piece originally choreographed in 1941 and wonderfully staged by Colleen Neary. With chandeliers, glittering tiaras and rows of dancers in pink and blue, it's a ballet full of visual and choreographic grandeur. Monique Meunier was powerful in the secondary ballerina role, her dancing sure and sweeping. As the lead ballerina, Gillian Murphy whipped off stunning multiple pirouettes (quadruple, quintuple??) with nary a wobble. But the real joy in this ballet was the understated, but most noble and elegant performance of Carlos Molina. A dancer of the "prince" mold, Molina has a long-limbed and beautifully proportioned body, his line unmarred by the heavily-muscular thighs that many of the male dancers have developed. Thus, his line seems to start in one finger tip and continue in one unbroken sweep down to the tip of his toe.

Never one of the high-flying "boy wonders" of the company, it seems that Molina has been allowed to develop slowly and carefully as a solid and noble partner. In this performance, his elegance and gracious partnering brought a surprising poignancy and emotionality to the ballet. This was a cavalier who was honored and moved to be dancing with his ballerina -- and this seemed to bring out the best in Gillian Murphy. The corps, with Anna Liceica, David Hallberg, Maria Riccetto, and Ricardo Torres as demi-soloists, came together for a rousing finale! Jennifer Tipton lit the ballet.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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