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American Ballet Theatre

City Center Gala

by Kate Snedeker

October 19, 2005 -- City Center, New York City

In a gala evening mercifully short on speeches and rich with ballet, American Ballet Theatre opened its three-week long City Center season on a high note.   Showcasing the stylistic and choreographic diversity of the City Center repertory, the evening was a bit scattered, but nonetheless very satisfying.  Ballets by Jerome Robbins, Agnes DeMille, Kirk Peterson, Mark Morris and Marius Petipa showcased the talents of this company and its stunning dancers.

Kicking off the night was no less than the company premiere of “Afternoon of a Faun”,  Jerome Robbins’  re-conception of Nijinsky’s famous ballet to Claude Debussy’s ‘Prélude à l’aprés-midi d’un faune.”  The bubbling eroticism now found a home in a mirrored ballet studio with two young ballet students practicing their craft.  Coached by Jean-Pierre Frolich, company veterans Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel gave a mesmerizing and intense performance as the two dedicated but naïve students, more intent on their own reflections in the mirror than on each other.  With decades of dancing between them Stiefel and Kent seem to have drawn from their experiences to recreate the near-erotic intensity of the studio.  Athough it was a superb performance, one can’t be help but be reminded by appearance and memory that this is a pair of veteran dancers and thus the naiveté is a bit unnatural.  Other scheduled casts involve much younger dancers, who will hopefully imbue this ballet with a youthfulness.

The pas de deux from “Paquita” was a charming interlude, providing a glimpse of Irina Dvorovenko, just returned from maternity leave, and her husband, Maxim Beloserkovsky.  It’s a shame that Dvorovenko and Beloserkovsky don’t get more opportunities to perform together because they are beautifully matched and look utterly secure in even the trickiest partnering. Though not generally regarded as a bravura dancer, Beloserkosky was impressive in the brief solos, including flashy splits and double tours landing on the knee.  It was, however, unfortunate that the tempo set by the American Ballet Theatre orchestra, here under Ormsby Wilkins, seemed to be at odds with the dancers onstage.

Several excerpts from Kirk Peterson’s “The Howling Cat” provided a foretaste of the full company premiere to come later in the season.  Set to a medley of edgy tango music by Jacob Gade, Gary Chang and Astor Piazzolla, and framed by the clouds of swirling smoke behind a scrim, the piece was a masterpiece of casting.  Paloma Herrera and Jose Manuel Carreño couldn’t have looked more at home in the playful, but sultry “Melpomene.”  And in “Enragé,” the two blond Americans, Grant DeLong and Jared Matthews, had the same sultry electricity as the two Spaniards, Luis Ribagorda and Jesus Pastor.

The evening concluded with two full pieces, the first being Mark Morris’ colorful “Gong.”  Staged for this season by Tina Fehlandt, “Gong” has a South Asian feel, with Isaac Mizrahi’s brightly hued costumes accented by gold anklets and earrings and the angular feet and arms of Morris’ choreography reminiscent of Thai architecture and dance.   Morris’ use of both traditional and more modern choreographic motifs makes the piece fascinating.  In one pas de deux the ballerina and her partner alternate in flexed foot and bent arm moves, then she suddenly ‘relaxes’ and whips into a perfect classical supported pirouette.  Her partner then whips himself into a series of pirouettes.  Colin McPhee’s score furthers the Asian feel, though one of the two unaccompanied pas de deux offered the strongest dancing -- by Sascha Radetsky and Gillian Murphy.  Here, the silence intensified the power and athleticism of the dancing.

The one weakness of the piece may be its length – the second silent pas de deux begins to feel repetitive, the endless sections blurring the otherwise sharp focus of the dancing.  The corps looked strong and confident, bolstered by an all star lead group, including Herman Cornejo, Michele Wiles, Xiomara Reyes, Anna Liceica and Erica Cornejo.  Charles Barker conducted.

Erica Cornejo returned after the intermission to wrap up the gala in a delightful performance of Agnes DeMille’s “Rodeo.”  Under the tutelage of Paul Sutherland and Christine Sarry, the company has returned this wonderful ballet to the ABT repertoire in good shape.  Colorful – even if no real cowboy would be caught in some of Santo Loquasto’s colors -- earthy and slightly wistful, “Rodeo” brings to life the heart and soul of the American West.  Slight, but determined, Cornejo was a wonderful Cowgirl, in all her emotional conflict.  Isaac Stappas strutted his stuff as the puffed-chest Head Wrangler. In a role that is the best match yet to his skills and talents, Craig Salstein was a most delightful Champion Roper.  There was an endearing tenderness and gentleness to his character, but with all the strutting and preening intact.   Though enthusiastic, energetic and excellent in the square-dance interlude, the corps looked in need of a few more rehearsals to get the timing down pat.  Aaron Copland’s memorable score keeps things movin’, and the air of utter spontaneity that pervades the piece can only be achieved through much rehearsal and performance experience.

Oliver Smith designed the sets, with Thomas Skelton the lighting, and the orchestra finished on a high note under the baton of Charles Barker.

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