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American Ballet Theatre

'Kaleidoscope', 'Gong', 'Rodeo'

by Jerry Hochman

October 23, 2005 -- City Center, New York City

Every once in awhile an ABT repertory program succeeds in every respect. The repertory program at City Center tonight, consisting of Peter Quanz’s new “Kaleidoscope,” Mark Morris’s “Gong,” and Agnes DeMille’s delightful “Rodeo,” did just that. There were no downsides, no dull pieces, no less than stellar performances -- just pure delight.

Without doubt, the night belonged to Erica Cornejo, whose performance as The Cowgirl in the long overdue revival of “Rodeo” was simply fabulous. “Rodeo” holds a special place in my heart – it was the final piece in the very first ballet performance I ever saw (more years ago than I care to remember). And while Cornejo’s performance won’t make me forget Christine Sarry’s, Cornejo owns the role now. It may well be that anyone doing the steps and the comedy as de Mille intended will bring the house down. But Cornejo nailed everything as if she’d been rehearsing for this role all her life. Having watched her dance at many prior performances, I was not surprised at the quality of her dancing, but her command of the comedy was astonishing, and her performance touched my heart and stole it at the same time. Watching her face alone was worth the price of admission. If you want a guaranteed good time, see Cornejo in “Rodeo.”

But Cornejo isn’t the only reason to see “Rodeo.” Craig Salstein nearly did his own thievery as The Champion Roper. Salstein doesn’t overwhelm the audience with charisma, and perhaps for that reason the quality of his dancing always seems surprising. Isaac Stappas and Jennifer Alexander did commendable work as well.

The most interesting aspect of the night’s performance was Sarah Lane’s debut in “Kaleidoscope.” As I’ve indicated in previous reviews, Lane commands attention. There is a crystalline quality to her movement, and an understated radiance to her stage persona, which make it very difficult not to be captivated. She has enormous potential, but the breadth of her ability was not sufficiently tested in “Kaleidoscope.” Quanz’s piece is somewhat schizophrenic – part is pure, plotless movement, and part has more emoting that it needs. In the plotless section, Lane’s execution of Quanz’s quicksilver steps was virtually flawless, and in Holly Hynes’s classic blue (and shades thereof) costumes, Lane looked like a perfectly cut blue topaz. But the role was one-dimensional, and, as delicious to watch as she was, I wanted more personality than the piece, and her role in it, permitted.

Because of Lane’s size, she is a potential perfect partner for some of the shorter ABT men. Lane was partnered by Herman Cornejo -- a good pairing, at least in size if not in temperament. But Cornejo danced with relative disinterest. Perhaps this is a consequence of Quanz’s choreography, but whatever the reason, the overall sense was that something was missing.

The other half of the Quanz piece was led by Veronica Part and Maxim Beloserkovsky. It was predominantly adagio as compared to the more allegro Lane/Cornejo section and, particularly in contrast to Lane, Part emoted shamelessly. It may have been Quantz’s intention to demonstrate such an obvious contrast between the two female lead roles (perhaps to illustrate the contrast between the sections of the Saint-Saens music (“Piano Concerto No. 5, Opus 103”), but I would have preferred to have the choreography speak the emotion, and to tone down the passion.

In any event, I found Quanz’s  ballet to be a wonderful opening piece. Structurally, it is derivative of Balanchine (I saw a little of “Serenade,” a little “Theme,” a little “Jewels”), but that doesn’t make it inferior. It is highly enjoyable to watch, and should be seen from above to appreciate the intricate and beautifully executed patterns on stage. Much of it is, indeed, like watching a dancing kaleidoscope. In short, although there may not be much intellectual stimulation, the piece features quality choreography and quality dancing, and  a lot of serious fun for the audience, which appeared to be appropriately engaged and enthralled.

The middle piece on the program was Morris’s “Gong.” Unlike “Kaleidoscope,” “Gong” is derivative of nothing, except perhaps other Morris pieces. This highly original and enjoyable work is a rainbow of Isaac Mizrahi color matched with Morris’s brilliantly colorful choreography. I could quibble about things I don’t like (I could have done without the men all having slicked back hair and identical earrings, and the effeminate-looking palms-up posing), but Morris takes risks and makes statements that are interesting as well as exciting to watch. Although there wasn’t a weak link in the cast, particularly stellar work was done by Misty Copeland, Maria Riccetto, David Hallberg, Carlos Lopez, Jesus Pastor, and Craig Salstein. A supporting corps dancer, in a mauve or deep rose colored costume also stood out, although  I can’t identify her.

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