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American Ballet Theatre

‘Gong,’ ‘Apollo,’ and ‘Rodeo’

 by Lori Ibay

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

On a crisp autumn Sunday afternoon while the leaves were turning brilliant colors on the trees outside New York City, American Ballet Theatre was lighting up the stage inside City Center with colors of its own, performing Mark Morris’s “Gong,” George Balanchine’s “Apollo,” and Agnes de Mille’s “Rodeo.”

I was seated next to a large group of young girls (lucky me) who oohed and aahed out loud at Isaac Mizrahi’s colorful costumes for “Gong,” while I oohed and aahed (on the inside) at the company’s wonderful spirit and energy.  The backdrop changed from fiery red to cool green as the mood and tempo of the music and the movement changed.

The five women (Stella Abrera, Misty Copeland, Karin Ellis-Wentz, Julie Kent, and Maria Riccetto) and five men (David Hallberg, Carlos Lopez, Jesus Pastor, Craig Salstein, and Arron Scott) with the supporting corps (Sasha Dmochowski, Melanie Hamrick, Yuriko Kajiya, Luciana Paris, and Angela Stone) created lines, diagonals, circles, and other geometric shapes in formations and unique lifts with smooth transitions, never losing their pace.

A set of pas de deux, danced in silence, were the only breaks in the momentum, showing off the dancers’ balance, strength, and focus.  Though the ensemble moved impressively as pirouetting, jete-ing individual parts of a bigger whole, David Hallberg still stood out with his controlled energy and long, graceful lines.

During the intermission, I tried to remember if I had ever seen Balanchine’s “Apollo,” the second program of the afternoon, but once it started I quickly realized that I hadn’t -- if I had I certainly would have remembered it.  The piece begins with Leto, Apollo’s mother (Jennifer Alexander) sitting at the top of a hollow staircase representing Mount Olympus, about to give birth.  After a series of thrashing gyrations, out plops Apollo (Ethan Stiefel) directly below Leto.

He immediately cries and is cradled by the handmaidens (Luciana Paris and Jacquelyn Reyes), and as they begin to slowly unwind the white cloths binding his arms and torso, he gracefully pirouettes to his freedom (the pediatrician in me would have given him a one-minute Apgar score of 10!).  Though initially unsteady on his feet (having just been born), the handmaidens teach him to play his lyre, and before long Apollo is showing off his powerful leaps and dancing with the Muses.

Calliope (Maria Riccetto), the Muse of poetry, dances first, her gestures symbolizing the potency and drama of spoken words.  Next is Polyhymnia (Gillian Murphy), the Muse of mime, whose solo is theatrical and comical, and danced almost entirely with one finger touched to her lips -- an almost too literal symbolization of the silence of mime.  Terpsichore, the Muse of dance and song, performs last -- her dainty and graceful solo was danced radiantly by Paloma Herrera.

Apollo’s final solo manifests his own godliness, I suppose, with wildly exaggerated and thrashing movements that demonstrated Steifel’s strength and grace.  The ensemble comes together before the piece ends with Apollo leading the group up the side of Mt. Olympus.

The afternoon ended with Agnes de Mille’s feel-good ballet “Rodeo,” a guaranteed crowd-pleaser -- and this performance was no exception.  Xiomara Reyes was adorably endearing as The Cowgirl, the clumsy tomboy who longs to ride with the cowboys, yet also vies for the attention of the Head Wrangler (Jared Matthews).  Sascha Radetsky was a good-natured hero as The Champion Roper, who eventually wins The Cowgirl’s heart, and Kelley Boyd was dainty and flirtatious as The Ranch Owner’s Daughter, the ribbons-and-lace antithesis of the jeans-and-boots Cowgirl.

The cast enchanted the captivated audience with their knee-slapping dancing as well as their acting abilities.  Though Radetsky’s tap dance could have been a bit crisper and Jeffrey Golladay’s square dance calling could have been more clearly enunciated, the story is simple, timeless, and appealing to audiences of all generations -- and as the curtain rose and fell and rose again, I found myself cheering along with my young seatmates.

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