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American Ballet Theatre

'Theme and Variations', 'Jardin Aux Lilas', 'Duo Concertant', 'Fancy Free'

by Carmel Morgan

January 18, 2011 -- John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC

The Kennedy Center is marking the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s
inauguration by celebrating its namesake with a series of special performances. On opening
night of the American Ballet Theatre’s annual visit to DC, the company presented a mixed
program of purported favorites of Mrs. Kennedy. Of course, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was a
huge ballet fan (she took ballet classes growing up) and served for more then 25 years on ABT’s
board of trustees. ABT, in fact, named its ballet school in her honor.

“Theme and Variations,” “Jardin Aux Lilas (Lilac Garden),” “Duo Concertant,” and “Fancy
Free” are favorites of many balletomanes, and the audience surely delighted in having them on a
single program. The evening, however, got off to a rocky start, with a less-than-perfect Yuriko
Kajiya stepping in for the injured Gillian Murphy in Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations.”
Wispy Kajiya, rather awkwardly paired with David Hallberg, suffered some significant wobbles
and seemed tightly wound. She wasn’t up to the task of matching Hallberg’s breezy royal airs.
Actually, no one else quite kept up with Hallberg, either. Hallberg moved incredibly fluidly as
always, pausing to breathe at all the right moments, then soaring some more. He took complete
command of the stage, and it was a challenge to watch anyone but him. Only when Kajiya was
alone did she brighten and show the composure meant for her majestic role. The ensemble work
in “Theme and Variations” also didn’t quite sparkle as it should. The corps’ togetherness varied.
The dancers fared better with the speedier sequences, which may have been subject to more
rehearsal time.

“Jardin Aux Lilas (Lilac Garden)”, a personal favorite of mine, shone despite the darkness of its
theme and set design. Julie Kent captured all the subtlety necessary for the tragically torn bride-
to-be. Antony Tudor’s moody “Lilac Garden” never fails to break my heart, and Kent grabbed
me from the get-go. She danced with a haunted, quietly powerful quality appropriate for this
atmospheric masterpiece. “Lilac Garden” is a work in which bodies seem to speak, and small
gestures really add up. As Kent’s chest and chin lifted and fell, I felt her character’s emotional
pain, and as her hands slid from her head to her stomach, I felt her physical aches as well. Kent
owned “Lilac Garden” as much as Hallberg owned “Theme and Variations.” Both Kent and
Hallberg possess a maturity and richness that’s continually thrilling to observe.

“Duo Concertant,” another Balanchine work and one brand new to ABT, was the least successful of the mixed program’s offerings. It’s a lovely work, to be sure, but the opening night cast
of Paloma Herrera and Cory Stearns simply didn’t hit the proper notes. On stage were a
pianist (David LaMarche) and violinist (Ronald Oakland), and also two dancers in unadorned
dancewear hovering behind the musicians. The simplicity of the initial picture held appeal,
but in execution, the dancers, tilting their heads to listen before moving out from the piano’s
shadow, looked not inspired, but a bit dull. Their efforts to appear enrapt by the music felt false.
Watching the musicians, unfortunately, was at times more interesting than taking in the dancers’
interpretations of what they were hearing. “Duo Concertant” was prettiest during the couple’s
final acts of intimacy, with a spotlight catching certain body parts.

If “Duo Concertant” was confounding and rather disappointing, Jerome Robbins’ classic crowd-
pleaser “Fancy Free” was the exact opposite. “Fancy Free,” a straightforward romp featuring
three sailors on shore leave (Herman Corenjo, Sascha Radetsky – replacing Ethan Stiefel, and
Joe Manual Carreño), thoroughly exceeded my expectations. The energetic sailors were playful
and clownish, and the sexy women who kept them company (Maria Riccetto, Isabella Boylston,
and Leann Underwood in strong colorful costumes by Kermit Love) were sassy and coy – just as
if they stepped out from a peppy period cartoon. All of the dancers projected star quality. The
men fell into splits, rolled in somersaults, and kicked as high as Rockettes. Their antics lit up
the entire opera house. Everyone had a thigh-slapping, heel-clicking good time. Smiles beamed
from the performers and audience members alike.

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