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Flash Review 2, 10-30: "Dim Lustre" Redux
New Luster for Tudor Classic from ABT

By Alicia Mosier
Copyright 2001 Alicia Mosier

NEW YORK -- American Ballet Theatre's fall season at City Center is a time for unearthing small repertory jewels and giving big opportunities to younger dancers. A little less than a week into the season, the company is still adjusting to the space and to performing before its hometown crowd after a long summer on tour. On Friday night, especially in a hurried and somewhat brittle rendition of Balanchine's "Symphony in C," some insecurity was in evidence. But the program opened with two exultant performances: Paul Taylor's "Black Tuesday" and Antony Tudor's "Dim Lustre," the latter the unveiling of a new production staged by David Richardson, with sets and costumes by Zack Brown and lighting design by Natasha Katz.

American Ballet Theatre's Gillian Murphy in Paul Taylor's "Black Tuesday." David Street photo courtesy ABT.

Tudor created "Dim Lustre" for ABT in 1943; the ballet carries the unmistakable perfume of that era. It has the de-luxe feel of "The Red Shoes" or the ballet in "An American in Paris" -- high melodrama, dream-sequence lights, mysterious transitions. Brown sets the stage with huge Dali-esque lamps, glowing weirdly and surrounded with vines; the women wear elegant off-the-shoulder ballgowns in pinks and oranges, and the men tails. "Dim Lustre" tells the story of a couple (The Lady with Him, The Gentleman with Her, danced Friday by Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel) who dance together at a ball and, as they dance, flash back to memories of other lovers. Each of them faces his or her reflection (ingeniously staged so that the protagonist and the reflection dance the same steps in two parallel shafts of light). Each meets old flames -- It Was Spring (Joaquin de Luz, very fleet and Springy), Who Was She? (Xiomara Reyes), She Wore a Perfume (Stella Abrera), He Wore a White Tie (Ethan Brown).

In Tudor ballets, with their dark Jungian subtexts, suggestion is all. As the season continues, I hope the cast gives a stronger sense of those dark undercurrents, of secret moments shared. On Friday the drama was a bit too much on the surface. Only Kent and Stiefel approached the Tudor tensions. Both in white, they looked at each other without really seeing; they cast their eyes over each other's shoulders or down to the floor, as if they were saying to each other: we both know there are things we know but cannot say. Their dance was interrupted several times by flashbacks; after each one, the stage went black and they picked up where they left off, so that the story of this couple grew more and more complex as the ballet went on. After Stiefel remembered a stunning woman in turquoise and black (the glinting Abrera), his dancing grew dark and aggressive -- a color of passion missing from his current all-white romance. It's a glorious ballet, a real gem from ABT's long history by its finest house choreographer. Leslie Dunner led a robust orchestra in Richard Strauss's "Burleske in D for Piano and Orchestra."

"Black Tuesday" is now, needless to say, a very different ballet than the one that premiered in the spring. Another Tuesday has immeasurably deepened the already deep strain of sorrow and survival-joy in the piece. Beneath the street-lamp shadows and fragile structures of the set, Taylor's ragamuffin social dances had a raw edge on Friday that they haven't had before. The unvarnished glee of Ilona McHugh and Gennadi Saveliev in "Slummin' on Park Avenue" was the glee of people who need to get their minds off their troubles, people whose troubles make it urgent that they dance and drink and laugh and pretend. In "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams," Gillian Murphy -- with her 1930s movie-star looks -- gave an impassioned dance of desperation which left her so naked and vulnerable that at the end, when Joaquin de Luz came to rescue her from the gang of men who had been tormenting her, it looked as if she really did need his help walking off the stage. And in "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?", De Luz was a revelation. This bouncing boy transformed himself into a man with soul, fearlessly tumbling through this solo's desperate, determined, death-defying movements. It was a time-stopping performance, a huge advance for a promising but heretofore technique-bound young dancer. He caught every nuance of the song -- the unapologetic anguish, the what-the-hell jubilation, the cynical gleam of a young man in wartime, and that heartrending lyric, "Once I built a tower, now it's done." These dancers, who bravely kept touring in the immediate aftermath of September 11, have taken that day into their bodies and spirits. "Black Tuesday" is now *their* story, as it is all of ours, and their performance of it Friday was a triumph.

"Symphony in C" (1947) is a wonderful ballet for ABT -- all classical purity and sparkle -- but at its second performance of the season the dancers still had not quite made it their own. The performance was rushed and addlepated; odd casting choices (like pairing Susan Jaffe -- who was having an off night full of missed pirouettes and gooey arms -- with the very young Carlos Molina in the second movement) exacerbated the feeling of thrown-together-ness. At moments, though, the thing came together, giving hints of what this company might do with the ballet in the days and years to come. Paloma Herrera was especially tender and refined with Vladimir Malakhov in the first movement (though Malakhov is getting more and more campy, with hands flailing and whatnot). Xiomara Reyes continues to amaze me with her gumption: she joined De Luz for double saute de basques in the third movement, and did them pretty well, too. The tall Michele Wiles, paired with the over-rouged Ricardo Torres, had a bit of trouble getting around amid the fourth movement's speedy activity. Throughout, the corps looked delighted to be doing this ballet, as though they knew what a perfect opportunity it was in their development. By the time they take it to the Metropolitan Opera House in the spring, the company will have had ample time to look a little deeper into this diamond's light.

ABT continues at City Center through Sunday.

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