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Flash Review 2, 11-2: Trading in Brocade for Wicker
In the Attic with ABT

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- It seemed fitting to watch American Ballet Theatre's program on Halloween. Here was one of the leading companies in its country cottage, so to speak, airing out repertory that might be lost in its gold mansion. Having the opportunity to try on costumes and masks from the trunk in the attic, to play-act different roles. Some fit, and some not as well, but that didn't matter -- in the end, it was a liberating experience.

"Jabula" (1994), choreographed by Australian Natalie Weir to music by Hans Zimmer, is a piece of exotica for ABT. The movement and music have African undertones, though the ballet doesn't seem to have any pretensions of authenticity. Lit from behind and led by Herman Cornejo, a wedge of bare-torsoed men advanced downstage, arms cutting sharply into strong shapes. They wore the same clay-colored, palazzo wrap culottes as the women, who wore like-shaded leotards (all by Weir). Stella Abrera displayed an elegant line in her solo sections, moving as stealthily as a panther, alternating between silky smooth and ferociously aggressive.

Weir blended bold ballet shapes with a softened African style, which at moments looked awkward on this company which is so entrenched in traditional ballet vocabulary. The upbeat tone created by the jangly, beat-driven score, sunlit lighting, movement and costumes reminded me of "The Lion King" on Broadway, but that was likely a coincidence.

The company premiered its production of Kirk Peterson's "Amazed in Burning Dreams" (1993), a plotless dance in eight sections to Philip Glass's music for "Mishima." Peterson, now a ballet master at ABT after an illustrious and varied career in dance, showed a keen sensibility in casting the company to its strengths. Cornejo demanded to be watched, with his jewel-movement precision which betrayed not a shadow of conceit. It was not just the big jetes and the multiple turns (okay, how about that fiver where he moved his arms from low fifth to high, ending in an arabesque!) that he executed well that distinguished him. It was also his perfectly still lunge in fourth position after a turn, and his exact 90-degree arm angle, among other details. Cornejo richly deserved this evening's program, which seemed to be a showcase for his remarkable talent. Kristi Boone and Marcelo Gomes made a fine pairing, both showing great strength and flexibility. David Hallberg, with his gifted feet, gave a tricky solo a velvety smoothing-down, knocking the edges off of quick sautes in opposite directions.

The strength of "Amazed" is that Peterson managed to, as they say, stay within himself. While the Glass music begs for rapid, embellished movement, Peterson keyed off of major rhythms and melodies. There never seemed to be too many people onstage, a temptation which is quicksand for certain choreographers endowed with so many talented bodies. Movement patterns were legible, and he refrained from using the old reliable canon excessively, which is a foible that would seem to be particularly ripe when accompanying Glass's slippery musical structure. Peterson let the smaller dancers whirl their arms grandly while the larger ones made small, fighting fish circles with their hands. It levelled the marley for everyone, relieving the big-men-on-campus of their princely sables and letting the equally talented sprites try them on for a spell. (In actuality, the dancers wore sleek pewter unitards with red, one-eyed masks and red wristbands, designed by Peterson and Larae Hascall. Lighting was designed by Randall Chiarelli.)

The program included three pas de deux. Speaking of BMOCs, respective homecoming king and queen Gomes and Paloma Herrera performed Balanchine's "Sylvia" pas. Gomes tweaked the prevailing ultra-classicism of this pas, and showed just how comfortable he is at City Center, by pushing off of the proscenium when he had overshot his phrase, which ended in a big arabesque. Herrera shone, and had a chance to show off the strength of her shapely feet. Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Belotserkovsky were radiant in Mr. B's "Tchaikovsky" pas, in which Dvorovenko displayed a gregarious sweetness to compliment her avian light- and quickness. Belotserkovsky's sissonnes were surprisingly open and soft, showing off his great extension and pliable feet. Susan Jaffe and Carlos Molina paired in a pas from the Kevin McKenzie/Ivanov-Petipa "Swan Lake," Jaffe showing an appealing world-weariness to Molina's wide-eyed youth.

A couple of production problems marred the evening. The orchestra was miked especially heavily during "Amazed," amplifying the ambient noise in the pit. And the lucky stagehand encharged with pulling back the curtain for individual bows made untimely early entrances several times, in full view of the right side of the audience. At least he could be costumed in something other than a white t-shirt.

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