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1, 5-16: Gala Fervor
Acosta Wows, Corella Goes for Gasps, and Murphy Goes for Grigorovich in ABT Preview
of Things to Come
By Alicia Mosier
Copyright 2002 Alicia Mosier
NEW YORK -- Ah, the American Ballet
Theatre opening night gala. This year's event, held Monday at the Metropolitan
Opera House, fulfilled every expectation -- it had the homage to tradition, the
glitz, the tantalizing previews, the slam-bang entertainment, and what must be
the fullest dose of macho fervor (courtesy of Jose Manuel Carreno and the newly
acquired superstar Carlos Acosta) to be seen in quite some time on the stage of
In his opening remarks, artistic
director Kevin McKenzie said the gala was meant to be a "preview glimpse" of the
spring season. The season includes a number of ABT standbys, and we saw bits of
a few of those on Monday. In addition to the Act II Waltz from "Swan Lake," which
opened the evening, there was the Act II pas de deux from "Giselle," performed
by Amanda McKerrow and Angel Corella (who, as Albrecht, appeared to be dancing
himself to death not for love of Giselle but of the much-coveted audience gasp).
There was also George Balanchine's "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux," part of the "Tchaikovsky
Spectacular" ABT has presented during the last few seasons. To conductor Charles
Barker's gloppy tempos, Gillian Murphy threw herself around the stage as if she
were dancing something by Yuri Grigorovich. In contrast, her partner Marcelo Gomes
was refined and powerful, giving every phrase respect. (And is that phrasing and
technique ever solid! I hope Gomes isn't left behind amidst the glut of men at
ABT this year; his is the kind of dancing that needs to be seen more often on
that stage.) Ashley Tuttle gave perhaps the most satisfying performance of the
evening, with a raffish Vladimir Malakhov, in the Act I pas de deux from John
Cranko's "Onegin." She was every bit the young girl being courted by the older
man -- fresh and childlike, yet full of serious dreams. In Malakhov's arms, she
was beautifully pliable, but not without a will of her own.
That "Tchaikovsky Spectacular" will
get a boost this season from David Parsons's "Walk This Way," a disarmingly witty
send-up of the "I'm looking for my love and even though he's standing right there
on the other side of the stage I keep missing him" trope in classical ballet.
Susan Jaffe and Robert Hill gave a very funny performance of this at the gala;
Hill's attempt to match his stride to Jaffe's (when they finally realized each
other's presence) had timing worthy of Chaplin.
According to the schedule on the
company's website, Kenneth Macmillan's "Manon" isn't part of the ABT spring season,
so I'm not sure why its famous Act I bedroom pas de deux was included in Monday's
program. As Manon, with Hill as her steady partner, Julie Kent whirled herself
so ridiculously giddy that her hair came loose from its plaits. We also saw a
rousing rendition of the fourth movement of Balanchine's "Symphony in C," looking
far better on the Met's big stage than it did at City Center in the fall. Michele
Wiles, all sweetness and vigor, led the energetic and musically sensitive cast.
Two of the most anticipated moments
of the gala were the excerpts from Frederick Ashton's "La Fille Mal Gardee" and
"The Dream," both of which are in ABT's repertory for the first time this season.
Xiomara Reyes's interpretation of a variation from Act I of "Fille" was somewhat
perplexing -- overly sweet and spiked with flourishes more appropriate to "Don
Quixote" than to a French country garden. I look forward to seeing the variation
in the context of ABT's entire production of the ballet. Even more do I look forward
to "The Dream," after seeing Ethan Stiefel as Oberon in a brief pas de deux with
Alessandra Ferri. The critic Laura Jacobs has noted that Stiefel is at his best
in "magic forest" ballets -- ballets that let his pure-as-moonlight technique
fly into fantasy. In a glittering green costume, he sparked through the air like
lightning, both eating up space and reveling in the mischief of little-bitty steps,
simultaneously dominating and luxuriating in Ferri's girlish Titania. If Stiefel's
performance on Monday was any indication, this could be one of his greatest roles.
But let's face it: most everyone
was there Monday to see ABT's newest acquisition, Acosta. He did not disappoint.
(I *was* disappointed that Nina Ananiashvili and Julio Bocca's magnificent, impassioned
performance of the Act II pas de deux from "Le Corsaire" was shunted into the
least auspicious slot on the program -- right after the intermission, with half
the champagned audience still shuffling in several minutes into the piece.) Acosta,
the former Houston Ballet principal, comes to ABT from the Royal Ballet, where
he quickly gained international renown for his sensational technique and his (ahem)
animal magnetism. Dancing the pas de deux a trois from "Corsaire" with Carreno
and Paloma Herrera, Acosta brought down the house, blowing minds with his stallion-strong
leaps and a stage presence that ricocheted off the rafters. The competition was
good for his co-stars, too; in Acosta's wake, Carreno grew ever more intense,
his pirouettes burning into the floor, and Herrera ever more fire-and-ice precise.
How ABT intends to handle all this
heat, I don't know. Much less do I know whether there's a season of art ahead
of us, or merely of gasps and gaudy thrills. Monday's gala promised a good deal
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