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Flash Review 2, 5-28: Men Dancing
'Dream' Roles for ABT Guys

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2002 Susan Yung

NEW YORK --The addition to American Ballet Theatre's repertoire of Frederick Ashton's "The Dream," seen Friday night at the Metropolitan Opera House the night after its company premiere, is cause for celebration. The charming story, based on Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," has retained its freshness over the ages, with an inherent physicality that is organic to the story of magic potions and mistaken identity. It is dancey, humorous, and perhaps most importantly for ABT's current roster, has big meaty roles for men. Ashton's ballet style is classical yet unaffected, its playful quality revealing each dancer's personality.

Anthony Dowell (from the original cast) and Christopher Carr have restaged the 1964 Royal Ballet production, with music by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy arranged by John Lanchbery and conducted by Charles Barker, lavish sets and costumes by David Walker, and lighting by John Read. The cast was led by Alessandra Ferri as Titania, Ethan Stiefel as Oberon, and Herman Cornejo in a bravura performance as Puck. Ferri displayed a liquid grace, even while shepherding a startled changeleing boy (Kevin Chun) and Bottom, a donkey (Isaac Stappas) who tottered about in a huge mask and pointe shoes. Ferri's finest moment came late in the ballet, when she melted out of firm arabesques on releve into Stiefel's supportive arms; they then crossed the stage, Ferri dipping through soft splits.

The role of Puck is a fanciful tour de force solo. Cornejo delighted in his unfettered independence, not required to dance in tandem with anyone else (except on rare occasion) and thereby unlimited in jump height. His ballon seems to have a turbo boost; just when it seemed as if he should descend, he rose another six inches. His sharply defined legs and feet cut through space, particularly in attitude tours en l'air and pencil turns which increased in speed, as in ice skating.

Stiefel is not exactly your average dancer, but in comparison to Cornejo, he seemed positively phlegmatic. Then again, his movements emphasized thoughtful, slow turns through different positions, ending in elongated arabesques. He stepped off the final stair tread leading with a finely pointed foot, as if testing the temperature of a pool. Finally united with Titania, the pair moved in tandem with their hands clasped through risky mirrored penches, pretzelling their arms one way and another. The two other couples were danced by Marian Butler/Ethan Brown, and Stella Abrera/Marcelo Gomes, who were game in fisticuffs and cat-fights.

ABT has cleaned up "Symphony in C" quite a bit since I last saw the company perform it in last season's run at City Center. In fairness, it requires a larger stage than City Center's, which confined the dancers so that by the final ensemble scene, they needed a traffic officer onstage just to prevent collisions. In contrast to New York City Ballet's rendition, (reviewed on May 21), ABT's is a bit looser. The corps was substantially together, particularly the six women leading off the second section.

Maxim Belotserkovsky was radiant in the first movement, his long legs unfolding like a portable umbrella, and in a chain of solid quadruple turns. He partnered Paloma Herrera, who displayed a bit of foot weakness in her devilish on-pointe steps and hops, and achieved relatively low altitude in jumps. Nonetheless, as always, she cut a beautiful line. Nina Ananiashvili danced the plummy second principal role with Jose Manuel Carreno. Ananiashvili, a willowy, lyrical ballerina, resisted the nose-to-knee gymnastics of City Ballet's Wendy Whelan in the difficult six o'clock penche. She breathed poetry into the series of free falls into Carreno's arms, adding just the right anticipatory lilt of her port de bras. Carreno partnered well, but his talents seemed wasted in what is primarily a supportive role, and pointed up -- yet again -- how male-strong this company has become, and why Balanchine's composition is perhaps not the most appropriate acquisition.

Angel Corella, as he often does, used his boyish charm, toothy smile, and bravado to display his fundamental Vaudevillean trait of wanting the audience's love. Ashley Tuttle's preparation into each grand jete seemed leaden, and her presence was overshadowed by Corella's eagerness. Michele Wiles and Ricardo Torres led the fourth movement. Despite her height, Wiles kept on pace in the allegro sections, making an equation out of each phrase, though she needed a taller partner than Torres. David LaMarche conducted.

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