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Flash Review 2, 10-21: By George! by ABT
Four Choreographers Bring Sweet Harrison to City Center

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2002 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- American Ballet Theatre premiered "Within You Without You: A Tribute to George Harrison" to a hugely enthusiastic audience at City Center Friday. The suite comprises six songs, two each choreographed by Natalie Weir and Stanton Welch, and one apiece choreographed by David Parsons and Ann Reinking. Despite moments when the dancers seemed to be laminating casual, hip movements onto their highly-trained technique, the tribute possesses enough pleasing variety and a generosity of spirit to make for a winning work.

George Harrison wrote and performed with passion. His soul-baring love songs and spiritual quests gained urgency through his plaintive vocals and restless, soaring guitar lines. Parsons captured this essential urgency best in the closing number, "My Sweet Lord." Essentially a chain of stage crossings performed by the whole cast, the flow of movement never ceased and resembled across-the-floor exercises, a staple of dance classes. Parsons let the dancers loose and allowed them to savor each move, from the most elemental chassee to a soaring, simple grand jete. They conveyed a completely unselfconscious joy through sheer speed. Their enthusiasm spread throughout the house, and peaked with the irrepressible Angel Corella and the soaring pair of Herman Cornejo and Joaquin de Luz, who carved all dimensions of space in attitude tours with slicing arms. It was a thrilling return for Parsons after the poor reception for his recent "Pied Piper," done for ABT.

De Luz, who distinguished himself throughout the evening, blended emotion with physical clarity in "Isn't it a Pity?," choreographed by Welch, another ensemble dance which featured crossing the stage (albeit walking slowly) as a repeated motif. Xiomara Reyes had a suitably relaxed attitude, striking the right balance. I didn't care for the forced slackerisms -- head scratching, slouched posture -- despite that they underscored how individuals can emerge with brilliance from nowhere. Welch also choreographed "Something," a solo for Corella. It's difficult for this dynamo to contain his energy, which also has a great deal to do with his appeal. He moved through a series of sharp, angular gestures and hit them slightly in advance of the beat, enhancing the rather desperate mood set by Welch.

Natalie Weir choreographed "I Dig Love" and "Within You Without You." In the first, Julie Kent paired playfully with Ethan Stiefel and later Cornejo. Weir successfully combined jaunty, casual movements with more formal phrases of ballet, including some clever partnering schemes with two and three dancers. Stiefel's quiet presence commanded the stage in "Within You," in which he paired with Gillian Murphy. He looked like a marble statue, bathed in hot white light, passing through the various states of lucidity which mirrored the hypnotic music. Stiefel displayed beautiful control bordering on the gymnastic, while retaining a snaky fluidity.

The least interesting choreography came from Reinking, who in all fairness seemed ill-suited to the task despite her extensive achievements."While My Guitar Gently Weeps" resisted Reinking's jazzy vocabulary, set on Sandra Brown and Jose Manuel Carreno. Both appeared uncomfortable with the periodic head toss or scissor kick, unable to maintain continuity while tending to such exclamation points. Brown once again showed her aptitude for acrobatic stuff, arching like a fish, or dropping into a split while suspended upside-down. Carreno remained solid through sustained lifts; despite his velvety presence, he was unable to smooth out the bumps in Reinking's patchwork choreography. Catherine Zuber designed the costumes, consisting primarily of rust and maroon toned jeans and tank tops; Brad Fields designed the effective lighting schemes.

In Stanton Welch's "Clear" Marcelo Gomes performed the role of the central figure accompanied by an outstanding supporting male cast; they were periodically visited by Gillian Murphy, representing the elegant -- if secondary -- female. Gomes has developed an unshakeable, relaxed confidence to go with his strength, noble line, and complete technique. He has a clear, direct gaze and a surprising freedom in his torso, back, and legs. David Hallberg substituted for Maxim Belotserkovsky, demonstrating enviably arched feet and loose pelvic joints, which combined to create a beautiful line.

The company's performance of Balanchine's "Symphony in C" is tighter than in a recent viewing, but the corps still lacks an essential snap to its steps, appearing logy and behind the music. Paloma Herrera seemed to be going through the moves with no emotional investment; she was seriously upstaged by the vivacious Stella Abrera, who continues to grow more interesting, and looked genuinely happy to be onstage. On the other hand, Irina Dvorovenko, partnered with Gomes, infused the second movement with an indescribable sad seriousness bordering on a spoof. She arched one eyebrow while craning her neck around to look at the audience. Still, she cuts an stunning line and adds a strong dash of Russian pathos to the mix.

Xiomara Reyes danced the third movement with Herman Cornejo, and while both are explosive powerhouses, Reyes could not handle the saute double tours en l'air that Cornejo tossed off with time to spare. (Though it should be noted that it is rare to see a woman even attempt such a move.) The final movement featured Anna Liceica, who showed quick feet but a listless demeanor; she paired with Ricardo Torres, who would benefit from a boost of self-confidence. Cornejo ended the evening on an up note by jumping higher than anyone else in an ensemble phrase, despite his relatively short height. He looked like he'd rather be nowhere else in the world, and by George, he convinced us of the same.

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