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Flash Review 2, 11-14: Of Little Deaths and Big Assets
ABT Shows its Deep Pockets in Contemporary Repertory

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2003 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- American Ballet Theatre displayed its biggest asset -- its roster of dancers -- in the company's last two weeks of wildly diverse repertory at City Center in October and November. Highlights included Jiri Kylian's "Petite Mort" and "Sechs Tanze," Antony Tudor's "Pillar of Fire," and Martha Graham's "Diversion of Angels." ABT also premiered Robert Hill's "Dorian," which contains some indelible imagery despite its flaws.

Kylian's "Petite Mort" and "Sechs Tanze," company premieres, worked particularly well -- for the scale of the stage and our distance from it, with the premium that ABT places on finished lines, and for the choreographer's refined yet light-hearted sense of theater. "Petite Mort," with a cast of twelve, offered a chance for many of the company's principals to dance in an ensemble. Kylian employed touches of the absurd -- women entered in formal black hoop dresses which turned out to be freestanding shells on wheels. In "Sechs Tanze," heavily powdered dancers emitted puffs of talc as they bounced onstage, and a cascade of bubbles wafted from the fly to end the piece.

For a classical company like ABT, taking on Graham's "Diversion of Angels" would seem to be a set up for disappointment. But the company largely handled the demanding technique while depicting the different stages of love. Sandra Brown looked solid in the staple side high extension punctuated with a contraction, and Stella Abrera cleanly drew her repeating low attitude pose. Herman Cornejo re-proved his knack for looking completely at ease in the most difficult of moves; he danced with his sister Erica, who seemed as irrepressibly joyous as he did.

Retired ABT principal Robert Hill choreographed "Dorian," based on the Oscar Wilde tale of an eternally young man whose portrait shows the effects of aging and wild living. David Hallberg danced the title role of this world premiere; he wore a brunette hairpiece to better match the dark-haired Marcelo Gomes, who posed regally in a gold frame as Dorian's portrait. Naturally, they danced in mirror-image, one's elegant pose matching the other's, and eventually Gomes partnered Hallberg in a duet with an aggressive dynamic. Julie Kent, who portrayed the starlet who at first was charmed, then fatally spurned by Dorian, as usual danced with a delicate luminosity, perhaps abetted by her real-life pregnancy. Gomes donned garments with increasing amounts of red to mark a decline into debauchery, also conveyed through a scene sited in an opium den, where young Danny Tidwell let loose multiple spins. Despite some beautiful moments, Hill's ballet vocabulary was for the most part unremarkable, showing little innovation or experimentation; he also relied heavily on leaden mime to provide narrative. "Dorian," to Jon Magnussen's musical arrangement, is too long, and would be better served shorter. Zack Brown designed the elegant costumes and sets, which were moved on and offstage frequently and fussily.

Although Hallberg is still technically a member of the corps, he has gained in prominence rapidly, and for good reason -- tall for good partnering potential and princely roles, long-limbed to match even Gomes's picture-perfect lines, amazing ballon, and high-arched feet that end in a craftily pointed finish. He can't yet match Gomes's dramatic depth or economical emotional signals, but give him a few years. Also prominent in this fall season were the dynamic soloists Carlos Molina, Carlos Lopez, and Sandra Brown and corps dancer Craig Salstein. Lopez pairs well with Herman Cornejo in allegro/grand allegro work.

Hill might gain advantage by further examining Tudor. The latter's "Pillar of Fire," restaged by Donald Mahler and set to music by Arnold Schoenberg, told of a woman wronged who finds love and redemption in the end. Tudor described characters with a remarkable economy, combining subtle gestures or evoking the shorthand of familiar style. For example, flamenco-flavored sequences performed by Gomes as The Young Man from the House Opposite gave him an instant machismo which took a cruel path instead of a chivalrous one. A brief, flickering surge of movement, which began in his knees and moved through his pelvis, spoke volumes. Hagar (Gillian Murphy) became the victim of his actions; she eventually found happiness with The Friend (Carlos Molina), who was a potential suitor for the Youngest Sister (Xiomara Reyes). In the opening scene, Murphy moved about nervously, her fretting foreshadowing the events to follow; she performed with dramatic depth and a polished, solid technique. Reyes played her part a bit heavily, seeming too young to be courted, but charming nonetheless. Molina continues to excel in roles that show an emotional generosity, whether he plays the devil or the guys next door. Robert Perdziola designed the set and costumes, which contributed greatly to character delineation.

In light of Movado's blatantly hostile transfer of its sponsorship monies to New York City Ballet, ABT faces even more operational hurdles than the many it has endured in the last several years. The inclusion this season of some solid repertory buttressed the company's wobbly contemporary artistic direction, at least for the time being. If its administration can match its dancers in talent and reliability, it would be a blessing.

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