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Flash Review 1, 10-27: Sample Platter
ABT Fetes Ferri & Fokine

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2004 Gus Solomons jr

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NEW YORK -- Standard fare for ballet company galas: a thank-you-for-your-support speech by the artistic director followed by lots of splashy, show-off dancing. So it was on October 20, the opening night of American Ballet Theatre's annual fall season at New York City Center, which also honored principal dancer Alessandra Ferri, celebrating her 20th year with the company. The season runs through November 7, and this troupe has both virtuosity and artistry to spare.

The opening number, Michel Fokine's "Le Spectre de la Rose," danced by Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo showed the kind of pyrotechnics for which ABT is renowned. Diminutive Cornejo exploded in flawless double tours en l'air, airy entrechat six, and bounding jetes in the title role, and Reyes as the Young Girl, whose fantasy the anthropomorphized flower fulfills, made a charming foil.

In a pleasantly low-key speech, artistic director Kevin McKenzie thanked the appropriate parties: trustees, donors, sponsors, et al, and reminded us, like a proud papa, that the fall season -- which has been extended from two to three weeks by, he said, the generosity of executive committee chairman Lewis Ranieri -- gives the company a chance to take artistic risks: to show ballets by new choreographers and smaller pieces that would be swallowed up by the enormous dimensions of the Metropolitan Opera House, where the six-week spring season takes place.

Next, another Fokine work, the Nocturne from "Les Sylphides," featured Erica Cornejo, Maria Riccetto, Maxim Beloserkovsky, and making her welcomed return from maternity leave, Julie Kent, looking regal as ever. The quiet, lyric section of this abstract ballet epitomizes the perfection for which classical ballet strives.

Then, Paloma Herrera and Marcelo Gomes wowed the elegantly understated audience of glitterati with the perennial Act III (Black Swan) Pas de Deux and Coda from "Swan Lake," choreographed by Marius Petipa to Tchaikovsky's music. Herrera inserted double pirouettes between the first eight of the thirty-two fouette turns that define her variation, and Gomes, dancing with coltish ebullience, drew roars of approval with his triple pirouettes a la second. The pair had been finely coached in the dramatic nuances of the duet, making it much more than just a sensational technical display.

Irina Dvorovenko gave a convincing rendition of "The Dying Swan," another Fokine classic, with rippling port de bras. And the first half closed with the Act II Pas de Deux from "Le Corsaire," choreographed by Konstantin Sergeyev after Petipa and danced here with flair and brashness by Gillian Murphy, whose unmannered purity is a joy to behold, and the smoldering spin-meister, Jose Manuel Carreno, both in top form. Not to be outdone by the Black Swan, Murphy inserted triple pirouettes into her blistering chain of fouettes.

After intermission, Angel Corella partnered the evening's honoree, Ferri, in Jerome Robbins's "Other Dances," set to Chopin played by onstage pianist David LaMarche, and created in 1976 as a piece d'ocasion for Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov for a gala to benefit the Library and Museum of Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.

The bravura bits choreographed into so many dances custom-made for Baryshnikov's unique presence rarely translate effectively onto other dancers. Thus, Corella seemed to be doing a Misha imitation, though he did partner Ferri attentively. Ferri has always seemed bound through her torso and head, making her dancing look a bit stiff and overly careful. But her great delicacy and oh-so-articulate feet and legs still worked magic.

Closing the program, Jiri Kylian's "Sinfonietta," set to Leos Janacek music, illustrated why City Center is a perfect alternative to the Met for this company's repertoire. The dance in five movements for 14 dancers is packed with the innovative movement that made Kylian a world-class dance maker. And in this theater you're close enough to appreciate the inventiveness and the dynamic details. Charles Barker conducted; the horn players stood on the front apron straddling the proscenium.

Responding to the opening brass and percussion salvo, seven men leaped repeatedly across the stage in pairs and threes in an exuberant display of aerial power. Four women (Stella Abrera, Anne Milewski, Erica Cornejo, and Marian Butler) joined the men in the Second Movement, and the sonic texture of the brass highlighted the unusual lifts and fast-changing groupings, as the women passed and were passed among the men. Kent, Herrera, and corps member Kristi Boone joined Gomes, David Hallberg, and Sascha Radetsky for a lyrical Third Movement for three couples. And after a reprise of the airborne opening passage, Abrera and four male partners: Gomes, Hallberg, Jesus Pastor, and Gennadi Saveliev, and the ensemble, including also Herman Cornejo and Carlos Lopez, brought the piece to a gratifying kinetic resolution -- pure movement with a human connection.

Through November 7, American Ballet Theatre will be serving up more world-class dancing and challenging choreography by old masters like Michel Fokine and new ones like Christopher Wheeldon and Trey MacIntyre.

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