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Flash Review 2, 7-3: Rabbit Run
Ace ABT Cast Makes Tharp's Latest

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2008 Gus Solomons jr

NEW YORK -- The program for the third week of American Ballet Theatre's spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House was a particular treat for fans of hard dancing. Harald Lander's 1948 "Etudes" -- a 50-minute-long buffet of the most difficult ballet steps -- shared the bill with the premiere of Twyla Tharp's "Rabbit and Rogue" featuring sexy, sheer costumes by Norma Kamali and a commissioned orchestral score by popular film composer Danny Elfman.

It's hard to imagine a more apt cast than the one that performed on Thursday night, June 5, with Marcelo Gomes and Sascha Radetsky as Rogue and Rabbit, respectively. (For Harris Green's DI review of a different cast, click here.) As the Rag Couple, newly promoted soloist Kristi Boone in a lacy black bathing suit is joyfully abandoned and Cory Stearns -- a rising member of the corps -- endearingly earnest partnering her. Maria Riccetto and Jose Manuel Carreno in sleek silver outfits pair up as the Gamelan Couple. And the members of a Quartet (Misty Copeland, Sarah Lane, Jared Matthews, and Craig Salstein) mix and match with each other in their interludes.

As usual, Tharp keeps the stage sizzling with entrances and exits, glancing lifts, and twitchy, leggy phrases. She inflects the ballet steps that are mother's milk to her dancers with her signature idiosyncrasy. The dancers' obvious pleasure in going through its twisting, stretching, and bounding motion gives the ballet a kinetic excitement and logic that supplants linear coherence.

The cast of 22 is deployed in the five overlapping sections, titled Frolic, Rag, Lyric, Gamelan, and Finale -- more, it seems, as names to identify sections to the dancers than to elucidate the audience. Elfman's score is wonderfully cinematic and robust, giving the frenetic action the non-stop pace of a spy movie. Another hearing might clarify the rhythms and instrumentation that distinguish the section titles.

Tharp may have had specific narrative references in mind with touches like zany Salstein's eavesdropping on the boyish competition between the title characters and skittering on and offstage in a semi-squat like Groucho Marx. The leading men resemble comic book super-heroes with their physical antics -- quick-motion runs, wacky poses, and double takes. On first viewing, "Rogue and Rabbit" is an exhilarating joy ride that clearly gave the audience its money's worth.

Opening the program was Danish choreographer Harald Lander's "Etudes," which had its Danish premiere in 1948 and entered the ABT repertoire in 1961. Set to a series of orchestrations by Knudaage Riisager of Carl Czerny piano etudes, the sections of the ballet, like the musical exercises, increase in complexity and technical difficulty as they progress, and the choreography depicts the rigor of ballet training from barre warm-ups through the class progression adagio etudes for balance and strength, intricate footwork of petite allegro for speed, and turns and jumps of grand allegro for stamina and power.

The adding of scenic elements between early sections -- columns at the side entrances and chandeliers overhead that transform the stage from studio into salon -- retards the pacing of the initial passages, so the ballet can't gain the momentum that might make it more exhilarating. The company's splendid dancers demonstrate their technical prowess in a relentless stream of beating jumps and big leaps that must leave their muscles burning.

In principal roles, Irina Dvorovenko's technically sure performance lacked fire, as did that of her partner/husband Maxim Beloserkovsky. But Matthews brought the finale to life with unmitigated verve in his solo variation. Nananne Porcher did the lighting, and David LaMarche conducted.

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