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Flash Review 3, 10-30: ABT, Exposed
Matinee Highlights Strengths and Weaknesses

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2000 Susan Yung

City Center's stage felt uncharacteristically small with American Ballet Theatre's corps filling every square inch in the matinee on Saturday. The house seemed to lend an air of collegiality by virtue of the seating plan, which brought the audience much closer to the dancers, even with the orchestra pit employed. This program was two-thirds academicism -- "Theme and Variations" and "Etudes" -- and one third romanticism with "Jardin aux Lilas." And despite dating from 30s and 40s, none of the pieces seemed stale or period, a tribute to the company's artistic direction.

"Jardin aux Lilas," choreographed by Antony Tudor in 1936 to passionate, string-driven music by Ernest Chausson, told of a couple in love. Maxim Belotserkovsky and Julie Kent danced the leads, both of whom were obligated to other mates. The lovers' furtive flirtations and dalliances built in urgency as Kent approached her wedding day. In the end, their unrequited loves conveyed a sense of tragedy and desolation, especially in a section danced by the two couples who came so close to revealing their true affections, yet failed. Kent's slight physique added to her vulnerability, and Belotserkovsky, with his long legs delineating each movement, played a heroic would-be lover.

The afternoon began with Paloma Herrera and Jose Manual Carreno in "Theme and Variations" (1947) by Balanchine to music by Tchaikovsky. Both of these fine dancers possess a solidity to ground their filigreed skills. Herrera's legs and feet are prototypical for a ballerina, with strong, shapely arches that are no less pronounced in a tendu or developpe than when supporting her entire weight on pointe. Carreno complemented Herrera with strong partnering. In a difficult passage, he steadied her in an arabesque, then walked around her as she remained solidly in position with her arm in fifth, holding his hand. Although a showcase for the pair, this ballet also displayed the strong young company at its best.

"Etudes" (1948), while interesting conceptually, proved to be more problematic.

To music by Knudaage Riisager (after Carl Czerny), Harald Lander was credited with "ballet and choreography," referring to the work's structure patterned on a traditional ballet class regimen. After five young children demonstrated the basic ballet positions, the curtain rose to reveal rows of students at barres, with light only on their legs. The piece evolved from plies, through tendus, degages, and on through center work, such as the adagio, turns, and grand jetes. Gillian Murphy led the large cast; she was partnered by Marcelo Gomes and Carlos Molina. Murphy's pristine extension, seen in an inside turn, and then in a slow promenade, never wavered. Though "Etudes" served as a showcase for the perfect execution of ballet's fundamentals, its technical and ensemble demands also left exposed some dancers who were not able to polish a turn's landing, or who obviously heard the music differently than others in their ensemble.

For more information, please visit ABT's web site.

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