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Flash Review 2, 2-15: Pas de Deux Love
Making Contact With the Stars at the NY State

By Albert Lee
Copyright 2000 Albert Lee

The pas de deux is a curious artifact--a curio, almost--that has strangely endured into the twenty-first century. No doubt it is supremely important in a ballet. It is the point of contact, emotionally, with the audience--a cynosure of high drama and character development. Everyone will ooh and ah at pageantry, but the pas de deux can make or break an evening.

Yet I've often found the form alienating to watch, embodying as it does a kind of mannered love I find hard to understand. Love is messy, so it can be upsetting to watch a trompe l'oeil of it, as if it were an unwelcome reminder of the evening's fakery. That's why I never expected to come out of the New York State Theater smiling after seeing eleven of them, deracinated, at the "Stars of the Twenty-First Century" gala on Monday, despite its star-studded cast.

But instead of a museum retrospective, it was a night packed with verve and wit and style. I was stunned. The evening was a Valentine's Day event, and among the hoary balletomanes there were many tuxedoed young men with dates in attendance. The dancers included members of the American Ballet Theatre and the Kirov, Bolshoi, San Francisco, and Paris Opera Ballets. This audience was prepared to love, and the evening's artistic director, Nadia Veselova-Tencer (this is her eighth such gala), could have gotten away with much less.

But Veselova-Tencer pulled together a fantastic evening of Petipa ("Sleeping Beauty," "Le Corsaire," "Swan Lake," "La Esmerelda," "Don Quixote") and Balanchine ("Apollo"), studded with newer works like Carolyn Carlson's absinthe-soaked "Diva" (set to Maria Callas) and William Forsythe's coolly modernist "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated."

The dancers included Susan Jaffe, Marcelo Gomes, Charles Askegard, and Gennadi Saveliev of ABT; Anna Antonicheva and Yuri Klevtsov of the Bolshoi; Marie Agnes Gillot, Agnes Letestu, and Jose Martinez of the Paris Opera Ballet; Darcey Bussell and Igor Zelensky of the Royal Ballet; and Lucia Lacarra and Cyril Pierre of the San Francisco Ballet.

The debonair Zelensky stood out as a crowd-pleaser, thanks to his dashing Corsaire. The muscular, charismatic Marcelo Gomes continues to amaze. How do danseurs find the time to emote while supporting, catching, and lifting their partner? All that grunt work and Gomes still fleshes out the joy.

If there was a good-natured competition unfolding through the evening, Antonicheva and Klevtsov of the Bolshoi emerged as clear winners, in the pas des deux from Yuri Gigorovich's "Spartacus" and Agrippina Vaganova's "Diana and Acteon." I don't know if it's the potatoes and vodka, but these Russians make the Americans and Europeans look anemic. "Wow," my friend whispered when Antonicheva strode onto the stage. She's a power nymph with curves and mile-long legs that move as expressively as if they were arms. As for Klevtsov, I've never seen such a brawny dancer move so agilely. He is an apostle of alpha masculinity, without the crudity and brimming with effortless grace. Are these two married?

I watched them all in awe. As I left the theater, and the memory of what I had just seen began to evaporate, I realized that the pas de deux may not convey love, but it does convey beauty, which is a different kind of love.


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