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American Ballet Theatre

'Allegro Brillante,' 'Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux,' 'Pillar of Fire' and 'Brief Fling'

by Carmel Morgan

February 18, 2009 -- The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Opera House, Washington, DC

The American Ballet Theatre (“ABT”) presented an extremely diverse mixed repertoire program in Washington, DC, including works by Balanchine, Tudor, and Tharp.  The dancers likewise showed distinct personalities.  The wide range of choreography and styles resulted in an interesting amalgamation of talent and emotion.

To begin the evening, the dancers dashed through Balanchine’s fast-paced “Allegro Brillante,” a new work for the company.  The leads, Ukrainian husband and wife Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky, gave a reasonably fresh and polished performance.  The women wore pale pastels – Dvorovenko in peachy pink and Gemma Bond, Isabella Boylston, Nicole Graniero, and Christine Shevchenko in seafoam green.  The edges of their skirts, when twirling, became frilly tulips.  The men (Alexei Agoudine, Roddy Doble, Mikhail Ilyin, and Luis Ribagorda) wore light gray, with Beloserkovsky in white.  Like the colors of the costumes, the dancing in “Allegro” was light and crisp.  The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, conducted by David LaMarche with Barbara Bilach on piano, gave Tchaikovsy’s music a light, crisp touch as well. 

“Allegro Brillante” is demanding.  The dancers must move speedily from one pretty pose the next – pirouette to arabesque to pirouette again – while maintaining an unhurried look.  The dancers’ timing and spacing were occasionally off.  The men did a better job than the women in keeping the unison sections tight.  Overall, something about the ballet made one giddy, the way one feels after a few glasses of champagne.   

Another Balanchine piece followed – “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux” danced by two leggy blondes, Michele Wiles and David Hallberg.  According to program notes, the music was originally intended for the pas de deux in Act III of Swan Lake, but since it was not published with the rest of the score, it was unknown to Petipa and Ivanov when they staged the ballet.  The pair wore pale pink and gray, which echoed the “Allegro Brillante” costumes.  In this pas de deux, which was more sweet than show-offy, Wiles and Hallberg were well-matched.  Hallberg, however, out-performed Wiles in the solos.  His leaps lingered in mid-air, achieving remarkable velocity and height. 

Tudor’s “Pillar of Fire” offered a complete change of pace from the two cheerful Balanchine works.  “Pillar” draws one in because there is no ostentatious movement to obscure the humanity of the dancers.  Instead, the movement highlights human drama.  The set and costumes for “Pillar” by Robert Perdziola – crooked Gothic houses, an eerie blue forest, Victorian era clothes in mostly natural tones – fit with the dark mood.  The music – Arnold Schoenberg’s lovely “Verklärte Nacht” – also reflected the somber atmosphere.  The strings in the orchestra occasionally shrieked. 

Gillian Murphy, in particular, was a joy to behold as the pained heroine, Hagar.  Murphy, an elegant dancer, gave the tormented Hagar real emotional depth.  She captured the audience from the moment she slowly pulled a hand to her head in misery as she sat on the stoop of her family’s dysfunctional home.  The supporting cast was excellent, too.  Veronika Part, as the eldest sister, silently bullied Hagar.  Part, wearing a long dress and large hat, came across as prim and cold.  Sarah Lane, in girlish pink, paraded about as the bratty, flirty younger sister.  A gentle and dignified Gennadi Saveliev was the friend, Hagar’s true object of affection.  Finally, Jose Manuel Carreño danced a fiery Young Man from the House Opposite.  He seduced a conflicted Hagar, and then abandoned her. 

At one point, Murphy clung to the exterior of her house.  Plagued with indecision, she alternately headed toward it and away (and toward the sexy Carreño and away from him), like a tide.  Caught in a psychological struggle, Murphy as Hagar eventually left her innocence behind, sacrificing her domestic agony for a chance at alleviating her loneliness.  Shame and blame ensued.  Murphy’s quiet suffering was affecting.  In moments of defeat, Murphy collapsed or bowed in grief.  When Saveliev finally reached out to Murphy, one felt the tenderness between them.  As he strolled along with her toward their happy ending, hearts were tugged. 

Tharp’s “Brief Fling” closed the program.  This was the least appealing of the works by far.  While the title promises brevity and flinging, Tharp’s frenetic Scottish-themed ballet delivered on only the flinging part.  “Fling” went on and on well past the point of appreciation.  The taped music by Michael Colombier and Percy Grainger and the tartan-inspired costumes by Isaac Mizrahi caused cringing.  Everything looked haphazardly thrown together, including the choreography.

Tharp has a knack for combining classical ballet with modern, jazz, and even ballroom dance and also adding humor to her works.  There were humorous moments in “Brief Fling” to be sure, and some of dancing – which blended ballet, modern, jazz, and ballroom – entertained.  Overall, however, the piece was a roaring mess, beyond the rescue of the leads Yuriko Kajiya and Marcelo Gomes.  Kajiya wore a bright blue tutu with hints of plaid and unflattering black tights with dark pointe shoes.  Kajiya displayed nice lines and gorgeous long arms, but she lacked the boldness and pep required to carry Tharp’s eccentric piece.  Gomes’ performance was fine, and he, in fact, looked like he might be in on the joke, but the rest of the cast floundered.  Tharp’s clever spatial patterns failed to stand out.  Legs flung in the air seemingly at random.  The stage was such chaos that an audience member observed that he was surprised no one was kicked in the head!  Indeed, the work made one want to duck down in one’s seat.

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