- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2007

American Ballet Theatre opened its weeklong Kennedy Center engagement Tuesday night with a splendid program of three works totally unlike one another, each a masterpiece of its genre and all performed with grand ease and assurance.

The evening began with 24 dancers in tutus entering one by one on a long ramp with slow, sustained arabesques (think of the workout the first girl had) until they filled the stage, row upon row, with beautiful, serene arm gestures floating above quickly fluttering feet, all performed with miraculous precision.

The ballet was the Kingdom of the Shades from “La Bayadere,” an iconic work created by the great Marius Petipa in 1877. The scene is magical, a great symphonic poem featuring a large corps creating an otherworldly spell with finespun dancing. Only a few companies in the world have the training and resources to mount this challenging work, and ABT did itself proud.

Joining the immaculate corps were five exemplary soloists. Jose Manuel Carreno soared through brilliant aerial feats and was an extraordinarily sensitive partner to Paloma Herrera. The masterful little solos that Petipa created for three women were given fine performances by Misty Copeland, Stella Abrera and especially Veronika Part, who was eloquent in its difficult slow legato passages.

“Dark Elegies,” one of Antony Tudor’s most enduring works, plumbs the bottomless sorrow of Gustav Mahler’s “Kindertotenlieder” (“Songs of Childhood Death”) sung by Troy Cook, seated onstage. The work is spare and intense, the simplicity of its movement adding to the tone of great pain contained within quiet bereavement. Michele Wiles, Carlos Lopez and especially Julie Kent stood out in the fine cast.

When “Dark Elegies” premiered in London in 1937, Mr. Tudor danced in it, as did a young girl who had come over from America — Agnes de Mille. Five years later, she created her own breakthrough ballet:

“Rodeo,” the third number on this superlative program, offered a razzle-dazzle contrast to the elegance and power of the first two. Miss de Mille mounted the work on Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and has written vividly and movingly about the wild opening-night reception in her autobiography, “Dance to the Piper.”

ABT has had “Rodeo” in its rep for years; it is one of the many styles bred in the bone of this versatile company. The dancers moved through it with gusto. Xiomara Reyes was an amusing, brightly comic tomboy; Sascha Radetsky an appealing, tap-dancing suitor; and Isaac Stappas his handsome rival.

It was hard to believe it was the same company dancing “Othello” two nights later. The lavish ballet looked like a work that threw money at a choreographer with a limited grasp of classical ballet and at a second-rate company trying to look big-time. The boring choreography; emphasis on knock-‘em-dead Broadway scenic overload; the crashing, bombastic movie-music score; and reliance on pantomime where emotionally arresting choreography was needed all combined to obscure the company’s genuine strengths and true worth.

The star of the show was the arresting scenic design that often carried the emotional burden of the plot. George Tsypin’s large-scale panels highlight striking tableaux vivants, his towering columns made of plexiglass impose an icy grandeur. The projections of Wendall K. Harrington bring us fleets of sailing vessels and vast shifting seascapes; Pat Collins’ bold lighting adds to the drama.

Meanwhile, down on the stage, the dancers made a smaller splash. Marcelo Gomes was largely confined to heroic poses. He had one striking Grand Guignol moment when Othello, in his own private hell, falls to the ground and grovels side to side like an animal frothing at the mouth, giving in to his own bestiality. Miss Kent brought a poignant tenderness to the largely passive role of Desdemona.

Iago, as played by Mr. Radetsky, lacks forceful presence, and the choreography sets him to jerking around in a ludicrous, overwrought manner. In dance terms, the saving grace was Herman Cornejo’s performance as Cassio — first because he was given some actual steps to do and second because he turned them into moments of dazzling, buoyant flight.

“Othello” will be repeated this afternoon with Mr. Lopez, Mr. Cornejo, Miss Reyes and Washington dancer Rasta Thomas appearing as guest artist in the title role. (Mr. Thomas was seen here last month dancing the male lead in Twyla Tharp’s “Movin’ Out.”)

The opening cast dances again tonight, and tomorrow afternoon’s performance will be led by David Hallberg, Maxim Beloserkovsky, Jared Matthews and Miss Murphy.

Mixed repertory: “Othello”

*

WHAT: American Ballet Theatre in “Othello” and earlier mixed program

WHEN: Today at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m., tomorrow at 1:30 p.m.

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House

TICKETS: $29 to $99

PHONE: 202/467-4600 MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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