- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

"Le Corsaire" has a ridiculous a plot, but the American Ballet Theatre's performance of the 19th-century tale bursts with spectacular dancing.

The dance company concludes its week at the Kennedy Center with performances of the ballet today and tomorrow.

The story abounds with wild improbabilities involving pirates, pashas, bazaars, sleeping potions, storms at sea. In the midst of this melee, it offers splendid dancing opportunities, especially for the men and the ABT boasts a roster of male dancers any ballet company would envy.

Julio Bocca, Jose Manuel Carreno, Angel Corella and Ethan Stiefel appear in "Le Corsaire" this weekend, as well as a fabulous new crop of male dancers. The central female role of Medora will be taken by Irina Dvorovenko, Nina Ananiashvili and Paloma Herrera.

Earlier this week, ABT danced three ballets, each quite different but sharing a sense of urgency, impassioned dancing and bold design. They made for an exhilarating evening.

The program began with the Washington premiere of "Gong" by Mark Morris, set to a stark, percussive score by Colin McPhee. Its start offers the punch of Isaac Mizrahi's lively costume designs in alluring pastels and candy colors punctuated by maroon, kelly green and deep purple with golden earrings and belts for both men and women.

Mr. Morris usually turns to natural-looking, seemingly nonvirtuoso movement when he creates for his own company. He did this in his exalted new work, "V," set to Robert Schumann's Piano Quintet and seen last month at George Mason University in Fairfax.

He uses virtuoso movement in "Gong" in a brisk, offhand way and keeps the stage exciting with nonstop exits and entrances.

As usual, his structure and motifs are engrossing. He has found an interesting way to swirl a circle of dancers around the stage. He has a ballerina's partner manipulate her almost like a rag doll, so she hops en pointe with his support; later, she does the same hop unaided.

"Gong" is a cool ballet, more clever than heartfelt. It provided a vivid start to the evening.

A seldom-performed work by Antony Tudor "Dim Lustre," set to "Burleske for Piano and Orchestra" by Richard Strauss came next.

Mr. Tudor's works seem to have taken on new life lately.

The Joffrey Ballet, in its closing performances at the Kennedy Center last weekend, danced "Lilac Garden," quite possibly Mr. Tudor's greatest work.

As the late critic Edwin Denby wrote, "Artificial upper-class constraint is the theme and the pathos of 'Lilac Garden.'" Gone was any hint of that in the Joffrey's performance. Where taut despair and longing were called for, the atmosphere seemed closer to that of a high school prom, and Mr. Tudor's fraught drama was given a prettified, adolescent sheen. The effect was heightened by overly fussy, frilly costumes.

Just two days later, ABT presented "Dim Lustre," a much lesser Tudor work, but gave it the tautness, perfumed nuance and sense of sophisticated social behavior missing in the earlier "Lilac Garden."

The situation in "Dim Lustre" is more rueful, less despairing. Two persons in a ballroom are reminded by a handkerchief, or a kiss, of earlier loves. Mr. Tudor has worked out an ingenious method for his flashbacks that involves blackouts and mirror-image dancing to indicate the shift to a moment of memory, but the device has the effect of halting the action, stopping the flow. Also, the dance steps are less inspired pleasantly vivacious but not highly stylized or original.

The company, however, has given it a glamorous new production. The set has the look of fantasy with its skewed perspective. Arched windows in the back and globe lights at the sides supported by leaning art deco trellises suggest fin de siecle Paris.

Two stylish casts danced the disaffected lovers this week. Susan Jaffe and Guillaume Graffin were haunted by early memories; on another evening, Julie Kent and Maxim Belotserkovsky were the ones haunted by remembrances.

The evening ended on a high note with George Balanchine's miracle of crystalline beauty, "Symphony in C." Set to a score by Georges Bizet, the ballet is a glorious display of the infinite variety of classical ballet.

The company's dancing of it was enthralling. The corps de ballet, a vital element in this ballet, danced with a fresh, alert grace from its first entrance.

This ballet contains three major ballerina roles, and the company has the strength in depth to feature different performers all three nights. Miss Herrera was partnered in the first movement with Mr. Belotserkovsky, Gillian Murphy with Carlos Molina and Miss Dvorovenko with David Hallberg.

The second movement has a cherished, talismanic role for the ballerina that is breathtaking in its gorgeous sustained balances and serene flow.

Miss Kent brought a serene radiance to her seamless dancing with Marcelo Gomes, capturing most completely the magic of the role.

Miss Dvorovenko produced exquisite lyrical dancing; if she anticipates the beat, her performance will have more rhythmic focus. Mr. Molina was her attentive partner.

Miss Ananiashvili was a grand ballerina in the role, clear and authoritative, with Mr. Carreno providing admirable support.

In the high-flying third movement, Ashley Tuttle and Joaquin de Luz were lively; Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo were a fine alternate couple.

These inspired performances of "Symphony in C" by ABT became an instant highlight of dance here this season.


***1/2

WHAT: American Ballet Theatre

WHEN: 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. today and 2 p.m. tomorrow

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House, F Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW

TICKETS: $27 to $75

PHONE: 202/467-4600

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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