- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 15, 2003

It has been clear for several years that American Ballet Theatre has more virtuoso male dancers than ever before seen in a single company. So it was a natural that they well, four of them at least would become the subject of a television documentary on the PBS "Great Performances: Dance in America" series. That show, given the hyped-up title "Born to Be Wild: The Leading Men of American Ballet Theatre," was shown earlier this month and probably will return.
Just four are featured from ABT's stable of extraordinary male dancers: Jose Manuel Carreno, Angel Corella, Vladimir Malakhov and Ethan Stiefel, and their contrasting backgrounds make for an interesting documentary.
Right on its heels comes the full company, making its yearly visit with a week of the full-length "Romeo and Juliet" beginning next Tuesday, with both Mr. Carreno and Mr. Corella appearing as the love-stricken hero. This year's performances will be in the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall, not the Opera House.
Sergei Prokofiev's music for "Romeo and Juliet" is a popular full-length ballet score that has inspired many choreographers to stage it, among them Kenneth MacMillan.
Mr. MacMillan mounted a version for the Royal Ballet that was a favorite vehicle for Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. ABT will perform Mr. MacMillan's ballet, which offers myriad opportunities for both partners for rapturous dancing and eloquent acting.
The opening-night cast will be headed by Alessandra Ferri and Julio Bocca, longtime stars who function as guest artists with the company and perform together with special rapport.
The rest of the engagement offers the chance both to view accomplished artists at the top of their form and to enjoy seeing young talent emerging.
Wednesday evening, Xiomara Reyes will make her debut as Juliet, with Mr. Corella as her partner, roles they will repeat at the final performance the evening of March 1.
Other lead couples are the luminous Julie Kent and Mr. Bocca Thursday, Paloma Herrera and Marcelo Gomes Friday, Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Belotserkovsky making their debuts as the lovers at next Saturday's matinee, and Ashley Tuttle (arriving fresh from a different performing gig in the Broadway show "Movin' Out") and Mr. Carreno at the March 1 matinee.
This marks the first time ABT will be performing in the Concert Hall while the Opera House is closed for a year of renovations. For the occasion, the Kennedy Center is reconfiguring the Concert Hall stage, extending it 16 feet in front and removing the first few rows of seats.
It was decided not to create a special proscenium for the stage but instead concentrate on an elaborate lighting grid to provide a dramatic frame for the ballet.
The orchestra will be visible, playing at the back of the stage. There will be some scenery a balcony, of course, or possibly two, and archways for entrances and exits in the ballroom scene. The elaborate costumes of the ballet will provide a fair amount of visual richness to the spectacle.
The Kennedy Center's guess that audiences would flock to a less-than-standard venue seems to have paid off. The engagement is already close to sold out.
Perhaps some of that response can be credited to the appeal of the broadcast of "Born to Be Wild: The Leading Men of American Ballet Theatre," although part of the dialogue is over the top.
The program opens with Mr. Stiefel saying, "The single best thing about being a male ballet dancer is that you're working with women all day, and you're working hands on [chuckle here] and they're pretty fit and, you know, that's the thing people don't know they're missing out on."
Get it? Ballet dancers can be real men.
This is followed by ABT's artistic director, Kevin McKenzie, telling us, "These aren't just any old four guys they're wild."
After you get past the heavy-handed propaganda, the program has real delights.
Viewers see the highly different backgrounds of the four: Mr. Corella with his family in Spain; Mr. Malakhov returning to his roots in Russia; Mr. Carreno performing with his cousin, Alihaydee Carreno, in his native Cuba, to the roars of the Cuban audience.
The Cuban ballerina and director Alicia Alonso compares a ballet performance there to a bullfight; it definitely has the flavor of a circus, with the crowds yelling at each technical trick.
Finally, Mr. Stiefel goes back to Madison, Wis., riding a motorcycle, and visits his hometown teacher as young students gaze at him in awe.
The program includes dazzling shots of these superb dancers in performance. The emphasis is all on flash and pyrotechnics, and these four have it all in spades.
More subtle moments are provided by rehearsal shots of the men working with the irrepressible modern dance choreographer Mark Morris, who injects a note of humor and understated elegance into the movements he creates for them.
As ABT's performances next week no doubt will make clear, the company has even more strength in depth than these four virtuosos. Despite its slickness and emphasis on flash, "Born to Be Wild" makes a point: Ballet can be pretty thrilling.

WHAT: American Ballet Theatre in "Romeo and Juliet"
WHEN: Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and March 1 at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
$27 to $75

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