- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2003

The International Ballet Festival at the Kennedy Center the past two weeks concluding this weekend is turning out to have been better in theory than in practice.
The idea was to bring together major companies performing signature works that were sufficiently small in scale to fit in the Eisenhower Theater while the Opera House was being renovated.
Perhaps one reason the festival did not live up to expectations was the name itself. "International Ballet Festival" has a grandiose ring to it. The participating companies are among the finest in the world, but although there were scattered moments of excellence throughout the festival, several of the groups were not seen at their best.
Sometimes this was because a company had not brought its very best dancers; sometimes it was because scenery was lacking to provide a proper atmosphere; and in some cases, it was because the Eisenhower stage just was not expansive enough for the ballet being danced.
To a greater or lesser degree, all these factors contributed to one of the festival's bigger disappointments: the Kirov Ballet's dancing of "The Kingdom of the Shades" scene from "La Bayadere." This Marius Petipa ballet is one of the supreme achievements of classical ballet, and St. Petersburg's Kirov Ballet, for which the work was created, has a purity of classical style that is breathtaking.
A highlight of this scene is the entrance of the Shades. Thirty-two maidens clad in white tutus appear one at a time and wind down a zigzag ramp in slow, elongated arabesques. There is a hypnotic power to this remarkable sequence as the dancers descend, then assemble in a simple block formation and move in unison in quiet, serene patterns.
However, in the version contrived for the Eisenhower stage, there is no ramp; the dancers simply crisscross along the back of the stage, and there are 18 Shades, not 32 all concessions to the limited space. In short, one of the great moments of ballet failed to fully materialize, and when the corps was joined by three soloists, it looked more like a traffic jam than a divine kingdom.
The three soloists Irina Golub, Irina Zhelonkina and Ksenia Ostreikovskaya were fine in their difficult, interesting variations, and Daria Pavlenko as the heroine, Nikiya, brought a beautifully sustained, singing line to her every move in a performance that was a festival highlight.
Her partner, Leonid Sarafanov, was youth incarnate, from his stripling body to his high-vaulting, exuberant leaps.
The festival added an element of novelty with the appearance of a group called Adam Cooper and Company dancing the late Kenneth MacMillan's "Sea of Troubles," an impressionistic collage of scenes from Shakespeare's "Hamlet."
Unlike the classics on the rest of the program, this is a modest, little-known, seldom-seen work created in 1988 for a group of six ex-ballet dancers who wanted to perform barefooted.
"Sea of Troubles" turned out to be one of the more successful works in the festival in terms of appropriateness to the stage and its simple but effective set: a single white macrame curtain behind which some of the darker deeds of the Hamlet story took place. Adding to the effect, the recorded music of Anton Webern and Bohuslav Martinu aptly reflected the elusive quality of the ballet.
The simplicity of presentation and Mr. MacMillan's imaginative snippets of scenes from the tragedy played well but were a little overextended. Individual scenes were memorable: the pouring of poison into Hamlet's father's ear; the entrance of Ophelia, looking like a giant tumbleweed, swept in airborne, carried by two men.
The company, led by Mr. Cooper as Hamlet, captured the air of understated violence combined with sexual and moral tension embedded in Mr. MacMillan's work.
Unequivocally the brightest spot on this week's program is the Miami City Ballet's incisive performance of George Balanchine's "The Four Temperaments." Among other things, it has no set and glories in the fact that this is a ballet designed to be shown against a clear, deep-blue background with the clean, bracing lines of the dancers' bodies the only focus.
Interestingly, this 1946 ballet, which was the beginning of Mr. Balanchine's black-and-white ballets so called because the dancers were dressed in simple black leotards, with the men also wearing white T-shirts originally was wildly overdressed. Kurt Seligmann designed dreadful, overpowering costumes, the dancers swathed in what looked like body bandages topped with outrageous headgear. Luckily, they soon disappeared.
What is left is endlessly fascinating, endlessly inventive. It is sometimes a surprise to music enthusiasts to learn that ballet has its own similar structural devices: inversions, ABA forms, theme and variations. "The Four Temperaments" is a textbook example of rich, complicated forms: three themes clearly stated, followed by four variations on those themes. But it is so much more than that.
The ballet is a wonder for its boldness, its striking movement, the emotions that are invoked by the powerful accumulation of its forces Jerome Robbins likened its striking ending, with women lifted and carried high in the air by their partners one by one, to giant airplanes taking off for outer space.
The Miami City Ballet, the youngest of the established companies in the festival, gave "The Four Temperaments" the incisive performance it demands. The Melancholic variation was danced by Jeremy Cox; Jennifer Kronenberg was outstanding in the Sanguinic variation with Renato Penteado as her partner; Yann Trividic, memorable in a vivid performance here two years ago in "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue," gave an idiosyncratic version of the Phlegmatic variation, with Michelle Merrell dancing the Choleric variation.
It is no act of chauvinism to note that the two American companies plus Adam Cooper's group brought the most fully realized performances to the festival. This was because all three were faithfully produced according to the original intent.
In the case of the Adam Cooper group, Mr. MacMillan's intent was to make a modest ballet with a minimal set, all neatly presented here.
Miami City Ballet offered a ballet without scenery that was performed in its early years on the smallish City Center stage in New York, so its dynamic patterns were not particularly cramped at the Eisenhower.
American Ballet Theater brought scenery essential to creating the ambience of "Fancy Free." Imagine if its three sailors had cavorted without a bar and the suggestion of a big city behind them.
In hindsight, the lessons learned from the success of these three groups could make a future endeavor more fruitful. Happily, the hurdles of this festival will not arise again. In December, the Kennedy Center will see the reopening of its Opera House, one of the finest halls for ballet viewing to be found anywhere.

WHAT: International Ballet Festival With the Kirov Ballet, Adam Cooper and Company, and Miami City Ballet
WHEN: Today at 2:30 and 8 p.m., tomorrow at 2:30 p.m.
WHERE: Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater
TICKETS: $45 to $95
PHONE: 202/467-4600

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