- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

The Kennedy Center's International Ballet Festival, which opened its fortnight of performances Tuesday evening, turns out to be especially pertinent and heartwarming in this period of heightened international tension.
This week we are seeing dancers from Denmark, Russia and the United States all doing their thing the Danes joyous and charming, the Russians grand and extravagant of gesture, and the Americans jazzy and rambunctious and all within the common language of classical ballet. The individual styles of the three companies offer an illuminating, appealing look at differences in national character and aesthetic values.
The program, which runs through the weekend, opens with the Royal Danish Ballet dancing excerpts from the third act of August Bournonville's 1842 "Napoli," a very Danish take on Italy. Bournonville was banished from Denmark for a year for being so bold as to address the king from the stage, and when he returned, he brought with him his own version of such dances as the tarantella. The story of "Napoli," which includes a scene in the Blue Grotto and the rescue of a fair maiden, concludes with a lively wedding celebration.
The cover of the Kennedy Center's program booklet features "Napoli" and shows a crowd of happy celebrants watching a dancer execute a typical Bournonville leap. However, this sense of place and celebration, with background scenery and a crowd in colorful folk costumes watching, is missing in this production. The stage is bare, with no scenery, no dancers sitting on chairs. The performers have no help in creating a mood of gaiety, and they look rather lonely up there.
This probably contributed to a performance that was less than memorable. Bournonville wrote that the dancer had to conceal effort "through the calm harmony which is the foundation of true grace. To maintain this easy grace, in the midst of the most fatiguing movements, is the great problem of the dance."
Not all of the dancers have mastered this "easy grace," but Silja Schandorff, with her light, floating jump, and Thomas Lund, with his breezy elan, were a delight.
Alexandra Tomalonis, in her recent book "Henning Kronstam: Portrait of a Danish Dancer,"an insightful look at the Danish ballet tradition, says, "With his eye for character and detail, Bournonville was the Jane Austen of ballet."
It is an apt metaphor. The delicate nuances of Bournonville's style and technique, reflecting his love of the cozy and the domestic, retain a fascination a century and a half after he created them. The Royal Danish Ballet is due to return to the Kennedy Center next season in full regalia, and hopefully we will then have a better look at this 19th-century master.
The other great 19th-century choreographer, Marius Petipa, a Frenchman who spent most of his career in Russia, shaped a very different style expansive, with an elegant carriage of the upper body designed to be presented at the court of the czar. With Bournonville, a dancer hides the preparation for jumps and spins and lands only to shoot up into the air again; a Russian dancer makes elaborate preparations for leaps and pirouettes and, landing after a leap, often holds a pose in arabesque.
The Bolshoi Ballet brought an excerpt from Petipa's "Don Quixote," led by the lush and plush ballerina Anastasia Volochkova. Miss Volochkova, resplendent in more glitter than I have seen on a ballerina before, has a steely technique and a forceful demeanor. Like a fellow Russian before her, Rudolf Nureyev, she made her bows an entertaining and important part of her performance. She was partnered skillfully by a sturdy Evgeni Ivanchenko.
Another Bolshoi selection, "Le Spectre de la rose," created in 1911 for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, was again a ballet hampered by the lack of even a minimal set. It is the story of a young girl returning from a ball carrying a rose. After she falls asleep in a chair, she dreams that the spirit of the rose is dancing with her. The rose is supposed to enter in a soaring leap through an open casement window. Unfortunately, in this case, there was no window surely draped curtains could have suggested that. There was a chair all right, but instead of something filigreed, this was a large white modern chair. The background was a surprising desert orange, and there was no sense of moonlight and romance.
Even so, Nina Kaptsova was an affecting young girl and Gennady Yanin, substituting for an injured Dimitry Gudanov, was the spirit of the rose. They were not well-matched physically he is too short for her and there was not much perfume in the air, but it was a treat to see this seldom-performed period piece. Mr. Yanin returned for an interesting solo, "Narcissus," by the avant-garde Soviet choreographer Kasian Goleizovsky.
The Bolshoi also included a pas de deux created by Alexander Gorsky, a choreographer important in shaping its bold style. The excerpt from "La Fille Mal Gardee" was danced by a youthful Anastasia Goriacheva and Andrey Bolotin.
Jerome Robbins' "Fancy Free," danced by American Ballet Theatre, is American to its roots. Created during World War II, the story of three sailors on leave for a night on the town captures the camaraderie of the men, their brash behavior and their easy humor and high spirits.
A smash hit when it was first presented, over the years it became a period piece before acquiring the aura of a classic it now possesses.
ABT is riding the crest of a wave, with a stable of male dancers that is extraordinary. The recent PBS special "Born to Be Wild" drove home that point. Pyrotechnics are fun to watch, but the company should watch that its whiz kids don't get out of hand.
This current "Fancy Free," danced the evening I saw it by Joaquin de Luz, Carlos Lopez and Jose Manuel Carreno, punched up every effect, inserting bits of stage business not in the Robbins original. Male ballet technique has become much more brilliant, and there are more and faster pirouettes today, but I felt uneasy seeing an emphasis on technique overwhelming what basically is an amusing, somewhat poignant and simple tale.
Mr. De Luz is indeed a wonder as the most hyper of the sailors; Mr. Lopez was believable as the romantic loser; and Mr. Carreno brought a wealth of detail to his Latin lover role. Sandra Brown, Elizabeth Gaither and Angela Snow were the women who tantalized and frustrated them.
Next week, companies from St. Petersburg, London and Miami round out this unusual look at the international world of ballet.

WHAT: International Ballet Festival with the Royal Danish and Bolshoi Ballet companies and American Ballet Theatre; next week, the Kirov Ballet, Adam Cooper Company and Miami City Ballet
WHEN: This afternoon and tomorrow afternoon at 2:30, tomorrow evening at 8; Wednesday through Sunday at 8 p.m.; matinees Thursday, next Saturday and March 16 at 2:30 p.m.
WHERE: Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater
TICKETS: $45 to $95
PHONE: 202/467-4600

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