- The Washington Times - Friday, October 29, 2004

NEW YORK — In the annals of marital woes, it must be said that one group of six women had it particularly bad: the wives of Henry VIII.Katherine of Aragon, for example, was shoved aside unceremoniously in favor of a new, prettier woman — but at least she made it out alive. The same cannot be said of the next bride, Anne Boleyn, as we know from our history lessons.

Katherine, Anne and the king they loved are the subject of “VIII,” by Christopher Wheeldon, the British whiz-kid choreographer who usually creates works for New York City Ballet.

This time, he’s gone over to New York’s other premier ballet company, American Ballet Theatre, to mount “VIII” for the fall season at City Center.

In front of a huge backdrop portraying the Tudor rose, six “ghosts” greet us — the figures of Henry’s wives in full historical dress. Soon they make way for the key dancers: Angel Corella as a serious, sometimes tortured Henry, and Alessandra Ferri as a somber Katherine. The two share a painful duet; Henry ice-cold, Katherine anguished.

Later, at a palace ball, Henry glimpses through a swirl of dancers a pretty young woman in purple. Katherine watches from above as Henry and Anne (Julie Kent) share a duet of discovery, a dance that soon will shift to the bedroom. Katherine soon recognizes her fate and dances a desperate solo.

As with all Mr. Wheeldon’s work, “VIII,” which had its American premiere Oct. 22, is distinctive and absorbing. But Mr. Corella, a charismatic dancer, doesn’t have much chance to flesh out the character of Henry, and the wonderfully dramatic Miss Ferri doesn’t get to show her usual emotional range. One also wishes the piece, originally created in 2001 for the Hamburg Ballet, would continue further into Henry’s life.

It ends with Anne being rejected, and then, in an obvious execution reference, walking across the stage as a screen descends just to neck level, while the backdrop turns blood red. On the ballroom floor, meanwhile, Henry spies a new beauty: Jane Seymour, who will soon be his third bride.

On the same program, “Pretty Good Year,” a plotless ballet by the young American choreographer Trey McIntyre (set to the music of Antonin Dvorak), was given its world premiere. Three couples and another man, in varying combinations, twisted their way through the bustling 35-minute piece, ending with the main dancer — the dashing Argentine Herman Cornejo — just sinking to the floor on his back.

ABT’s fall season, always more intimate than the spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House, also features the revival of “Spectre de la Rose,” an early 20th-century Michel Fokine classic made famous by Vaslav Nijinsky, the brilliant and troubled dancer who spent decades in sanitariums before he died in 1950.

At the opening, it was again the stylish Mr. Cornejo, in the Nijinsky role, who provided the spark. He literally was the “spirit of the rose” — a spectral figure adorned with rose petals dreamed up by a sleeping young beauty (Xiomara Reyes) who has just returned from a ball.

And Jerome Robbins’ “Other Dances,” a charming pas de deux set to Chopin, celebrated Miss Ferri’s 20th-anniversary season with ABT. She clearly enjoyed the playful romp with Mr. Corella, who now often plays Romeo to her Juliet. The Italian-born Miss Ferri showed yet again that after 20 years with ABT, she remains its most expressive ballerina.

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