- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2009

American Ballet Theatre opened a weeklong engagement at the Kennedy Center on Tuesday evening looking bright and frisky, dancing with a verve that was remarkable even for this strong company.

There have been major changes in the group’s roster. Beloved dancers were missing, and new ones are storming the gates.

The generously full program began with one of George Balanchine’s most classic works, “Allegro Brillante,” about as pure as pure dance can get.

The company was at its best in this work, making its debut with this venerable piece, created by Mr. Balanchine in 1956. The dancers made it look newly minted; their bodies were alert, beautifully stretched and lithe. Gillian Murphy and Cory Stearns (a major newcomer) were brilliant in the leads, but the corps of eight - four men and four women - matched them in the elegant sweep of its dancing.

“Flames of Paris” followed a brief pause, and the pas de deux was as amusingly corny as “Allegro” is shiningly serene.

“Flames” is a showpiece, a real Russian applause machine, and the two young dancers - Sarah Lane and Daniil Simkin - were forthrightly bouncy and eager.

In this era of astounding male pyrotechnicians (probably let loose by Mikhail Baryshnikov, who once headed ABT) it’s fun to see young male dancers bounding across the stage trying to throw off wild barrel turns and new dazzling inventions like children let loose in a candy store. At any rate, Mr. Simkin comes by this style honestly; he was born in Russia.

“Pillar of Fire,” Antony Tudor’s masterpiece, did not fare as well. It is a subdued work, although not as dreary as its performance Tuesday night. Strange and rather weird scenery was an unwelcome addition to the piece; the orchestra did not do justice to its score, Arnold Schoenberg’s “Verklarte Nacht”; and the protagonists were only vaguely sketched in. Michele Wiles was the distraught heroine, and David Hallberg’s diffidence was appropriate.

Twyla Tharp’s brittle, too clever “Brief Fling” finished the evening. Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo were perfect in their parts.

ABT’s mixed program concludes tonight, and the weekend will be taken over by Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie’s imaginative staging of “Swan Lake.” Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes dance the leads Friday evening, Gillian Murphy and Gennadi Saveliev dance them at the Saturday matinee, Nina Ananiashvili (in her farewell performance here) and Jose Manuel Carreno perform Saturday evening, and Michele Wiles and David Hallberg perform Sunday afternoon.

★ ★ ★

WHAT: The American Ballet Theatre

WHERE:Kennedy Center Opera House

WHEN: Evening performances are at 7:30 tonight, tomorrow and Saturday. Matinees are at 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

TICKETS: $29 to $99

INFORMATION: 202/467-4600

WEB SITE: https://kennedy-center.org


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