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The DanceView Times, New York edition

ABT Winds Down with Fireworks, But Dorian Still Seems Silly

Contemporary Works and Family Friendly Matinee
American Ballet Theater
City Center
New York, NY
November 6 and 9, 2003

by Eric Taub
copyright © 2003 by Eric Taub

You have to love kiddie matinees. At last Sunday's Family Friendly matinee (the last of ABT's very successful season at City Center), I couldn't help but overhear (along with half the people in my row) the tyke behind me exclaim to her mother as Marcelo Gomes danced the pas de deux in Fancy Free with Julie Kent, "Mommy, he's wearing a thong under his pants. I can see it!" During Gomes' rendition of the third sailor's rhumba, this budding dance critic delivered the verdict: "That's disgusting!" (Considering what kids are exposed to on TV every night, this seems a bit extreme.)

In Theme and Variations, Michele Wiles danced with the strength and generosity she's shown throughout this season. She's not a retiring waif, and this ballet calls for a dancer with presence and brilliant technique, both of which she has in spades, as shown in her big pas de chats and her emphatic stabbing of her toe into the stage in her second solo. Although she's fortunately toned down her relentlessly high-voltage grin, she retains of bad habit of tossing her arms and flapping her wrists in the faster sections, and, as seen also in her Raymonda, is far more a cheerleader than princess. Her two long balances in arabesque before the penchées in the adagio were both beautiful and gutsy: had she gotten into trouble, Hallberg, in a deep lunge preparing for her penchée, could not have risen quickly enough to save her from disaster. As for Hallberg, he breezed through the pirouette combination in his first solo where he'd had a spot of trouble in his debut the week before, overcame a couple of awkward landings in the killer double-tour/pirouette second solo, and gave the impression that in a year he'll completely own this role.

Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Belotserkovsky reprised their wickedly funny send-off of grand ballerina mannerisms in Le Grand Pas de Deux. Craig Salstein was a last-minute replacement for Carlos Molina in Three Virgins and a Devil (Salstein had a busy day, dancing in Theme, Virgins and Fancy Free), settling down, after a sketchy beginning to show the wackball humor he'd shown the previous weekend. Gillian Murphy and Gennady Saveliev pulled a rare old chestnut out of the fire in Vasily Vianonen's pas de deux from The Flames of Paris. There's little pretense that this warhorse is anything other than a venue for tricks and more tricks, and after a perfunctory adagio, this pair certainly delivered—Saveliev with some hard to describe off-balance corkscrew egg-beater leg-twisting leaps (he warmed up with a mere five or six double assemblés before this), and Murphy with some nonchalant gorgeous attitude pirouettes leading into the inevitable fouettés. I did find myself wishing that someone would tell these two that, while it's admirable to be able to toss off these tricks as if they're nothing, that doesn't mean you want the audience to think they're nothing, and I found myself wishing these two would have tried to sell their tricks a bit, or acknowledge that they weren't performing in a practice studio. I remember a few years ago seeing the Paris Opera Ballet's José Martinez use nothing more than his eyes and eyebrows to carry on a delightful conversation with the New York State Theater audience while dancing the similarly cheesy Esmerelda pas de deux, as if to say "Aha, you liked that? Wait till you see what I'm going to do next!"

In Fancy Free, the very busy Salstein was a pugnacious first sailor. Carlos Lopez was winningly winsome and endearing as the dreamy second sailor, and Marcelo Gomes, as the rhumba-ing third sailor, played nicely off his Latin good looks and imposing size. He's a bit of a puzzlement: he dances grandly, has beautiful line and an impressive presence, but this sailor's smoldering sexuality seems to elude him. Gomes did play nicely with the vivacious and playful Julie Kent in the pas de deux (this was one of those rare performances in which the third sailor does the duet, not the second). Paloma Herrera was the tougher first girl, and, while not a spitfire like Sandra Brown, she also seemed never to lose control in the bit with the sailor's "borrowing" her pocketbook.

Of the Thursday night Contemporary Works program, I feel confident in saying that the second cast for Jiri Kylian's Petite Mort and Sechs Tånze (would that these assaults on Mozart were as lascivious as their names imply--unintentionally though the latter title's pun may be) all embodied the choreographer's intention's magnificently. Let's hope that there were no ballet mothers in the audience thinking "I scrimped and saved so my child could dress up in whiteface and poke at soap bubbles?" As my colleague Gina Kourlas noted, Kylian's works tried to be funny, and failed. Robert Hill's Dorian, however, had moments of unintentional hilarity. The stunningly beautiful new soloist, Jesus Pastor, was a perfect choice for Dorian. Darkly handsome, strongly muscled, with cat-like leaps and landings, Pastor plays a man who knows he's beautiful. As his Picture, Carlos Lopez managed well enough, given that Hill's choreography only conveys Dorian's increased depravity by his decreasing taste in clothing. Although the many (many, many) duets between Dorian and his Picture resembled nothing so much as old vaudeville mirror-dance skits, Pastor and Lopez acquitted themselves admirably, and if you just watched the dancing you could forget how trite a vehicle this is, as with most of Hill's plodding story-telling and half-baked Tudor vocabulary. I did enjoy Hill's many unintentional howlers, such as when Dorian goes to sit in a chair, but must bounce up because his Picture is already seated there, or Dorian's death, when he stabs the impervious Picture in the stomach with an obviously fake knife, and instead collapses, clutching his own gut. All I could think of was Robbins' hilairous fake-knife bit from The Concert, a homage I doubt was intended. The most priceless moment was Xiomara Reyes as a very, very high-strung Sibyl Vane giving an unforgettable dance recital. Imagine, if you can, Isadora Duncan as a flapper in toe-shoes and a dress with a silver-sequined brassiere. I could not decide if Reyes' frantic emoting was Hill's conception of a how a diva/vamp should present herself (or Reyes'), or simply due to a lack of rehearsal time (Reyes came close to killing herself with her scarf more than once -- and without benefit of a Bugatti), but the effect would have been brilliant, had this only been a parody.

Originally published:
Volume 1, Number 7
November 7, 2003

Copyright ©2003 by Eric Taub



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The Autumn DanceView is out:

New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season reviewed by Gia Kourlas

An interview with the Kirov Ballet's Daria Pavlenko by Marc Haegeman

Reviews of San Francisco Ballet (by Rita Felciano) and Paris Opera Ballet (by Carol Pardo)

The ballet tradition at the Metropolitan Opera (by Elaine Machleder)

Reports from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).

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last updated on October 24, 2003