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The DanceView Times, New York edition

Fancy Free, and a Friendly Matinee

Family Friendly
American Ballet Theatre
City Center, NYC
October 25 matinee, 2003

by  Eric Taub
copyright ©2003 by Eric Taub

ABT's Family Friendly series is a nice mixture of old and (somewhat) newer ballets, and seemed to please the many voluble kiddies in the audience Saturday afternoon (as well as their parents). I did wonder a bit about the effect of some of the stories presented, as I overheard a mother reassuring her little girl that the noisy trips to Hell taken by the title women in Three Virgins and a Devil were just "pretend." Similarly, in this day and age one has to wonder how kids might react to the encounter between the three sailors and the first girl in Fancy Free, where it can sometimes seem less playful and more threatening. Certainly it's not Politically Correct. In any event, the children in the audience (at least the ones who surrounded me) seemed anything but bored.

Aside from Fancy Free, the casting for the program was exactly as we'd seen at the opening night gala, so following are some brief observances. In Theme and Variations, both Paloma Herrera and Marcelo Gomes looked more at ease than opening night. Herrera had some very pretty, playful moments where she looked genuinely present and happy, and acquitted herself well in all the tricky bits. However, more often than not she was unfortunately blank-faced and affectless, smiling only when the ballet was almost over. She has the most beautiful feet in all of ballet (and uses them as such), but all too often her dancing gets considerably less interesting the further one's gaze strays from her magnificent instep. I do wish someone at ABT's costume department would lavish some attention on Herrera's tutu, or at least some starch; it does not do for the ballerina to have the most dilapidated tutu onstage (clearly the same as from opening night—with the addition of an unfortunate dangling thread). Gomes is elegant as always, and handled the first multi-pirouette solo a bit more cleanly. He is a bit bland, which complements in an unfortunate way Herrera's own blandness. And, while every dancer cheats a bit on double tours and the like, Gomes bad habit of not actually leaping up until he's almost facing upstage is a bit hard to overlook.

Perhaps because I was expecting less from Le Grand Pas de Deux, or perhaps because it seemed so much in its element performed in front of a matinee audience of chortling children, but the piece seemed funnier. I enjoyed Reyes and Malakhov's clowning around without thinking too much that the piece made no sense at all. I take my hat off to Carlos Molina, who who had great difficulty doing that very thing in Three Virgins and a Devil. When his Devil character first appears as a begger, he's wearing a disheveled robe and hat. When it came time for Molina to reveal himself, the hat just wouldn't come off. I was afraid his struggles would dislodge one of his horns, but Molina managed to tear the hat off and hurl it into the wings without getting unduly behind. More importantly, he didn't let this brush with disaster fluster him: in fact, he danced with great presence and wit. Every dancer here was more relaxed and, well, funnier than opening night's premiere. I found myself appreciating many fine details in de Mille's choreography which had escaped me then, especially how, solely through mime and appropriate (and clever) dance movements, de Mille makes sure you know exactly what each character is thinking and doing, down to some very fine nuances indeed. Erica Fischach seems to have grown into her role as much as Molina, but all were fine, and I wouldn't hesitate in recommending this cast to anyone.

In Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Irina Dvorovenko and Angel Corella danced the complete version, rather than just the adagio and coda as on opening night. As then, I enjoyed Dvorovenko's ballerina mannerisms which appeared in delightfully unexpected places: little extra bits of "look-at-this!" épaulement; over-the-shoulder glances at Corella; tricky poses slowed down with a fillip of rubato, as if to say "yes, I can too hold this pose as long as I want, and still not be late." Dvorovenko only became cautious as she approached the stage-left wings in a series of fast chainés at the end of her solo: a thump after her rapid exit opening night indicated that she may have run out of space in that notoriously shallow wing. Corella danced with his usually cheerful power and nonchalant virtuosity, particularly in one pretty touch he bounded from a series of pirouettes into a big glissade-jeté into the wings. Perhaps the compact Corella isn't quite big enough for Dvorovenko. The adagio was marred with a few partnering lapses where he seemed oblivious to her need to be helped back up on her leg, and for a scary split-second in the coda, he appeared to slightly trip her. This is not what one wants to see in a difficult and risky showpiece such as this.

The evening finished with a fine performance of Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free. For me, the big revelation of the performance was Sascha Radetsky as the "nice-guy" sailor who did the dreamy second solo and the pas de deux. Radetsky revealed more of this guy's character in the solo than I'd ever imagined was in there—you could see that this is a young kid fresh out of school, still remembering the silly, jazzy steps he'd danced at the Prom, and not at all jaded by the war, which gave him the opportunity to boast to the sweet girl he's just picked up (Gillian Murphy) of his exploits in downing an enemy plane. Herman Cornejo, as the first sailor with the high-voltage, athletic solo, danced well enough, but I didn't get much sense of his character, rather that he was concentrating on getting through the killer steps, from the double-tour landing in a split to the tricky almost-off-balance final pose. Carreño, as always, seduced the audience as much as the girls onstage with his sexy, funny rhumba solo. As in Diana and Acteon, Carreño looks like he knows he's the best-looking specimen of either sex onstage, and is simply being generous in inviting all present to join in the admiration. It's his greatness that he can do this without appearing in the slightest bit vain, but rather just acknowledging a self-evident truth. Of the women, Sella Abrera, as the first girl, once again showed herself to be a capable and intelligent actress, although not quite the in-control toughie needed to keep her first encounter with the sailors from looking potentially dangerous. As for Murphy, with her casting here and in Pillar of Fire, the ABT management appears to be trying to encourage her in developing her dramatic skills. Clearly such development is needed, as in her duet with Radetsky she seemed more interested in delivering each step with the clarity she brings to her celebrated multiple turns. For instance, when Radetsky catches her attention in the duet with a sexy pivot and stamp of his heel, Murphy responds with the same step, but looks like nothing so much as a student dutifully echoing her teacher's demonstration rather than a good girl who's just decided it's safe to cut loose a bit with this nice young sailor. As the flirtatious third girl, Angela Snow needs to be much more, well, flirtatious. This is a role which cannot be oversold.

Despite such quibbles, this was a winning afternoon of dramatic, comedic and classical dancing, in various admixtures, appealing to families of all compositions and ages.

Photo: Marcelo Gomes and Paloma Herrera in Theme and Variations.

Originally published:
Volume 1, Number 5
October 27, 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

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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 27, 2003