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American Ballet Theater: Footloose And `Fancy Free




At the Wang Center

BankBoston Celebrity Series

November 13 to 15

The American Ballet Theater (ABT), founded in 1940, is recognized today as one of the great ballet companies of the world, a reputation that its brilliant Saturday evening performance justly upheld.

The ABT's weekend engagement was dedicated to the memory of choreographer Jerome Robbins, whose masterpiece, Fancy Free, was featured at every performance. The performance included five short pieces revealing the classical and the modern strengths of ABT's repertoire and dancers; The Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1, Fancy Free, and three pas de deux from Swan Lake, Le Corsaire and Romeo and Juliet. The dancers performed each number with a refreshing and youthful exuberance. The enthusiasm with which they danced, the consistently strong technique of the dancers from the corps de ballet to the principle dancers and the ease with which they performed both classical and modern pieces provided an evening of superb ballet that Boston audiences rarely enjoy.

The evening opened with the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1, which the ABT commissioned and premiered in 1987. The lively piece has three movements and includes four main couples and a corps de ballet of 16. The choreography consists of numerous lifts and turns, and at times the corps looked chaotic and stiff rather than organized and fluid. The male corps dancers, in particular, were incredibly strong and their jumps incredibly high. The lead couples included both principal and corps de ballet dancers. Though each couple was excellent, the refinement and artistry of the principal dancers stood out in contrast--but not in negative oposition to--the raw talent of the corps de ballet dancers. Principal dancer Amanda McKerrow shone in her artistry. Gillian Murphy and Sascha Radetsky, both corps de ballet dancers, exhibited amazing technical skill with solid, high jumps and fast turns; they need to work on the transition steps between each technical feat that will provide a softness and fluidity that they lack.

The brightly-colored costumes, which stood out against the simple black backdrop, contributed nicely to the overall effectiveness of the performance. Throughout the Bruch piece, and indeed throughout the entire evening, there was a sincere joy and enthusiasm shone from all of the dancers.

The three pas de deux that followed--the grand pas de deux from Act III of Swan Lake, the pas de deux from Act II of Le Corsaire, and the pas de deux from Act I of Romeo and Juliet--showed off the technical prowess of ABT's dancers.

Romeo and Juliet was danced by principal dancers Julie Kent and Guillaume Graffin. Julie Kent was, in a word, stunning. Kent's Juliet was extremely delicate and tender and her incredibly thin figure folded and melted around Graffin. Her shy and coy youthfulness came through in each lift and embrace. Kenneth MacMillan's choreography is one of the most passionate that I have seen for this pas de deux. While it included sweeping lifts and movements across the stage, the most moving moments came when the two dancers were kneeling together at center stage and Graffin lifted Juliet over his head while still kneeling on the ground, allowing her to hover over him before each embrace. The only draw-back of the performance was the partnership of Graffin and Kent. It was not an ideal partnership, as he seemed more heavy in his dancing in comparison to her floating lightness. It created a lopsidedness to their interactions that took away from the overall passion and beauty of the choreography.

The Black Swan pas de deux from Swan Lake was performed by principal dancer Paloma Herrera and soloist Giuseppe Picone. Traditionally a variation based upon technical strength and cool betrayal, the ballet did not disappoint the audience. Paloma is young, strong, has gorgeous feet and is technically superb. She does however have a certain stiffness in her dancing which should leave as she becomes more mature and gains more artistry. Her expression of haughty self-confidence was perfect for the role of the black swan. Her partner, soloist Giuseppe Picone, was also technically amazing. Both dancers had high and effortless jumps and both turned with great ease. They were well matched as a couple due to their technical ability and the sharpness with which they dance. Paloma completed the 32 fouettes, the hallmark of the black swan role, with great ease, adding in double turns amidst the 32 fouettes. Picone easily completed six and seven pirouettes while his leaps and high kicks showed great flexibility.

The highlight of the evening was Le Corsaire. It was not the choreography (which is rather dull) nor even the actual pas de deux (which was good), but the unmatched technical prowess and stunning bravado of principal dancer Angel Corella in his solo variations that left the audience in thunderous applause. Corella takes risks in his dancing and his boundless energy brings him to the realm of greatness. His technical ability is astounding, and it is matched by his charming enthusiasm as he flirts with the audience, making pirouettes look easy. His jumps were huge and effortless, achieving real height and landing softly. He kept the audience on the edge of its seat by constantly dancing on the brink of control throughout his variations. He overshadowed his technically and artistically beautiful partner Ashley Tuttle, whose dancing was wonderful but under-appreciated by an audience infatuated with Corella.

The last ballet was a terrific end to an already fun evening of ballet. Fancy Free, choreographed by Jerome Robbins with music by Leonard Bernstein, is an enchanting mix of old and new dance. It was premiered in April 1944, and tells the story of three sailors on shore leave on a hot summer night in New York City during World War II. It tells a fun story of chasing pretty women, drinking and generally enjoying N.Y.C.

In Fancy Free, the dancers fell into the period piece perfectly and the scenery and sets were stunning. The backdrop of never-ending buildings in dark purples and blues and the bright colors of the diner were the perfect setting for the ballet. The three sailors, performed by Joaquin de Luz, Ethan Steifel and John Selya, and the three women, performed by Christine Dunham, Amanda McKerrow and Jennifer Alexander, acted the piece as if they had fallen through time to the 1940s. Their acting was witty, and funny and their dancing was lively, stylistic and included bouncy jumps, the rhumba and a pas de deux with bar stools. A thoroughly enjoyable ballet, Fancy Free was a perfect end to a perfect evening of ballet.

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