Originally created 05/16/04

Arts Review: ABT kicks off spring season with a smorgasbord



NEW YORK -- An evening at the ballet usually has a beginning, a middle and an end - in other words, an appetizer, main course and dessert.

The other night at American Ballet Theatre's spring gala, it was all dessert.

That's how it feels when you get all highlights, rather than the whole ballet. There were 11 parts to Monday night's performance - mostly all good, and a few outstanding. It felt a little like overdosing on sweets, but there are certainly worse ways to feel.

There were old pieces and new pieces, some drama and some comedy. The best moment came from a veteran pair, dancing a duet of newfound love but showing how much they've gained from a partnership that's lasted throughout their careers.

Alessandra Ferri and Julio Bocca danced their last "Romeo and Juliet" together last year when Bocca decided to retire from the role. On Monday, they showed the same passion in a different setting: the first-act pas de deux from "Manon," by Sir Kenneth MacMillan.

Ferri, whose body seems to bend without any regard for pesky obstructions like bones, and the dashing Bocca infused the brief duet with so much romantic ardor that at the end, you felt like you'd been watching an entire ballet rather than a short scene. And that was exactly the kind of ovation they got from the bejeweled and begowned Metropolitan Opera House audience.

The evening opened with "Ballet Imperial" by George Balanchine, part of a centennial worldwide tribute to the choreographer and co-founder of the New York City Ballet, which performs just across the plaza from ABT. Paloma Herrera, Gennadi Savliev and Michele Wiles handled the intricate choreography well, but the audience had a lot more enthusiasm for the high-spirited "Tarantella," another Balanchine piece danced later in the evening by Gillian Murphy and Ethan Stiefel.

There were two pieces created specially for the evening. The more successful one was "Carmen Fantasy," featuring six dancers executing fast, sexy steps to Pablo de Sarasate's music, performed onstage by violinist Sarah Chang. The brother-sister team of Erica and Herman Cornejo stood out for their sheer velocity.

The second act opened with the dreamlike Act 2 adagio from "La Bayadere," featuring 24 female corps dancers in white, doing arabesque after arabesque in unison as they travel slowly across the stage. It was another guilty pleasure, almost like sampling dessert before the main course.

After a sneak preview of "Raymonda," the new full-length production to be unveiled this season, there was the comic "Grand Pas de Deux" featuring husband-and-wife team Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky. The dancers here were better than the joke; the comic moments came too far apart, and the device of the female dancer wearing eyeglasses and carrying a purse wasn't all that funny. But the two dancers reeled off virtuoso moves amid the levity, and that made it all worthwhile.

In "Caught," David Parsons' fascinating one-man piece, there were actually two stars: Angel Corella and a strobe light. The lighting's effect is to make the dancer appear to float through the air without touching ground, when actually he is jumping continuously. Corella performed the same piece last year in a much smaller theater at New York University, where the proximity to the dancer made the piece even more thrilling.

Opening Monday night's gala, artistic director Kevin McKenzie announced that ABT's school would be renamed for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a longtime supporter of the company before her death in 1994. Caroline Kennedy, appearing onstage, remarked that her mother would have loved the honor - especially since, she joked, "she was completely unsuccessful in turning me into a ballerina."