A full-company evening

“Clear,” “Afternoon of a Faun,” “Sinatra Suite,” “Fancy Free”
American Ballet Theatre
City Center
New York, NY
October 26, 2006

by Susan Reiter
copyright 2006 by Michael Popkin

Somewhere in mid-June, as ABT is in the midst of rolling out one lavish production after another within the Metropolitan Opera House’s vast confines, we will look back extra-fondly on the terrific City Center season that makes possible a program as rewarding as this one. No work on the program had a cast of more than eight dancers, and none of them would come across nearly as well on the Met’s stage. So what may have been an evening off for most of the company’s corps de ballet was, for the audience, an evening of intimate moments and extremely fine dancing.

Stanton Welch’s “Clear” is now five years old and more than holds its own among the premieres offered during ABT’s ten autumn City Center seasons. Getting to know ABT for the first time, Welch (the Australian choreographer who now directs the Houston Ballet) was evidently captivated by the talent and depth of the company’s male roster, but while “Clear” is almost an all-male work, it presents the men in as angelically pure creatures, emphasizing purity of line amid its abundance of fast, intricate technical feats.

In the central role he originated, Angel Corella was a mesmerizing force, as he navigated impossibly fast, sometimes seemingly illogical sequences of spins and pyrotechnics with blazing intensity. In the extended legato duet of the second movement, David Hallberg (violin) and Marcelo Gomes (oboe) mirrored and followed one another, hewing closely to the meandering melancholy lines of the solo instruments of the Bach concerto. It was serenely beautiful, a display of pure purity from two of the company’s finest, and intriguingly contrasting, men.

There is almost an angry tone to the brisk trio that followed, in which Sascha Radetsky, Craig Salstein and Carlos Lopez never allowed their whiplash turns and darting legwork to resemble showing off. Instead, they seemed to be pushing themselves through a demanding, purifying ritual. The occasional sharp slaps to the torso and other overly busy, superfluous arm gestures (which also appeared in the first movement) comes across as jarring an unnecessary, although they are woven well into the musical pulse.

The male quartet that followed, marked by lovely darting penché entrances onto the stage, grew into a septet before Julie Kent, who had threaded through the earlier movements with brief, almost dreamlike appearances, paired up with Corella for the concluding duet. As the light closed in on them, as they wound their way through legato unfoldings, to reach a final pose with Corella reaching heavenward.

The rotating casts of Twyla Tharp’s “Sinatra Suite” continued with the particularly elegant, romantic pairing of Marcelo Gomes and Luciana Paris. Gomes, who has long excelled in Tharp’s work, was very much the debonair, dashing gent, squiring Paris attentively and maintaining a sweetness even when the duo enters more confrontational territory in “That’s Life.” An element of good humor and suave ease infused everything he did, with just the right touch of wistful regret in the final solo. None of the three men I saw tackle this 1983 Baryshnikov role (I missed Angel Corella) was able to inject it with the lived-in quality, the slight sense of world-weariness, that was originally there. It has become a more genial piece, one that gets applause even before the dancing starts, as soon as the first notes of “Strangers in the Night” are heard.

Two classic Jerome Robbins works rounded on the program. In “Afternoon of a Faun,” José Manuel Carreño was very convincing in terms of watching himself in a mirror, but his performance lacked the sense of indolent self-discovery that the finest interpreters have brought to the role. Stella Abrera was beautiful and oddly opaque as the young girl who enters the dance studio to interrupt his reveries. Her hair — the most long and lush in ballet this side of Darci Kistler — got in the way to the extent that she had to inject a few un-choreographed hand gestures to brush it aside, and her look of mournful indolence seemed a bit pre-set.

Carreño was absolutely at home in “Fancy Free,” delivering one of the most appealing and effortlessly natural renditions of the third sailors’ rhumba solo that I’ve seen in a while, capturing every rhythmic nuance. This was an opportunity to observe a performer enjoying himself fully. And Carreño is completely at ease with the sailor’s personality — the cocky, confident natural leader, the one who knows exactly what effect he has on women. Craig Salstein was an appropriately feisty first sailor, and Sascha Radetsky the persuasively genial second sailor. Gillian Murphy, as the woman who dances the duet, sported long tumbling curls rather than the usual 1940s 'do, and Paloma Herrera was knowing and just sassy enough as the first women the men encounter.

Front page photo of Gillian Murphy and Ethan Stiefel in "Clear" by Matt Albiani

Volume 4, No. 39
November 6, 2006

copyright ©2006 Susan Reiter



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