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ABT Celebrates Tchaikovsky

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ABT Celebrates Tchaikovsky

American Ballet Theatre opened its two-week autumn season at City Center in a gala evening on Oct. 24 with a celebration of Tchaikovsky's music in dance. The first half of the program consisted of pas de deux from three Petipa ballets, as well as the "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux" and "Theme and Variations" by Balanchine.

The "Grand Pas de Deux" from Act III of The Sleeping Beauty after Petipa, staged with additional choreography by Kenneth MacMillan, saw Susan Jaffe and Vladimir Malakhov honoring the great favorite with impeccable performances and found both dancers in glamorous form.

The husband and wife team of Maxim Belotserkovsky and Irina Dvorovenko were electrifying in "The Black Swan Pas de Deux" from Swan Lake, which was choreographed by ABT's artistic director Kevin McKenzie after Petipa. Dvorovenko was thoroughly sinewy and seductive as the evil Odile. And, of course, those 32 fouettes taken at terrific speed with the whipping leg in unusual height couldn't miss delighting all balletomanes, and receiving vociferous acclaim. Both dancers were masters of histrionics, acting everything out with ideal clarity.

The Belotserkovsky-Dvorovenko team is a stunning one in all respects. We certainly wouldn't mind seeing them performing together constantly instead of spasmodically.

One of the highlights of "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux" occurs when the ballerina is literally compelled to throw herself into her partner's arms, ending up in a sort of pas de Poisson. Paloma Herrera managed this feat with supernatural flight and Marcelo Gomes, her partner, caught her with ease and showed her off with utmost gallantry.

Ashley Tuttle and Angel Corella were absolute perfection in their performance of "The Nutcracker Pas de Deux" from Act II, choreographed by Kevin McKenzie.

The finale of "Theme and Variations" concluded the Tchaikovsky portion of the program with Gillian Murphy and Giuseppe Picone sparkling in the leading roles.

Part two consisted of a preview performance of Balanchine's "Prodigal Son." As to the reason this was chosen to conclude the program, in all probability, it was felt that the Balanchine masterpiece made an ideal counter balance to the "schmaltzy" traditional ballets preceding it. And it proved a wise choice, particularly with Ethan Stiefel as the Prodigal and Julie Kent as Siren.

The ballet, which Balanchine created for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1929, is still one of the master choreographer's greatest narrative ballets. Upon seeing this for the first time in 1950, when he staged it for New York City Ballet with Jerome Robbins and Maria Tallchief, we realized that Balanchine was out-modernizing the modernists. Except for the stylized grande jetés, there was little of classical ballet observed.

To think that this was created in 1929 really elevates the mind. There is no arguing with the fact that the ballet is one of the 20th Century's supreme masterpieces, and not alone for the unusually erotic pas de deux between the Prodigal and Siren. The movements of the revelers/robbers, who initially tease, confuse, torment, and eventually beat and rob the Prodigal, were unique and original in all respects.

In addition to the Roualt sets and costumes, the one prop on stage serves as a fence, a table, and, finally, the prow of a boat, giving the illusion of the robbers and Siren sailing away with the Prodigal's possessions. The Siren's cape is manipulated as a sail, with herself as figurehead at the front. Scattered movements from the men give the illusion of a moving boat; one of the most spectacular sights in the history of ballet.

Who would have believed that the fragile, angelic appearing Julie Kent would become the seductress with such dynamic conviction, or that the Nordic appearing Ethan Stiefel could take on the role of the biblical character with such force, as well as pathos, in performing the deluded, broken youth.

We were always convinced that only Jerome Robbins, who was the first to appear in the role in the U.S., and, during our own era, Damian Woetzel, totally fitted the demeanor and appearance of the Prodigal. (We will probably be receiving flack from admirers of Edward Villella and Hugh Laing, who were also strongly individual in the role).

Both Kent and Stiefel turned in fabulous performances in the exceptionally difficult roles. And to think they were appearing together in one of the most strenuous of Balanchine's creations for the first time.

Festival of French Contemporary Dance

Get set for an invasion of contemporary dance from France come spring 2001, which will take place April 23-May 6 at various venues in New York. The formal announcement of the festival was made on Oct. 16 at a press conference held at the Carlyle Hotel, hosted by the Evelyn Sharp and Peter Jay Sharp Foundation.

Performance dates will be listed here as we get close to the "happenings." For the present, we can tell you that, in addition to a series of major American debuts, there will be screenings of landmark French dance films, a photography exhibit, and at least nine New York premieres.

The Return of a Few Good Men…Dancin'

On Nov. 13 and 14, A Few Good Men…Dancin' returns to the New Victory Theatre, 209 W. 42 St., NYC. With energy and high-jumping talent similar to last year's show, this new production boasts over 40 male dancers from Broadway, ballet, modern dance, and swing, plus aerial and acrobatics. Both performances begin at 7:30 pm. The benefit on Nov. 13 offers patrons a pre-show reception beginning at 6 pm, and a post-show party with the dancers.

The Nov. 13, benefit tickets range from $75 to $1,000; a limited number of general admission tickets are available at $35. On Nov. 14, tickets are $150, $75, and $35. Telephone: (212) 840-0770 for detailed performance information.

According to company manager Rachel Berman, former Paul Taylor Dance Company principal: "There are intriguing newcomers as well as veteran showstoppers. We have great dancers from overseas, both coasts, and everywhere in-between. ABT meets Aida ballet meets martial arts. Crossover is where it's at."

The production benefits Dancers Responding to AIDS (DRA), a fundraising program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the American theatre community's committed, ongoing response to the AIDS crisis.

New Dance Alliance in Performance Mix

New Dance Alliance will be seen in a "Performance Mix" featuring music and multi-disciplined works on Nov. 13 at

8 pm. Venue: Dixon Place, 309 E. 26 St., NYC. Admission: $12 or TDF voucher, students/seniors $8. Info and reservations: (212) 532-1546.

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