Julie Kent was the latest of American Ballet Theatre's ballerinas to undertake what may be the most grueling of roles in all ballet--that of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. Those who have watched Ms. Kent since she appeared in the film Dancers (1987) with Mikhail Baryshnikov have been aware of promising star material. She more than fulfilled that prognostication in the dual roles.
As the Swan Queen, Odette, Kent displayed the utmost delicacy; she was a creature of pure enchantment. Equally embracing was her interpretation of the evil sorcerer's daughter, Odile, who beguiles Prince Siegfried into believing that she is his true love, Odette. As Odile, Ms. Kent became a source of utter sensuality. She took the technical and dramatic demands of both roles in full stride without submerging her individual approach. That is an accomp-
lishment, indeed, in a world full of ballerinas assaying both roles. Kent is on a par with the best of them.
The Prince Siegfried of Vladimir Malakhov may not seem as dramatically fulfilling as Ms. Kent's performance. But then he is tall, blond, and handsome with a perfect dancer's figure, elegant line, and, it follows, stunning technique.
Lucette Katerndahl certainly possessed the appearance royale as the Queen Mother. Vivid characterization by Victor Barbee as Wolfgang, former tutor to the prince, was a relief from the usual figure, traditionally seen as a dotty old man. Barbee even managed to imbue the role with a slight touch of class rather than the usual over-burdened silliness. He remains one of ABT's finest character dancers.
Keith Roberts managed double duty as Benno, friend to Prince Siegfried, and in the first act pas de trois with Martha Butler and Christina Fagundes. The trio was in resplendent form.
Tamara Barden, Yan Chen, Irene D'Amestoy, and Lisa Sundstrom were the scintillating Cygnets in Act II. That act saw Kent and Malakhov in peak form in the grand pas de deux. The third act "pas" was performed by Kent and Malakhov with grandeur to spare.
The ballroom scene also saw brisk performances by Kathleen Moore and Ethan Brown leading the Czardas, and Parrish Maynard and Angel Corella in the high-flying Neapolitan dance.
Swan Lake came into existence in 1877, choreographed by Julius Reisinger. Emil Hansen revised this in 1880. The second version of the ballet, staged in 1895 by Petipa-Ivanov, has remained a perennial favorite throughout the world despite many a restaging through the years. ABT's production, staged by artistic director Kevin McKenzie after Petipa-Ivanov, retains their aura, despite some changes and additions of McKenzie's own.
Garth Fagan Dance at The Joyce
When members of Garth Fagan Dance make their initial appearance in "River Song" wearing American Indian headdress, you can't help but think that you are about to witness ritual Native American tribal dance. However, "River Song," presented at The Joyce Theater May 2-12, turns out to be far more extensive. The jazz-Indian score on which the work is set was composed and is performed by Don Pullen's African Brazilian Connection and The Chief Cliff Singers. An intrinsic universality hovers over the performers. American Indian dance is mainly apparent in the rhythmic pounding of the feet, yet the patterning of the entire body goes far beyond the close-to-earth steps typical of native Indian dance. The dancers perform side leaps and jumps that do not resemble that form of dance, and still fit the overall picture. With "River Dance," the company immediately establishes its admirable training in ethnic and modern dance, both of which are seen in a heady blend.
Postcards: Pressures & Possibilities is a work in five sections. It's opening solo, "My Dear Brother," saw dancer Chris Morrison in studies of endless balance and sudden ascent into the air.
Sharon Skepple followed with "Fondly, Ms. Velvet Brown," images in turns and twists, as if conveying a video of herself to a good friend. Ms. Skepple was a lithe nymph who looked smashing in a luxurious gown with lavender top and skirt in deep purple. Hers was the one lavish gown on the entire program. (Garth Fagan himself designed the costumes for Postcards.)
"With All My Love" saw Norwood Pennewell and Natalie Rogers seemingly attached to one another like Siamese twins. Nevertheless, they managed to move with the loose-limbed dexterity so typical of Fagan's choreography.
"Wish You Were Here" and "Ciao" had entire groups effusively scrambling before departing the stage. It gave credence to Postcards: Pressures & Possibilities--the most apt of titles for this highly spirited creation.
In opposite vein, Passion Distance, in two parts, initially turned out a solo of perfect coordination by Norwood Pennewell. (He is Garth Fagan's assistant and also teaches company and master classes.) Pennewell began by performing frenetic movements in which he seemed controlled by tormenting, unseen forces. He finally subsided ever so slowly, as if an invisible motor or inner spirit within him had collapsed. Here was a masterful performer in a stunning solo.
In the second half of Passion Distance, Pennewell was in the front of a group of magnetic dancers, with Natalie Rogers, Chris Morrison, Steve Humphrey, Valentina Alexander, and Micha Willis lending hearty support.
Mix 25, which concluded the program, could serve as a tribute to Garth Fagan's versatility, not alone in choreography but in his ability to choose the most diverse scores. Accompaniments by Wynton Marsalis, Johannes Brahms, John Cage, and Foday Musa Suso were included. Here was still another opportunity to display the varied techniques that his company has so succinctly absorbed.
Fagan's dancers are not only skilled in numerous forms of modern and ethnic dance; they are also highly trained in ballet. But they are never obviously classical. It is their ease in turns and balance, combined with all other forms, that always indicates the fullness and perspicacity of their training. This was particularly obvious in "Prayer," danced by Natalie Rogers; "Shackles," performed by a quartet consisting of Norwood Pennewell, Natalie Rogers, Chris Morrison, and Sharon Skepple; and "In the Beat/On the Moment" and "Give Thanks"--both performed by the company.
All of the members were skilled in fast movement, and all could stop suddenly and balance endlessly in sculptural poses of shimmering substance. Most telling, however, was "A Trois," a thrilling pas de trois by three electrifying soloists: Pennewell, Rogers, and Morrison.
Dance and Liturgy at Hebrew Union College
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion presents "Dance and Liturgy." Inspired by liturgy, the program features the Avodah Dance Ensemble, with commentary and discussion on movement and prayer by Rabbi Richard Jacobs.
The Avodah Dance Ensemble, a modern dance company rooted in the Jewish tradition, includes Kezia Gleckman Hayman, Elizabeth McPherson, Beth Millstein, and Carla Norwood. Rabbi Jacobs, formerly a dancer and choreographer with the ensemble, is currently working on his PhD in Ritual Dance at New York University.
The event takes place Thurs., June 6, at 6:30 pm, at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, 1 W. 4th St. Admission: $7; students & seniors, $5. Tickets/information: (212) 674-5300, ext. 205.
NYIBC Announces Igor Youskevitch Award
Ilona Copen, founder-director of New York International Ballet Competition, has announced the new Igor Youskevitch Award, in association with American Ballet Theatre and its artistic director, Kevin McKenzie.
A one-year contract with ABT will be awarded to a dancer in the NYIBC competition (not necessarily a medalist), who is considered exceptional and selected by McKenzie, Copen, artistic director of NYIBC, Eleanor D'Antuono, and the judges. The collaborative award, initiated this year, will take its place with other prizes for all future NYIBCs.
The award is to serve as a living tribute to the legendary Igor Youskevitch, artistic director to NYIBC from its inception in 1984 until his death in 1994. He was premiere danseur with American Ballet Theatre from 1946-1955, and returned to the company in later years as a coach.
The competition, an event held every three years since 1984, takes place June 18-24, at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center.
Judges this year are: Melissa Hayden (chairperson), Ekaterina Maximova, Antoinette Sibley, Rudi Van Dantzig, and Fernando Alonso.