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NY Theatre Ballet Offers Neglected Classics

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New York Theatre Ballet has earned quite a reputation for its revivals of worthy classics that are seldom seen but rate attention, as well as for new ballets. On April 23 and 24, at Florence Gould Hall, in celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the company presented Frederick Ashton's "Capriol Suite," George Balanchine's "A La Francaix," Antony Tudor's "Judgment of Paris," John Taras' "Designs With Strings," and "Solitude," a new work by Marco Pelle.

The Ashton creation, which premiered in 1930, brought the choreographer to prominence. His "Capriol Suite," although based on period dances from the 16th century, was far from stilted, for the inventive naturalness that always distinguished Ashton was obvious. With the exception of the stately, slowly advancing "Pavane," performed with courtly elegance by Melissa Beaver, Steven Melendez, and Tobias Parsons, the other sequences—"Basse-Danse," "Tordion," "Pieds-en L'air," "Mattachins," and "Bransles"—were performed with an exuberance that brought on an exhilaration that lasted long after the ballet's conclusion.

Keiko Nakamura, Ron Spiess, Elena Zahlmann, Danielle Genest, Ricky Resijan, and Kathleen Byrne were the superspirited performers, in addition to the aforementioned trio.

Balanchine's keen sense of humor was in full play with "A La Francaix," which was premiered in 1951 by New York City Ballet at City Center. A frisky little girl and two boys are frolicking to the bouncy Jean Francaix score. Enter the husky athlete, who soon draws the girl away from her two companions. And then—surprise, surprise—a sylphid, wings and all, comes bourréeing daintily on, arms flowing in true Romantic-era fashion, but with face deadpan. Athlete immediately dispenses with baby doll and follows La Sylphid as she beckons him around the stage—and off it, too. In the final scene, she discards the tactics—as well as the costume—and is displayed in a sexy bathing suit. Thus ends Balanchine's tongue-in-cheek ballet.

In 1951, Maria Tallchief was the sylphid/bathing beauty and André Eglevsky the athlete. His daughter Marina Eglevsky staged the current revival and made a right good job of it.

Melissa Beaver, Ricky Resijan, and Ron Spiess were the rollicking youngsters, Danielle Genest was the sylphid/bathing beauty, and Steven Melendez was the athlete. All got into the zany spirit of the ballet, which was bound to tickle everyone's risibilities.

Although "Designs With Strings" commences as an abstract work, toward the conclusion there is a heartrending scene indicating how those who dance together can acquire intense romantic feelings toward a partner.

When one of the girls breaks away from the group and attempts to embrace her partner, she is rebuffed and stands alone, a broken figure, while the group performs in the background. She eventually comes to terms with the situation and rejoins the group, saddened but compliant as the curtain falls.

John Taras died at the beginning of April. We couldn't help feeling that his spirit would have been glowing at the performances of Melissa Beaver, Tobias Parsons, Kathleen Byrne, Steven Melendez, Danielle Genest, and Elena Zahlmann.

"Solitude" by Marco Pelle is a puzzler, even a sort of phantasmagoria. We see a young man seated in front of a mirror going through tormented contortions as he views episodes of his life. Or are the characters shown charades of his feverish imagination? It's hard to tell. Despite the titles that attempt to clarify occurrences, the meanings remain obscure. Only one of the characterizations, that of Francois Perron as Temptation, created quite a stir.

What comes across is the choreographic style Pelle conceived for the various images. Pelle employs contemporary forms evocative of Asian influences. His combinations do hold a certain fascination.

Since Antony Tudor earned a reputation as the father of the psychological ballet, some may think of him mainly as a choreographer solely of serious intentions, overlooking his sense of fun. His "Gala Performance" and "Orpheus in the Underworld," as well as "Judgment of Paris," are prime examples of his devilish sense of fun.

Tudor's "Judgment of Paris," staged by Sallie Wilson, the shortest work seen on the program, is a great spoof on three aging prostitutes—ironically named Juno, Venus, and Minerva—and their efforts to attract a client, aided by an unscrupulous waiter. The three "prosties" perform solos that exhibit their ineptitude and clumsiness, all of which are hysterically comic. There is a laugh a second.

Venus, in the person of Kathleen Byrne, manages to get through her hoop dance with quite a bit of effort. Most hilarious of all was Diana Byer as Minerva, whose attempt at a split gets her stuck before she is a quarter of the way down. Her attempts at flirtation while waving a feather boa at the client also add to the hilarity.

The client (Ron Spiess), who has been drinking steadily, passes out, and the three gals and waiter (Marco Pelle) lose no time in divesting him of his jewelry and money, vying with each other for the loot as the curtain falls.

Although "Judgment" premiered in 1938, it remains one of Tudor's perennial comic gems.

ABT Spring Season

American Ballet Theatre's 2004 spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House, May 10-July 3, will feature six full-length ballets, including the U.S. premiere of an all-new production of Raymonda by Anna-Marie Holmes and Kevin McKenzie. The company will open with a special spring gala performance on Monday evening, May 10, featuring an appearance by internationally renowned violinist Sarah Chang, who will perform a pièce d'occasion. The evening will also include a preview of the season's ballets performed by ABT's principal dancers.

Principal dancers for the engagement will include Nina Ananiashvili, Maxim Beloserkovsky, Julio Bocca, Jose Manuel Carreño, Angel Corella, Herman Cornejo, Irina Dvorovenko, Alessandra Ferri, Marcelo Gomes, Guillaume Graffin, Paloma Herrera, Amanda McKerrow, Gillian Murphy, Xiomara Reyes, Ethan Stiefel, and Ashley Tuttle.

For information about the opening night gala, call the special events office at (212) 477-3030, ext. 3239.

In tribute to the centenary of George Balanchine, ABT will present a program of his works, all set to the music of Tchaikovsky. The all-Balanchine-Tchaikovsky programs will be performed May 24 and May 26-31.

Full-length ballets will include La Bayadère, choreographed by Natalia Makarova after Marius Petipa; Don Quixote, staged by Kevin McKenzie and Susan Jones after Petipa and Alexander Gorsky; and Kevin McKenzie's production of the Tchaikovsky classic Swan Lake after Petipa and Lev Ivanov.

Eight performances of Coppélia, staged by Frederic Franklin, will be highlighted by a special celebration of Franklin's 90th birthday on Monday evening, June 21. A distinguished ballet master and choreographer, Franklin was one of the original members of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and has appeared in character roles with ABT in recent years.

Additional repertory for the company's Met season includes Jiri Kylian's "Petite Mort" and "Sechs Tänze"; Antony Tudor's "Pillar of Fire," staged by Donald Mahler; and "Within You Without You: A Tribute to George Harrison," choreographed by David Parsons, Ann Reinking, Natalie Weir, and Stanton Welch.

Tickets for the season are available at the Met box office, by telephone at (212) 362-6000, or online at ABT's website, www.abt.org.

Margot Fonteyn Exhibition

On Oct. 9, 1949, the Sadler's Wells Ballet, later the Royal Ballet, introduced Margot Fonteyn to America at the Metropolitan Opera House as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty. She so captivated the audience that her performance passed into legend overnight.

Beginning May 18, the exhibition "Margot Fonteyn in America: A Celebration" will be on view through Sept. 3 in the Vincent Astor Gallery at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center, 40 Lincoln Center Plaza, NYC. Admission is free.

Exhibition hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, noon to 6 pm; Thursday, noon to 8 pm; closed Sunday, Monday, and holidays.

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