Thursday, January 27, 2011

American Ballet Theatre at The Kennedy Center

The Thespian looks forward to the annual visit of American Ballet Theatre to the Kennedy Center each season.    When the The Thespian first traveled to Washington, DC with the Girl Scouts she experienced her first professional ballet in the balcony of the Opera House watching Martine van Hamel dance Raymonda.     So, it was with delight that The Thespian looked forward to seeing both the mixed repertory program and the company premiere of Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky's The Bright Stream.

The mixed repertory program that opened the week's performances was chosen to honor former first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a patron of the performing arts during her time in the White House and for many years following.   All of the pieces chosen were said to be among her favorites.   The evening began with George Balanchine's Theme and Variations set to Tchaikovsky's Tema con Variazioni from his Suite No. 3 for Orchestra.     This is one of Balanchine's tutus and tiaras dazzlers and the company did not disappoint.    Gillian Murphy was scheduled to dance the lead ballerina role and was unable to do so due to injury.   Soloist Yuriko Kajiya ably took her place.    While there were visible nerves in her dancing in the very beginning of the piece, she quickly settled down and delivered a gorgeous performance, ably partnered by David Hallberg.    Antony Tudor's Jardin aux Lilas (the Lilac Garden) showcased the dramatic abilities of Julie Kent.    Ms. Kent danced the role of Caroline, a bride-to-be attending a farewell party with her arranged and much older fiancee, Roman Zhurbin.   She longs for a last embrace from her lover, danced by Thomas Forster.    Into the mix is the other woman, billed as an episode in his past, the former mistress of the fiancee danced alluringly by Kristi Boone.     This is a short ballet of longing, filled with brief encounters and interrupted tete-a-tete's, ending on a moment of pathos as Caroline and her fiancee leave as scheduled.    While the lighting for the dance was particularly dark it added to the sense of intimacy and furtive, forbidden meetings.      This is a ballet that calls for strong acting abilities and led by Ms. Kent everyone was of the highest caliber.

This was followed by another Balanchine ballet, Duo Concertant.     This is a "practice clothes" ballet in which two dancers listen and observe a duet between a pianist, David LaMarche, and a violinist, Ronald Oakland, and then periodically join in and dance to some of the movements.     The two dancers were Paloma Herrera and recently promoted to principal, Cory Stearns.    Paloma danced beautifully, but seemed a tad uneasy in the listening sections.   Cory made an impressive DC debut as a lead dancer and The Thespian looks forward to seeing more of him in the future.

The last ballet of the evening was Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free.   This is the sailors on leave ballet that later inspired the Broadway musical On the Town.   There was another injury substitution, this time for Ethan Stiefel and his role was danced by Sascha Radetsky.      All three of the men, Mr. Radetsky, Herman Cornejo and Jose Manuel Carreno were athletic and dynamic.    Each of the sailors has a distinct personality and it is reflected in their dancing.    As the objects of their desire, Maria Riccetto, Isabella Boylston and Leeann Underwood were equally delightful.    It is a fun way to end an evening.

Upon Saturday evening, The Thespian returned to view The Bright Stream.   The Thespian is indebted to The Washington Post's dance critic, Sarah Kaufman, for her background on the history of this Soviet era ballet.     Please visit:
to read Ms. Kaufman's review and the devastating story of the creators of the original ballet and how they suffered under the Stalinist regime.

When you entered the Opera House you were greeted with a display above the curtain a very 30's era painting featuring stylized agricultural symbols and very prominently the hammer and sickle emblem of communism.     The ballet was originally created in 1935 by Fyodor Lopukhov at the Maly Theater in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) with music by Shostakovich.   Mr. Ratmansky created a new version in 2003 for the Bolshoi Ballet and the current production debuted at the Latvian National Ballet in Riga, Latvia in 2004.   These performances at the Kennedy Center were the company's debut of this production.

It is a tale set during a harvest celebration on a collective farm.    There are flirtations, disguises and broad humor. Everyone ends up happy at the end.    It is a comedic ballet set among the common folk.   If one were uncomfortable with the communist setting it could easily be re-set among any rural community.

The basic story is thus: Zina, the local amusements organizer, danced by Paloma Herrera, awaits the arrival of famous artists who have come to take part in the harvest celebration.    She is distracted by her husband, Marcelo Gomes, and several other members of the community.    The artists arrive and it is clear that the ballerina, danced by the happily healed Gillian Murphy, is an old friend of Zina's from ballet school.     Zina's husband is smitten by the ballerina as is the old Dacha dweller, danced by Associate Artistic Director Victor Barbee.   Meanwhile the Dacha dweller's wife, who tries to act younger than she is, danced by Martine van Hamel, is smitten with the male ballet dancer, David Hallberg.

Zina is heartbroken by what she believes is the betrayal of her husband and friend.   The ballerina assures her she is not interested in betraying her and sets up a plan.   Zina will dress in the ballerina's costume and a mask and meet her husband.     The ballerina will wear the male ballet dancer's suit and meet the Dacha dweller's wife.   And the ballet dancer will dress as a Sylphide  and meet the dacha dweller.   There is madcap mayhem including a duel, bicycle riding and a tractor driver disguised as a dog before everyone is unmasked, the husband begs Zina's forgiveness and everyone dances to the glory of the harvest.

As Zina, Paloma Herrera is poignant and dances beautifully.  As her husband, Marcello Gomes, who is one of the most expressive male dancers has terrific acting ability, and yet, has moments in which his strong athletic ballet talent is permitted to shine.  Mr. Barbee and Ms. van Hamel are wonderful character performers providing much humor over the course of the evening.   Gillian Murphy is delightful as the ballerina and rises to a particular choreographic challenge.   During act one, the male ballet dancer dances a typical bravura solo with many leaps and turns.    During act two, in disguise Ms. Murphy must dance the same solo with the exact same steps.  She doesn't get the height on the leaps, but she matches the steps perfectly.    And then there is our disguised Sylphide.    The evening is worth the price of admission to see one of the best male dancers in North America en pointe partnered by Victor Barbee.     Seriously, this a ballet that requires the male lead to dance in toe shoes.

American Ballet Theatre performed at The Kennedy Center from January 18-23, 2011.   For information on upcoming performances please visit

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