American Ballet Theatre

'Family Friendly':  'Theme and Variations,' 'Le Grand Pas de Deux,' 'Three Virgins and a Devil,' 'Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,' and 'Fancy Free'

by Lori Ibay

October 25, 2003, 2pm-- City Center, New York, NY

As I shuffled along with the Saturday matinee crowd, making my way into the theater for American Ballet Theatre's "Family Friendly" program, I felt something I don’t ordinarily experience before a ballet performance. There was my usual eager anticipation of seeing some great dancing after a long, hard week, but mixed in with that, I felt-- well… old. It wasn't my trick knee acting up, or my momentary lapses of memory, and it couldn't be the fact that I've hit my mid-twenties…and then I realize--everywhere I looked, there were children. Children of all ages bounded into the theater with their parents, grandparents, and siblings--openly expressing their own eager anticipation.

"Family Friendly," featuring works ranging from George Balanchine to Agnes de Mille to Jerome Robbins, was billed as being accessible to families attending the ballet, including children. "Theme and Variations," "Le Grand Pas de Deux," "Three Virgins and a Devil," "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux," and "Fancy Free" comprise a well-rounded program that is visually stimulating and appealing to audiences, young and old.

Balanchine's "Theme and Variations" began the program, and the crowd drew in a collective breath as the curtain rose on a radiant Paloma Herrera in a glittering pink costume with Marcelo Gomes opposite her framed by a female corps costumed in lavender tutus. Throughout the plot-less ballet, Herrera moved with the regal grace and daintiness of a princess although she seemed visibly relieved after completing a sequence of pirouettes and pas du chats. Herrera also demonstrated exquisitely steady balance, especially notable in a segment where she was supported by the corps busily fluttering around her like a swarm of bees, weaving forms with quick bourrees. Gomes danced majestically, with strength and grace that paralleled Herrera's poise.

The corps' interludes between the principals' segments were like quick breaths of fresh air, and four featured couples also demonstrated clean technique and solid partnering. The four men, David Hallberg, Carlos Molina, Sascha Radetsky, and Gennadi Saveliev, regally backed Gomes with airy jetes and powerful pirouettes, while the four women, Stella Abrera, Anna Liceica, Maria Riccetto, and Michele Wiles, danced with the elegance of a royal court. The entire ensemble of twenty-six danced a stage-heavy finale, jam-packed with jumps and movement that left the audience's pulse racing after the curtain fell on the final tableaux.

After a brief pause, Vladimir Malakhov and Xiomara Reyes appeared in front of the curtain to begin "Le Grand Pas de Deux," (choreography by Christian Spuck) a playful parody of a traditional pas de deux. Malakhov and Reyes portrayed their characters perfectly -- from Reyes' dopey smile, dark-rimmed librarian glasses, and matching pink handbag to Malakhov's exaggerated composure, contrasting with his frustration (especially with his partner's attachment to her handbag).

The pair also exhibited precise comedic timing, pulling each other into place, narrowly avoiding collisions, and swinging their hips in hilarious unison of the spoof choreography. Besides the ridiculous comedy (complete with a tutu-wearing cow in the corner), Reyes and Malakhov also offered the audience finely polished skill -- whether in their clean pirouettes and steady lifts, or in Reyes's performance of an entire sequence holding her handbag in her mouth.

The next piece, Agnes de Mille's "Three Virgins and a Devil," also incorporated comedy into its story. The three virgins -- the fanatical one, the greedy one, and the lustful one (played by Erica Fischbach, Adrienne Schulte, and Kelley Waddell, respectively) -- are enticed by the Devil (Carlos Molina) to abandon their purity and enter his cave, the gate to hell. Despite the animated plot, the piece seemed somewhat flat, lacking the level of comedy and the excitement of the previous piece. The characters were underdeveloped -- at times, the lustful virgin seemed more innocent than lustful, and why was the youth who tempted her (Julio Bragado-Young) dressed in a jester-like costume? The highlight of the piece was Molina's character portrayal and his quick pirouettes, with the long tail of his big-bad-wolfish Devil costume whipping around him.

The second Balanchine piece, "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux" followed, danced by the spectacular Irina Dvorovenko and Angel Corella. Dvorovenko's extraordinary extension and clean lines were supported by Corella's solid partnering. In her solos, Dvorovenko was so light on her feet that she seemed to glide across the stage. Corella delivered his signature leaps with hang time that would have made Michael Jordan envious, and in a set of dizzyingly fast pirouettes, he seemed to gain momentum, even when adding in a few sautés between revolutions.

The final piece of the performance was Jerome Robbins's "Fancy Free" with Herman Cornejo, Sascha Radetsky, and Jose Manuel Carreno portraying the three endearing sailors on shore leave in New York City. As the story unfolds and the sailors attempt to woo passers-by, Stella Abrera and Gillian Murphy, the trio established their individual personalities with effective acting along with excellent dancing. Radetsky showed the most character -- his facial expressions, posture, and gestures revealed a sweet, aw-shucks sailor with boyish charm. Carreno's crisp pirouettes and Cornejo's acrobatics added marvel to a superb performance.

The "Family Friendly" program showcased many of American Ballet Theatre's strengths -- variety and versatility, excellent acting, and stunning performances by several of the company's superstars. While some of the heavier themes, especially from "Three Virgins" and "Fancy Free," may not have been entirely appropriate for children, the spectacular moments in the program certainly brought out the wide-eyed kid in me.

Edited by Jeff.

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