American Ballet Theatre draws on past successes to open season at Kennedy

January 16, 1991|By J. L. Conklin

American Ballet Theatre opened its season and two-week engagement last evening at the Kennedy Center with few hints of the financial and artistic troubles that nearly toppled this esteemed and talented company.

Company directors Jane Hermann and Oliver Smith, who took over the reins from Mikhail Baryshnikov in September 1989, wisely delved into ABT's vast and eclectic repertoire and pulled out works that have served the company well in the past.

Opening the program was George Balanchine's "Ballet Imperial," a single-act ballet that pays homage to the St. Petersburg Ballet style that the choreographer knew so well. ABT's rendition of this classic work was plodding at best. Both principal dancers Susan Jaffe and Amanda McKerrow turned in uninspiring and inconsistent performances. Despite the inherent glitter and grandeur of the dance, both women missed steps, lost positions and generally were wooden in their demeanor.

Ricardo Bustamante did his utmost to salvage his pas de deux with Ms. Jaffe, but sadly there was no sense of direction between himself and his partner. Even the corps de ballet danced as in a trance.

Fortunately ABT also performed Twyla Tharp's "Brief Fling" and Leonide Massine's "Gaite Parisienne." Cheryl Yeager and Wes Chapman along with Kathleen Moore turned in stellar performances in Miss Tharp's strange and brilliant variations on "Country Gardens" and "Handle in the Strand" by Michael Colombier. Closing the evening was the witty "Gaite Parisienne" that brought the excellent dancing of Marianna Tcherkassky and Danilo Radojevic.

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