American Ballet's performance not quite on its toes

February 04, 1993|By J.L. Conklin | J.L. Conklin,Contributing Writer

WASHINGTON -- American Ballet Theatre opened its five-day engagement at the Kennedy Center with a program calculated to show off the treasures in its repertory and to display the company's talents.

Unfortunately, someone's calculations were off. While the four works by George Balanchine, Anthony Tudor, Walter Bourke and Mark Morris, did present a palette of distinctive choreography, the company's dancing was generally ho-hum.

Fortunately not all the dances suffered from ennui. The evening briskly opened with "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes," choreographed by Mark Morris to Virgil Thomson's "Etudes for Piano," stirringly played by Gladys Celeste.

Mr. Morris' work for 12 dancers is a stylistic compendium of modern and ballet technique. While plotless, and thoroughly abstract, the work does have moments of Mr. Morris' tongue-in-cheek humor: specifically in the opening section, when young woman is unceremoniously carried on stage stiffly balanced on her partner's shoulder as if she were a store mannequin. This odd and quirky motif is repeated at the close, and provides a final fillip to Mr. Morris' lengthy but engaging dance.

"Grand Tarantella," a classical pas de deux for Marianna Tcherkassky and Parrish Maynard, displayed Mr. Maynard's considerable talent and technical abilities. His clean turns with stop-on-a-dime finishes brought an appreciative response from the audience. Unfortunately Ms. Tcherkassky was not up to par, and her dancing seemed strained as she rushed to keep pace with her partner and the music.

Anthony Tudor's "Undertow" provided the chance for ABT stars to shine in this melodramatic tale of war between spirit and flesh. The performances of Amanda McKerrow, Christina Fagundes, Kathleen Moore sparkled.

Obviously created long before Dr. Ruth declared that sex is OK, Mr. Tudor's three-section work explores the emotional development of a youth whose psychological conflicts drive him to murder. The work vacillates between pantomime and dancing, and too often Johan Renvall's mimicry was heavy-handed.

The big disappointment of the evening was Balanchine's beloved work, "Theme and Variations," which closed the program. While Susan Jaffe and Jeremy Collins are a well-matched couple, Mr. Collins' performance was generally uneven. The company as a whole was under-rehearsed and what should have been a glorious finish, was merely a fizzle. Let's hope that artistic director Kevin McKenzie can straighten his company out before the end of its run.

ABT PERFORMS

When: At 8 tonight, Friday and Saturday; at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: Kennedy Center, Washington

Tickets: $22-$53

Call: (202) 467-4600

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