Tharp Minus Mischa : Ballet Theatre Revives 'Push Comes To Shove'

March 13, 1986|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | Times Music/Dance Critic

"As you are dancing," Mikhail Baryshnikov has said of "Push Comes to Shove," "you feel like a fish in the sand."

Tuesday night at Shrine Auditorium, American Ballet Theatre staged a revival of Twyla Tharp's historic Lamb-rags to Haydn-riches ballet that might have been called "Nudge Comes to Topple." The dancers, poor things, suggested nothing so much as fish in cement.

Ten years ago, when this beguiling fusion of insolent strut, insinuating wiggle, frantic wrench and nearly grandiose arabesque was new, Baryshnikov made a tour de force of the tailor-made central role.

He mustered a delirious soft-shoe impression of show-biz dance gone deliciously askew. He toyed virtuosically with a bevy of bowler hats. He somehow managed to make his torso move in two directions at once. He moved, suave yet sassy, as if propelled by lightning.

He flew, he flirted, he found new depths of meaning in the profundity of being off balance and new significance in the confusion of suddenly changing direction. He did all this, and much more, with dapper charm, with subtle wit and with deadpan glee.

Understatement: This is a difficult act to follow.

Kirk Peterson tried to follow it, conscientiously. Danilo Radojevic tried to follow it, sweetly. Now it is Gil Boggs' turn.

He is decent. Technically, he does everything--well, almost everything--Tharp asked of Baryshnikov. The steps are in place, the movements are correct, the energy level is high.

But not much happens. Boggs makes the quirky choreography look like hard work, which it is. He doesn't make it look like fun, which--emphatically--it also is.

He is fleet and diligent, though his articulation sometimes looks a bit fuzzy (small wonder). If his performance weren't haunted by the Baryshnikov model, it might be satisfying. Unfortunately, Boggs doesn't project enough of Boggs to make the crazy role his own. And he certainly can't even hint at charismatic contradictions that illuminated the performance of a great Russian danseur exploring terra blissfully incognita .

The problem is simple: A talented boy from next door has been drafted to simulate maneuvers designed for an impish superman from Leningrad. Adjustments are necessary.

Replacing Susan Jaffe as the vamp ballerina, Martine van Hamel returned to the role she had created in 1976. She is still voluptuous, still authoritatively slinky in her crossover indulgences. On this occasion, however, she also seemed uncharacteristically cautious and brittle.

Replacing the originally announced Marianna Tcherkassky (without the courtesy of managerial explanation), Amanda McKerrow took over the ingenue ballerina duties for the first time. She dispatched them deftly and daintily, but trampled some of Tharp's humor by mugging just when playing it straight would have been funnier.

Deirdre Carberry, also an unexpected replacement, jazzed up her incidental Haydn rituals nicely. Clark Tippet, another worthy alumnus of the class of '76, executed the mock-noble counterpoint of the third movement with a fine aura of weary elan.

The well-meaning corps--like nearly everyone else on the stage--performed as if it hadn't seen La Tharp herself for a long, long time. If ever.

The triple bill opened with some dutiful hand-me-down Balanchine: "Symphonie Concertante." The central roles were danced grandly though differentiated minimally by the two senior ABT ballerinas, Cynthia Gregory (violin) and Van Hamel (viola). Patrick Bissell served, where needed, as their heroic prop. The corps looked rough. Conducted by Paul Connelly, Mozart was reproduced feebly by the ragged pit band and by the string soloists, Kenneth Yerke and Carole Mukogawa.

A repetition of David Gordon's mildly amusing, spiffily timed pantomime-cartoon, "Murder," was sandwiched between the Balanchine and Tharp (and not too comfortably at that). Baryshnikov once again made funny faces in the leading roles.

The capacity throng adored everything.

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