American Ballet Theatre scored a popular success with a splashy, surefire tribute to the rigors of a dancer's training Wednesday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.
But when push came to shove, the New York company wound up short in the evening's two other works--a vintage Tudor psychological ballet and a repeat of a Balanchine classic (from opening night on Tuesday).
Harald Lander's "Etudes" is an almost irresistible series of short takes illustrating ballet technique, set to Knudaage Riisager's brash arrangements of Czerny piano exercises. Last presented in Los Angeles by ABT in 1979, "Etudes" is built upon a string of increasingly complicated combinations that begin with classroom exercises at the barre and culminate with big, flashy runs and jumps across the stage.
As the central ballerina, Marianna Tcherkassky gave an object lesson in warmth and graciousness, dancing with ethereal delicacy in the choreographer's homages to Bournonville (a seminal predecessor at the Royal Danish Ballet) and with precision and charm in the virtuoso challenges.
The noble Johan Renvall, one of two male soloists, exhibited an airy command of space--dancing with exceptional elevation, buoyancy, springy beats and gravity-negating traveling jumps, all with nonchalant ease.
The fiery Julio Bocca danced spectacular spins with utter control, but elsewhere ventured calculated risks at the edges of his technical security. If this risk-taking didn't always pan out neatly, it did add an element of excitement that fit the bravura emphasis of the choreography.
The hard-working corps began impressively but succumbed to raggedness in timing and ensemble as the work progressed. Such are the dangers of presenting a ballet built entirely upon showing off technique.
Nananne Porcher created the dramatic lighting scheme (blackouts, sidelights isolating legs, gauzy Romantic effects and brilliant ballroom illumination) and Charles Barker elicited vigorous playing from members of the Pacific Symphony.
The ABT production of "Pillar of Fire," Antony Tudor's tense psychological study of repression, yearning, sin and forgiveness, looked heavy, artificial and remote Wednesday, with few convincing moments of emotional connection among the characters.
As Hagar, the trapped central figure, Kathleen Moore danced with technical strength but without emotional power: the depths of character, the projection of conflict always eluded her. Amanda McKerrow was more successful in the far less complex demands of the younger sister. But Michael Owen looked perpetually bemused as the Friend, and Ethan Brown danced carefully but without magnetism as the Young Man from the House Opposite.
Barker conducted Schoenberg's "Verklarte Nacht" with purposeful sweep.
Two new principals in Balanchine's "Symphonie Concertante" created interpretive dissonance where close match in style is desired.
McKerrow, replacing the originally announced Susan Jaffe (who was ill), danced the violin solos with diamond-bright, sharp, hard, propelled exactness, quite at odds with the pliancy, amplitude and lyricism that Martine van Hamel brought to the viola lines--which seemed better suited to the expressivity of Mozart's score.
The rest of the cast was previously reviewed. Jack Everly again conducted.