Cynthia Gregory joined American Ballet Theatre in 1965, two years before the company ventured its first complete "Swan Lake." Through the many permutations of that production--and especially through the wholesale tinkering inflicted on it near the end--her performances always held to a vision of majestic classical purity.
Wednesday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, Gregory appeared for the first time in Mikhail Baryshnikov's picturesque new staging of the ballet, reinforcing values more timeless than lavender-and-green color schemes. As on many past occasions, her Siegfried was a newcomer to the company: this time Serge Lavoie from National Ballet of Canada, recruited because of the shortage of ABT dancers tall enough to partner Gregory. Some things never change.
Technically faultless and expressively mature, Gregory looked as comfortable in the new passages of the Baryshnikov "Swan Lake" as in the sections common to almost all versions. But at least once she insisted on doing things her own way: A company spokesman confirmed that she alone of the ABT Swan Queens plays the sudden, heartbreaking capitulation to Rothbart's spell at the end of Act II facing the front of the stage. A great moment.
As always, the sense of suffering and vulnerability in her Odette remained remarkable, though one might argue that her flapping wrists on Wednesday not only nullified the effect of her superbly pliant arms but added mannerism to a production already teeming with it. As Odile, the force and speed of her dancing have scarcely abated over the years (she is now 42), and her icy grandeur in the role found its perfect complement in Lavoie's boyish warmth.
As strong and effortless a partner as he had been in the title role of "Onegin" with the Canadians in June, Lavoie again seemed unable to shape a characterization that deepened as the ballet shifted into tragedy. In this debut as a guest with American Ballet Theatre, his solo dancing proved bold in attack and secure in technique but not notably aristocratic. Promising, but far from sensitive or princely or involved or. . . .
Among the subsidiary assignments, Jeremy Collins danced with ease and elegance as Benno, John Gardner joined Gil Boggs in a crisply executed, high-spirited performance of the Neapolitan Dance, but Laura Hood looked more than a little overwhelmed by her tentlike gown and pagoda headdress as the Queen Mother. Michael Owen again danced Rothbart.