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ABT Returns to L.A. in a Major Way

Dance review: The troupe presents a range of 20th century choreography after a decade of offering the area only minor repertoire.

June 28, 1996|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES DANCE CRITIC

In a decade that has seen American Ballet Theatre either bypass Los Angeles entirely or offer little more than kiddie-rep here, the company returned to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Wednesday with a program of 20th century choreography calculated to reestablish its credentials as a major classical ensemble.

Lush, neo-Romantic music visualization dominated the strongly danced, four-part evening, with even the principal novelty--Twyla Tharp's 8-week-old "The Elements"--looking backward as often as forward. Taking her game plan from an 18th century dance-symphony by Jean-Fery, "Rebel," Tharp depicted order arising from chaos and launched again her patented juxtapositions of ballet and modern dance vocabularies a la "In the Upper Room."

Beginning with a sound-and-light Big Bang and ending with dancers becoming formal architecture, "The Elements" reveled in transformations: roving male thugs evolving into something like angels, for example, and women turning into sublime, civilizing presences. Lots of humor, of course, and even a sense that the mismatch of physiques in the current Ballet Theatre male corps might be worth celebrating.

But the best thing about "The Elements" was the sustained illusion that everyone on stage had become absorbed in an inspired kinetic free-association at the speed of light, that Tharp had freed them to reap the whirlwind.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 29, 1996 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Composer's name--In the review of American Ballet Theatre published Friday, Jean-Fery Rebel, the composer of the music for Twyla Tharp's "The Elements," was misnamed.

Dressed in velvety wine tunics by Santo Loquasto, the most prominent reapers included Kathleen Moore, Wes Chapman, Martha Butler and Griff Braun. But the extraordinary refinement of Amanda McKerrow and the phenomenal pliancy of Keith Roberts would have earned special attention even without the dimension of soul that made this ballet and others the same evening seem their personal property.

Both here and in a lyric pas de deux from Antony Tudor's 1975 "The Leaves Are Fading" (to Dvorak), McKerrow danced through an injury that will take her out of her scheduled "Don Quixote" Saturday afternoon. (Julie Kent and Guillaume Graffin will replace her and Jeremy Collins.) But the flow and delicacy of her technique remained exemplary and, opposite a conscientious Chapman in the "Leaves" duet, she defined a glowing devotion that kept the ballet's expressivity vivid even in an excerpt.

As for Roberts, he brought so much brooding muscular force to Lar Lubovitch's "A Brahms Symphony" that the work acquired the emotional anchor it desperately needed. Set to the first three movements of Brahms' Third in 1985, and then given its finale a year ago, this generalized swoop-and-swirl exercise also offered a showcase for the eloquent extensions of Sandra Brown, the aerial precision of Angel Corella (in his first performance of the work) and the stylistic authority of Moore.

But only Roberts managed to overcome the predictability of the relationship between music and movement, the impression that the so-called "symphonic ballet" has become a slick formula some 90 years after Isadora Duncan first dared to interpret Brahms and other classical composers previously off-limits to dance.

It's possible, however, that Lubovitch's "Symphony" would have seemed stronger on a program without a symphonic ballet by George Balanchine, a choreographer justly revered for getting inside his chosen scores.

In "Theme and Variations" from 1947, Balanchine paid homage to Imperial Russian traditions but also offered a highly specific response to a section of Tchaikovsky's Third Orchestral Suite.

The performance Wednesday found Graffin working hard at the bravura but emerging victorious, while Paloma Herrera had neither majesty, musicality nor unfailing technical exactitude in her favor. As always, she blazed with promise at high speed but seemed just as weirdly impatient with adagio challenges as in her Costa Mesa Juliet earlier this year. Herrera and Graffin normally dance this ballet with other partners and their lack of rapport on this occasion didn't help.

Charles Barker conducted "Theme and Variations" expertly, while Jack Everly capably led the orchestra in "The Leaves Are Fading" duet and "A Brahms Symphony." Reportedly because of the need for period instruments, "The Elements" was danced to tape. The biggest glitch: Photocopied credit sheets were handed out instead of printed programs. The problem was a delivery snafu on the part of Performing Arts magazine, according to representatives of producer James A. Doolittle.

* American Ballet Theatre dances the full-length "Don Quixote" tonight through Sunday afternoon at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave. (213) 365-3500. Tickets: $15-$60.

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