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Variety is the spice, but ...

American Ballet Theatre generates excitement with a mixed program. As a vision statement, though, it's lacking.

July 14, 2007|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

MOSTLY ragged, mostly exciting, American Ballet Theatre opened what have become annual engagements at two Southland performing arts centers with a mixed bill at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Thursday. (The company moves to Costa Mesa on Tuesday.)

A couple of major dancers even tried to look deliberately ragged as well as exciting: Herman Cornejo, for example, in a spectacularly over-the-top comic portrayal of the drunken Lescaut in an excerpt from Kenneth MacMillan's "Manon." Lescaut is a despicable character, but dancing opposite the very game Stella Abrera in what amounted to a parody of classical partnering, Cornejo used throwaway virtuosity to make him perversely endearing.

Similarly, Sascha Radetsky worked for an offhand, spontaneous, don't-sweat-the-details style in an enormously effective performance of the Champion Roper in Agnes de Mille's "Rodeo," one of the two complete works on the program. When it mattered, Radetsky had all the technique he needed, but one of the few surprises in De Mille's 1942 Americana romance is that this guy turns out to be the hero.

Radetsky splendidly served her plot switcheroo and ideally matched with the shy Cowgirl of Marian Butler (on target, if a little too underplayed, perhaps). Jared Matthews and Kelley Boyd proved suitably glamorous as the Head Wrangler and Ranch Owner's Daughter.

The pickup orchestra provided another surprise in "Rodeo": As conducted by Charles Barker, it actually seemed as if it had thoroughly rehearsed Aaron Copland's classic score.

Mozart, however, suffered from haphazard musicianship throughout George Balanchine's "Symphonie Concertante," conducted by Ormsby Wilkins, and the two soloists -- Ronald Oakland (violin) and Robert Becker (viola) -- sounded no better than the ensemble.

Balanchine built his 1947 abstraction on the relationship between the violin and viola, assigning one ballerina to each of these instruments.

Thus the interplay of Michele Wiles and Gillian Murphy was supposed to reflect the formal development of the music as well as its dreamy elegance. Much of the time efficiency rather than inspiration or eloquence dominated this partnership Thursday, but Maxim Beloserkovsky added a dimension of rapt intensity along with his refined technical skills as their dual cavalier.

Completing the program: two duets that evolved from antique choreography by Marius Petipa. The Petipa-Gorsky "Don Quixote" pas de deux offered more star power than precision from Paloma Herrera and Jose-Manuel Carreno. Chancy terminations blemished both performances, though much of the time Herrera achieved great lightness and nobility of bearing in what is usually a slash-and-burn showpiece. Carreno looked his best only in one sequence of turns in the coda.

The Soviet-style gymnastic transformation of a love scene from Petipa's "Le Corsaire" (no, not the over-familiar harem-pants-and-tutu "Corsaire" duet) contained the ballerina performance of the evening. Turning mere choreographic bling into genuine treasure, Irina Dvorovenko used her molten spine and long, expressive arms brilliantly -- not her fault that this wasn't "Swan Lake" or more Balanchine. David Hallberg may have been a mite overwhelmed by her inimitably Russian ardor but supplied reliable support.

As a whole, the program made a statement about company versatility, the same kind of statement that the Joffrey Ballet failed to make with its Music Center programming earlier this season -- mostly due to misinterpreted Balanchine. Where many of the most prominent European companies specialize in works by one choreographer, major American classicism seems focused on variety -- sometimes mindless variety -- even at New York City Ballet (Balanchine's home) these days. Most of the raggedness Thursday -- from the orchestra to the women's corps in "Symphonie Concertante" to some of the principals -- could be fixed by more rehearsal time. But you'd still be stuck with an artistic vision that's not about anything in particular.

And isn't that a strange place for an art form to be?

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