American Ballet Theatre opens Met season with panache

Tuesday, May 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ They waltzed, pirouetted and leaped in their point shoes. But they also sashayed and shuffled in flats.

Make no mistake: The American Ballet Theatre is a quintessentially American company. And on Monday night, they opened their season at the Metropolitan Opera House with an array of dance styles no European company could match.

The ABT dancers delivered a series of gems to music by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, as well as the New York premiere of "Black Tuesday," choreographed by Paul Taylor to Depression-era songs like "Slummin' on Park Avenue" and "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams."

Taylor's title alludes to that all-American defeat _ the 1929 Wall Street stock market crash. But the work plays on an all-American victory: the ability to look on the bright side, while down-and-out and on the street. Not exactly tutu material, the 13-dancer piece offers jaunty, soft-shoe dancing from the 1920s, and includes an episode for a pimp and three prostitutes.

A curtain raiser for the ABT's two-month Met engagement, the evening showcased its dancers from 17 countries.

Aside from occasionally shabby coordination in both the mens' and womens' ensembles, the dancers served dazzling appetizers to the rest of the season.

Caroline Kennedy _ following in the footsteps of her mother Jacqueline Onassis _ appeared before the Met's gold curtain as an ABT benefit chairwoman.

"I know that spring has officially come because the ABT is back in New York," Kennedy told the capacity audience of almost 3,000.

The show was on, opening with a whimsical ensemble waltz from Prokofiev's "Cinderella," followed by "Black Tuesday."

Then came solos highlighting ABT's long lineup of stars, including four American women with scintillating techniques _ Julie Kent, Amanda McKerrow, Susan Jaffe and Ashley Tuttle. A host of Hispanic stars also were featured: Angel Corella of Spain, Cuban-born Jose Carreno, Julio Bocca of Argentina and his compatriot Paloma Herrera, who at 25 is the company's youngest principal dancer.

Corella will star in the premiere of ABT's poster piece this year _ "The Pied Piper" choreographed by David Parsons. At Monday's gala, he tossed off a variation from "The Sleeping Beauty" with exuberant, lightning-quick leaps.

Also in the spotlight was the Russian tradition.

Nina Ananiashvili, still the leading ballerina of Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet and an ABT principal, danced the famous "Rose Adagio" from "The Sleeping Beauty" with exquisite clarity, offering leg lifts that were breathtakingly high and steady.

It is that kind of discipline that once produced the impeccable corps de ballet of companies like the Kirov and the Bolshoi. That was in the 20th century, when few American companies could match the Soviet ensembles' perfection.

But under the post-communist financial decline, Russia's ballet glory has faded while many Soviet-trained dancers now grace Western companies.

Mikhail Baryshnikov paved the way to the ABT, defecting in 1974 to join the cutting-edge creativity of this New York institution.

Two current, Ukrainian-born rising stars are Maxim Belotserkovsky and his wife, Irina Dvorovenko, who couple pristine classical moves with artistic fire. On Monday, he was mostly airborne with a thrilling series of grand jetes to Tchaikovsky's music and the steps of George Balanchine. Separately, she offered a variation from "Swan Lake" executed with transcendent precision as well as lyricism.

Watching from the audience was the great Russian-born ballerina Natalia Makarova, who choreographed "La Bayadere" _ based on the original Marius Petipa _ to be presented later on this season's program.

Also coming up is the premiere of "Gong" by American choreographer Mark Morris, to music by John Corigliano.

The evening ended as lightly as it began _ with a waltz from "Swan Lake" under a swirling, multicolored Maypole, just hours before May arrived in New York.