Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
American Ballet Theater began its month-long stay at the Kennedy Center Opera House Tuesday night with one of those mixed repertory programs the company's mettle all at once.
Particularly after the long ballet recess Washington has experienced, it was a pleasure to see ABT back in action again, reaffirming its versatility and stylistic breadth. On the whole, the program seemed a harbinger of an exciting season.
Mikhail Baryshnikov, as forceful and charismatic a presence as ever, danced in both the opening "La Bayadere" and the concluding "Push Comes to Shove," displaying his own brand of polydexterity in these two utterly contrasting vehicles.
Ballerina Gelsey Kirkland, looking once again completely fit after her long debilitation, danced alongside Baryshnikov in "Bayadere," and then partnered by Ivan Nagy in the evening's premiere - Kenneth MacMillan's pas de deux "Pavane."
Martine van Hamel and Clark Tippet, both in conspicuously good form, were paired as the lead couple in Glen Tetley's "Voluntaries," which ABT has not previously performed in Washington.
The evening actually begins a bit shakily. The long, dolorous, unwinding entrance of the Shadows in "La Bavadere" - one of the great ensembles of the classical ballet - found the ABT corps a typically unsteady, grouping for balance and uncertain of placement. The musical direction by Akira Endo was - as usual, unfortunately - no help in its watery rhythms and flabby phrasing.
The principals, moreover, were clearly not fully in gear. Even at less than their best, Baryshnikov and Kirkland are, in this Petipa masterpiece to which they are so well suited by temperament and artistic understanding, something wondrous to behold. The formal refinement of their steps, the purity of their lines of movement, and their total absorption in this otherworldly rendezvous, are virtues enough for any performance.
Having seen the perfection these two are capable of, however, one can't help longing for it each time. Baryshnikov, however, was uncharacteristically strained in his aerial work, and Kirkland had trouble establishing her tempo in the scraf duet.
Things picked up for everyone, Baryshnikov and Kirkland included, thereafter. "Voluntaries," which as Tetley's tribute to his choreographer friend John Cranko is one of his most taut and lucid compositions, received an intense, beautifully articulated performance, in which Jolinda Menendez, Michael Owen and Richard Schafer seconded the lithe eloquence of van Hamel and Tippet.
"Pavane" is a seven-minute duet to a Faure score of the same title, a brief romantic idyll with no fireworks but a seemly poetic design. It was composed originally for Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell of the Royal Ballet, but it would be hard to imagine a more sweetly resonant performance than the one Kirkland and Nagy came up with.
In Twyla Tharp's crowd-pleasing "Push Comes to Shove," Baryshnikov was once more the imperturbable virtuoso, tossing off the breakneck allegro solo of the first movement, with a nonchalance that combined comic offhandedness with the ease of mastery. Marianna Tcherkassky, Martine van Hamel, Kristine Elliott and Clark Tippet were his expert cohorts.