It was an evening that left one glowing with renewed faith in the greatness of American Ballet Theatre. The company's program at Kennedy Center last night included a number of notable "firsts," but there were sterling moments throughout and not a leaden one anywhere.
Nothing, however, transcended the opening-a performance of Blanchine's "Theme and Variations" that paired Martine Van Hamel with Washington trained Kevin McKenzie, who was dancing this work for the first time since his recent transfer to ABT from the Joffrey troupe.It's clear he's going to be a formidable company assest. Not just his height, but his naturally aristocratic line and musical sensitiviey made an ideal match for Van Hamel's serene majesty in the Balanchine.
The two of them rode the music with loving ease and lucidity, making even the hardest of the many technical hurdles look effortless. The supporting solists and assisting ensemble were excellent too.
Next came the impressive ABT premiere of John Neumeier's "Desire," an abstract pas de deux created in 1973 to the music of Scriabin. It's a "piano ballet"- the instrument and soloist are upstage center-but not "just another" of the gentre. The vocabularly is classical but its inflections-idiomatic stretches, flexings and looped limbs-are distinctly contemporary and individual.
The dance begins and ends with the couple still and separated; in between they have contrasting, moody solos, and finally an encounter that climbs to as ectasy of lifts, spins and carries. Natalia Makarova and Anthony Dowell both looking magnificent in skin-tight unitards, responded to the lean, delicately etched choreography with a beautifully restrained poetic fervor.
Birgit Cullberg's tempestuous "Miss Julie," a choreographic rendering of the Strindberg drama, has been in and out of the ABT repertory since 1958, but last night's was the first performance of the current revival. Cynthia Gregory was superb in the title role.