The locked-out dancers of American Ballet Theatre have maintained all along that they support the star system that has made their company famous, and their gala last night at Goucher College was testimony to that claim. The Kraushaar Auditorium was jammed with balletomanes who paid $20 or $20 a ticket and were as determined to show their support and affection for the dancers as the dancers were to dazzle with just about every fireworkds pas de deux known to ballet, preformed by such stars as Natalia Makarova, Gelsey Kirkland, Martine van Hamel and Anthony Dowell.
Galas that consist exclusively of show-stopping excerpts from the classics produce in the viewer the aesthetic equivalent of having gulped a box of chocolate-covered cherries. After a while, leaps and turns, no matter how brilliantly performed, tend to dull the appetite and make one long for stillness.
It was refreshing, therefore, to see van Hamel's lyrical yet dramatic rendering of Fokine's "Dying Swan" and Kirkland and Dowell's melting performance of "The Nutcracker" pas de deux. John Meehan's "Le Retour" (a world premiere to music by Ravel), was danced by himself. Marianna Tcherkassky was a slight, but lovely portrait of yearning and reconciliation.
The fireworks were brilliant. Van Hamel, partnered by Kevin McKenzie, danced the grand pas de deux from "Sleeping Beauty" with a musical amplitude. In Balanchine's "Tchaikovsky pas de deux," Rebecca Wright was crisp, while Kirk Peterson danced with a lot of snap, but heavy and imprecise landings. Natalia Makarova, partnered by an electrifying Patrick Bissell, crackled as a coquetish Kitri in the Don Quixote pas de deux.
A version -- without corps -- of "The Kingdom of the Shades" from La Bayadere featured a much-improved Jolinda Menendez and Bissell, and Cynthia Harvey, Lise Houlton and Janet Shibata were three of the strongest soloists this production has seen.
The best dancing of the evening was Makarova and Dowell's performance of Jerome Robbins' "Other Dances." At turns playful and melancholy, the two engaged in a gentle composition.
Edward Villela, formerly of the New york City Ballet, appeared not as a dancer but as keynote speaker, explaining the dancers' position -- that they want to be able to "work with dignity." If it was not an adequate substitute for ABT's canceled season, the gala fulfilled its purpose as a fund-raiser for the ABT dancers' fund.