There aren't many ballet roles where being too pretty can be a handicap, but the Cowgirl in Agnes de Mille's "Rodeo" is more noted for her ungainly manner than for long eyelashes. Last night at the Kennedy Center, a very pretty dancer, American Ballet Theatre's Pamela Nearhoof, danced the role of the Cowgirl and managed to be totally convincing as the scampish tomboy who pines for the Head Wrangler (Richard Schafer).
Nearhoof's Cowgirl is not just a wallflower suffering from prolonged adolescence. She is a gril who prizes her independence, who insists n being accepted on her own terms. When she comes down to the Saturday Night Dance clad in a bright red dress and heavy black boots -- and looking just as out of place among the other girls as she had when dressed in cowpoke clothes -- there is a defiant air about her which is endearing. Nearhoof's dancing was as sharp as her characterization; she is a dancer who looks very much at home in leading roles.
William Carter, as the Champion Roper who likes the Cowgirl for herself and wins her heart at the end, acted and danced his role superbly, performing a stylish tap-dance solo. As a matter of fact, the whole cast was superb -- from Berthica Prieto as the securely feminine Ranch Owner's Daughter, to Cheryl Yeager as a rather giddy friend, to the Cowhands and Womenfolk who rode horses and square-danced.
It's quite a jump from the Western rranch of "Rodeo" to the imperial world of Balanchine's "Theme and Variations." Kristine Elliott and Charles Maple led the company in a relaxed and gracious performance of "Theme." Elliott is a perfectly proportioned dancer with a beautiful line and secure balances. She danced her solos expansively and with precision, save for some trouble with turns. Maple's solos were nicely phrased and musical, but his partnering of Elliott in the Finale was strained.
Completing the program were a ragged performance of Robbins' "Interplay" and a grab bag of tricks called "Flames of Paris" (presumably a pas de deux excerpted from the full-length Soviet ballet of that name). Here, Yoko Ichino demonstrated her sharp footwork and ability to whiz through turns, and Gregory Osborne showed his good elevation and long line, but the excerpt remained one -- a technical exercise rather than a stylistic one.