At the Spoleto Festivals in Charleston, the dance galas are sold out months in advance. Before the first curtain went up on Saturday night in Gaillard auditorium, every seat was filled, and the side aisles, where the standees are able to get very near the stage, were jammed. Some of them had been waiting in line since 3 a.m. The audience included dancers, ballet groupies and experts from around the country.
The program of seven rather brief scenes centered on Shakespeare in the dance. The first and greatest excitement of the evening came in Alicia Alonso's dramatic appearance as Lady Macbeth in the world premiere of "The Bloody Crown." First seen alone on the large stage, Alonso, sheathed in blood-red silk, is a torrent of rage, ambition and private fear. Her hands become weapons of a bloody hue, her body an instrument of terrifying destruction.
Partnered with tremendous strength by Jorge Esquivel, Alonso dominates the stage for the 10-minute sequence, moving with the ferocity of a tiger sure of its prey. Esquivel's leaps brought out the first shouts of enthusiasm with which the audience interrupted the music. His great body moves in a manner reminiscent of the Bolshoi's most vigorous athletes. The rapidity of his movement, clad in purple streaks, was the ideal foil for Alonso. But true to Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth, it is she who commands throughout. In its much too brief extent, the new ballet, choreographed by Ivan Tenorio and danced to a stunning score for percussion and brass by Georges Barboteu, is a magnificent, macabre triumph. Alonso wants it expanded into a full-length drama. Surely her wish must be fulfilled.
At the end of the dance, as she lay crushed to the ground, the audience let out the kind of roar given only for immortal superstars. And as she has done throughout her career, Alonso turned the long ovation into another dance, a prolonged adagio in which, never forsaking her role as Lady Macbeth, her gestures of appreciation became a second tour de force, her right arm reaching toward the heavens.
The presence of Alexander Godunov was another one of the special highlights of the gala, heightened by the fact that he was dancing to the title-role of a ballet long and exclusively remembered as one of the great creations and singular properties of the late Jose Limon, "The Moor's Pavane."
A ballet in which the choreography has a particular classic restraint, the Pavane employs four dancers -- two more than any other dance seen during the entire evening -- to embody Shakespeare's Othello, Desdemona, Iago and Emilia. Those who may have expected to see Godunov in the more usual tights instead saw his superb form covered in a long dark red velvet robe, slit only so that his legs could properly perform Limon's unforgettably threatening movements as his adoration of his wife was turned to murderous hatred by Iago's insinuated poison. But Godunov the dancing actor exulted in the role as he snatched at the deceiving handkerchief and finally, concealed by Iago and Emilia, brutally murdered his innocent and loving wife.
Godunov was joined by Jennifer Scanlon, lovely as Desdemona, and Robert Swinston's Iago, which, beginning strongly, did not in the end convey the complete evil of the man, a fault perhaps hard to overcome in a certain ambiguity in Limon's designs.Carla Maxwell, as a very sympathetic Emilia, danced with special poetry.
Memories of Limon will not be swept away by this new realization of his creation. He was more aloof, more marmoreal in his portrait of Othello.
But Godunov is vastly impressive in his highly controlled but humanly vulnerable way. It is a regal achievement.
If Alonso and Godunov were two of the brilliant magnets that drew dance lovers to the gala, there was also some exquisite dancing by Dierdre Carberry and David Loring in one of several pas de deux drawn from "Romeo and Juliet." Make a note of Carberry's name. Not yet 15, she is already the image of a rising star, dancing at the very first instant she has any right to be seen. If her extreme youth made her initial appearance in a fragment from the Lavrovsky-Prokofiev "Romeo and Juliet" hardly more than a fragrant wisp, her return in a brief Sonnet, devised by Vakhtang Chaboukiani, held high above Loring in an entrance of breathtaking loveliness, was followed by some ravishing movement, fleet in breathless haste. Loring danced superbly despite the fact that he was between demanding appearances last Friday night and again tonight with Ballet Theater at the metropolitan Opera House. He was one of the most elegant dancers of the evening.
Contrasting views of "Midsummer Nitht's Dream" were offered as Merrrill Ashley and Sean Lavery danced a pas de deux from the second act of Balanchine's 1962 success, followed after intermission by Denise Jackson and Anthony Dowell in the glorious Oberon-Titania duo from the Ashton ballet of 1964. Dowell's incisive feeling for the style of the role, in Ashton's subtle and characteristically compelling choreography, was glorious.
Jackson was no match for his power and soaring poetry.
The evening opened with Joyce Trisler's Concerto in E, in which the two final movements of the Chopin E Minor Piano Concerto were a background for some pallid dancing by Nancy Long and William Soleau as Romeo and Juliet. Sunday afternoon's repetition of the entire program was sold out, as was Saturday night's.