For American Ballet Theatre's first matinee at the Kennedy Center yesterday, the spotlight was on individual performances and interpretations, the ballets being familiar staples from Balanchine, Robbins and de Mille, though Balanchine's "Prodigal Son" isnew to ABT this season.
Maybe it was an illusion, but Mikhail Baryshnikov looked more comfortable and less self-conscious as the prodigal in his first ABT performance than he did dancing it with New York City Ballet. It was, in any case, a shatteringly poignant portrayal, from the initial mixture of defiance and guilt to the abject return. Martine van Hamel gave us a chillingly predatory Siren, at once lascivious and sadistic.
Robbins' "Interplay" still grabs audiences with its youthfully jazzy veneer and gamesmanship, though its cuteness can be grating. It also still taxes the stamina and technique of the best trained dancers, as yesterday's cast discovered, though Rebecca Wright, Richard Schafer and Danilo Radojevic had much of the requisite sassiness and cool.
Ruth Mayer and Robert La Fosse drew an ovation for their debuts in "Rodeo." After watching Mayer do old biddies and dragon ladies so often, ballet patrons may have been surprised to see her as a handsome, gutsy tomboy. Her unconventional Cowgirl, however, had the same intelligence and brio we've come to admire in her career thus far.