Keeping a campaign promise to strengthen American Ballet Theatre's repertory of works by the 20th century's master craftsmen, the new Baryshnikov administration put an Ashton, a Balanchine and its new Taylor on last night's Kennedy Center program. The variety produced by the three contemporary choreographers confirmed that ours is a rich time for dance.
Any American company performing Frederick Ashton's "Les Patineurs" skates on thin ice. With its cascades of jumps, glides and turns decorated with tiny beats and flicks of the wrist against a picture postcard setting of a winter scene, the ballet can easily become mere froth. In the past, ABT has often erred in making the steps and smiles of the Ashtonian characters look cute. Last night, Danilo Radojevic, as the virtuoso Skater in Green, danced like a wicked whirlwind and with brilliant new control. Cynthia Harvey and Robert La Fosse, as the Lovers in White, didn't melt unyieldingly into each other's arms although La Fosse sometimes looked unnecessarily anxious. Kristine Elliott's secure unsupported turns suggested that the character she was portraying might become prim. Such simulations of Britons at play almost hit the mark.
Paul Taylor's "Airs" was danced by almost the same cast as Tuesday's opening but with greater clarity, especially in the ensambles. A sense of enjoyment and ease was beginning to show and with it the flowing bodies and shifting groupings of this piece of modern dance baroquerie became grand. Brian Adams, not as supple in his backturns as at the premiere, has the Michaelangelo body that is best for Taylor's gentle gravity.
To "Theme and Variations," that brilliant summary of belletic last acts as only George Balanchine can build them, Cynthia Harvey and Ronald Perry brought new strengths. Neither is yet at home with the quantum leap in technique they have made, and they quite forgot that the pas de deux is about courtship, not friendship. When Harvey and Perry begin to trust themselves and dance for each other, this team will be a worthy heir to the Alonso and Youskevitch of yore.