No evening with American Ballet Theatre these days, and certainly none in which Mikhail Baryshnikov dances, is without redeeming aspects. Still, Friday night's ABT program at the Kennedy Center Opera House hit none of its targets squarely, missing some by a hair but others by considerably more.
Widest of the mark was the first of several performances scheduled for the current run of the troupe's new production of Vaslav Nijinsky's "Afternoon of a Faun," staged by Elizabeth Schooling. This sole surviving example of Nijinsky's choreography, even as we have come to know it in modern reconstructions, is a masterpiece, and decidedly worth the ABT attempt. In giving body to his vision of awakening sexuality, Nijinsky created an entirely novel dance language, containing not a single "classical" item -- the faun and the barefooted nymphs move in frieze-like profile, their gestures stylized in the extreme.
The whole gossamer fabric of the ballet, however, is quickly shredded if every moment isn't informed by the delicate sensual nuances of Nijinsky's conception and Debussy's music. Faced with the fearful task of having to fill Nijinsky's shoes, poor Gregory Osborne, fine young dancer though he is, looked merely mechanical and contorted in his efforts to duplicate the prescribed shapes. The performance had no poetic resonance whatsoever, much less sensual insinuation. Among other problems, the Nicholas Georgiadis reproduction of the original Bakst scenery appears wrinkled and faded, rather than glowing; and though Chrisa Keramidas, as the solo nymph, captured the right fragrance, she lacked the roundedness of contour the part would seem to crave.
Victor Barbee was a far more persuasive Poet in "La Sonnambula" than in his earlier try, and Leslie Browne's Sleepwalker had such demands. Even so, the ballet seemed only a shadow of its own possiblities. Baryshnikov, Cynthia Harvey and Susan Jaffe recreated their charming and frequently brilliant opening night performance of the Bournonville pas de trois, without, however, coming much closer to the elusive laciness of the Danish style. Lastly, the performance of the "Raymonda" Divertissements failed to do justice to the riches of the music and choreography. It must be said, though, that Alexander Godunov looks not so gangly and less of a stylistic misfit in this context than in most others, and that the performance had one splendid thing going for it -- the radiant majesty and sweep of ballerina Martine van Hamel.