Yesterday afternoon's program by American Ballet Theatre at the Kennedy Center Opera House was highlighted by a trio of exceptionally vibrant, winning performances.
In its first presentation this season, "Push Comes to Shove," Twyla Tharp's wittily embroidered commentary on classical conventions that's become so much of an audience favorite, had the benefit of four of its original leads -- Mikhail Baryshnikov, Marianna Tcherkassky, Martine van Hamel and Kristine Elliott. Though Baryshnikov's dancing was surprisingly soft-pedaled and slurred, his vaudevillian clowning and the comical interplay between himself, the other principals and the corps de ballet was nothing short of delicious. The deliberate mistimings, the deadpanning, the hat-passing and other japes were played out to effervescent effect.
No less pleasurable was Ashton's "Les Patineurs" ("The Skaters"), in a minty fresh performance that restored the charm, humor and stylistic elegance of this sometimes beclouded gem. Warren Conover outdid himself for dash and virtuosity in the shirlwind pyrotechnics of the Boy in Green. Splendid too were Cynthia Harvey and Robert La Fosse as the svelte Lovers, along with Kristine Elliott, Christine Spizzo and the ensemble of "skating" couples.
The pas de trois from August Bournonville's "The Guards of Amager" also received a particularly keep accounting from its new (to Washington) cast -- Lisa de Ribere, Cheryl Yeager and Peter Fonseca. Yeager, whose lightness and lovely line have been making her ever more conspicuous, and Fonseca, never seen to better advantage than in this trio, were especially well-served by Bournonville's ornamental filigree, but all three were excellent.
The one disappointment was "Afternoon of a Faun," the expressive subtleties of which continue to elude its ABT interpreters. As the Faun, George de la Pena seemed both too overtly lustful and too far from innocence. Michaela Hughes had the exquisite look but little of the mystery that should define the Nymph.