Despite the slew of "Swan Lake" performances, American Ballet Theatre is still managing to bring us an astonishing profusion of different ballets this time -- a total of 19, in fact. Hence, at the start of the company's third week at the Kennedy Center Opera House, there were still five ballets left to go -- five which, though not new to the repertory, haven't yet been seen this season.
Three of them were introduced at a clip last night, in a program of interesting contrasts. First up was the company's recently added production of "Les Rendezvous." This is early, and minor, Ashton, but it's Ashton through and through, which means that it repays endless watching. With its charmingly English setting by William Chapell and its lightly handled conceit of couples frolicking in a park, the ballet is an unbroken whirlwind of stips, is an unbroken whirlwind of steps, wrought into such ingenious combinations and patterns that it could serve as a manual of choregraphic art. Last night's performance wasn't technically impeccable (its a devilishly hard ballet), but Rebecca Wright, Peter Fonseca, Leslie Browne, Charles Maple and Ronald Perry caught its zest and manners beautifully.
These followed "Prodigal Son," a Balanchine masterpiece dating from 1929, and like "Rendezvous" a recent ABT acquisition. "Prodigal" is one of a kind -- a "story" ballet using distorted, expressionist imagery that Balanchine never again attempted. The perfect concordance of the astringent Prokofiev score, Georges Roualt's iconic decor, Boris Kochno's wonderfully lucid, spare scenario, and Balanchine's fierce, original movement gives it a power rare in ballet annals. Robert La Rosse, as last season, was mightily impressive as the violatile upstart, and Cynthia Gregory gave the performance one knew she had in her as the Siren -- all icy sexuality, fused with immaculate gestural control.
After the Ashton and Balanchine, Glen Tetley's "Voluntaries" looked perhaps more hollowly pretentious than it need have. For Tetley, though, the work is marked by relative restraint and formal clarity; it does have a certain anatomical and spatial logic of its own, as well as the advantage of a fine Poulenc score, sensitively utilized. It also benefited last night from some splendidly taut dancing by Marianna Tcherkassky, Gregory Osborne, Leslie Browne, Michael Owen, Richard Schafer and a sleek ensemble.
On Tuesday night, it wasn't the ballets but the castings that were new. "Les Sylphides" found Mikhail Baryshnikov as consort to Cynthia Harvey, Kristine Elliott and Cheryl Yeager, but it was an oddly muted, earthbound performance, even for Baryshnikov. Yeager's liquescent legato was the chief delight. George de la Pena and Chrisa Keramidas, newly paired in "Afternoon of a Faun," still failed to remove the production's sense of artifice. Marianna Tcherkassky and Johan Renvall, however, were shown off to scintillating advantage in the pas de deux from "La Fille Mal Gardee."