Even after the house lights went up the bravos and flower-tossing continued at Wolf Trap last night, as Washingtonians welcomed Amanda McKerrow and Simon Dow in their first public appearance since their triumph in Russia. Last month 17-year-old McKerrow became the first American to take a gold medal at Moscow's prestigious International Ballet Competition, and Dow won a partnering award; both were representing this city's own Washington Ballet.
The home town celebrities were added after their victory to the program of last night's "Dance Spectacular," which featured a foursome of stars from the New York City Ballet -- Merrill Ashley, Heather Watts, Ib Andersen and Sean Lavery (who replaced the injured Peter Martins) -- as well as American Ballet Theatre virtuoso Fernando Bujones and Nancy Raffa, who has reportedly just joined ABT; and Mari Tere Del Real and Miguel Campaneria, of the Ballets de San Juan and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, respectively.
It was quite a lineup. Besides McKerrow, the dancers included three other competition medalists -- Bujones (Varna, '74), Raffa (Lausanne, '80) and Campaneria (Varna, '70). The established principals from NYC Ballet and ABT were complemented by three rising ballerinas of extreme youth -- Raffa is 16; McKerrow 17; and Del Real 18.
The program was a selection of duets, a reasonably tasteful assortment of substantial choreographic gems by Balanchine, Robbins, Fokine and Bournonville, balanced off against neo-romantic idylls and pyrotechnical warhorses.
McKerrow wisely opted for poetic subtlety instead of bravura display. One has to remember that before Moscow she'd had only two years on stage in relatively parochial contexts for the most part -- even in Washington hers was a name known only to aficionados. Those who saw her grow in the Washington Ballet, however, discerned the very same qualities lauded by the Moscow judges -- an innate purity of line, stylistic refinement, lyrical delicacy. These are also the attributes spotlighted by the excerpts from Fokine's "Les Sylphides" she chose to dance with Dow last night. In the soft roundedness of her arms, her lightness of tread and ethereal phrasing, she was quite the picture of romantic wispiness Fokine sought to evoke.
At the same time, McKerrow's dancing is like a beautiful but unfinished sonnet -- what's there to be seen now is lovely in its tenderness and total freedom from mannerism, but the promise of the missing lines is even greater. Unlike many other very gifted young dancers, McKerrow has no present sign of future limitation -- she needs strength, brilliance and dramatic definition, along with many other things, but she already possesses what can't be manufactured in the studio -- the potential of becoming a true classical ballerina.
Dow was indeed a gracious and considerate partner, but clearly his gifts are not of the same dimension as McKerrow's; it cannot have been easy for him to share a stage with Bujones, Andersen and Lavery. Still, this occasion was not a competition, and nothing disturbed the prevailing feeling of joy in dancing. In a way, Del Real and Campaneria, a comely pair of dancers of winning confidence and impressive facility, faced the biggest challenge in having to cope with the least gratifying choreography -- the empty flash of "Grand Pas Classique" and a weakly wrought "Idilio" by Ramon Molina that tried awkwardly to combine Latin music and academic steps.
The tiny, sparkling Raffa seems exactly opposite in type to McKerrow -- extroverted, flamboyant, bursting with sinewy energy. She's also technically a lot more advanced in the "Don Quixote" pas de deux with Bujones, she displayed superb balance, whiplash turns, electric footwork.
The others on the program were known quantities; there weren't any surprises but there was plenty of phenomenal dancing and distinguished artistry. The highlights would have to include Watts' and Andersen's luminous allure in excerpts from "Apollo"; Ashley's and Lavery's stunning account of the comically dashing pas de deux from "Stars and Stripes"; and Bujones' electrifying daredeviltry in the "Don Quixote" duet.