Nothing should be harder to revive than a work originally touted as "now" or "with it." When "now" becomes "then," mannerisms which once seemed natural can look horribly dated, boring or even funny.
Somehow, American Ballet Theatre's new production of Jerome Robbins' "N.Y. Export; Op. Jazz," a kids-and-sneakers ballet created in 1958, avoids this fate. Despite the snapping fingers, ponytails and sloganless sweatshirts, the ballet, which received its company premiere last night at the Kennedy Center Opera House, had a raw, pulsing energy that made it look new.
"N.Y. Export" owes more to Broadway than ballet. The dancers look as though they might burst into song at any moment. The jazz movements make the work a memorial to the callous, angry innocence of teen-agers in the '50s; Robbins' talents as a classicist make it stand up to revival. In a way, "N.Y. Export" is a sequel to his earlier "Interplay," which has long been in ABT's repertory. "N.Y. Export" is not one of Robbins' greatest works, but it's fun, and provides performance opportunities for several of the company's younger dancers.
The company caught the spirit of the work, dancing both fiercely and coolly. Elaine Kudo, as the tease who gets pitched off a tenement roof by a gang of boys, danced with a knowing, kittenish charm. Susan Jaffe and company bobby-soxer Robert La Fosse were smooth as the alienated couple who dance the "Passage for Two." Except for some problems with partnering, the ensemble dancing was excellent.
It's doubtful that Lynne Taylor-Corbett's "Great Galloping Gottschalk" still will be in repertory 25 years hence. The ballet seems, at times, to be more a homage to Twyla Tharp than Gottschalk, but there's no doubt that the company dances it well. Gregory Osborne's season debut in the pas de deux (with Jaffe) was superb; he made the role seem classical rather than soft shoe. Ronald Perry and Gil Boggs performed the dance competition with zest and good comic timing.
The best male dancing of the evening was Peter Fonseca's performance in the pas de deux from August Bournonville's "Flower Festival in Genzano." Fonseca caught the light, buoyant style of the work perfectly. His dancing was gentle rather than forced, his beats sharp and clean, his jumps soaring. His partner, Cheryl Yeager, danced stylishly as well, but had unexpected difficulties in her solo.
In a repeat performance of George Balanchine's "Symphonie Concertante," the entire cast looked more relaxed and the ballet seemed less stiff than it had on first viewing. Martine Van Hamel duplicated her gracious, lyrical performance of Wednesday night; Cynthia Gregory bettered hers, dancing crisply and expansively, as though the ballet were a private pleasure. Patrick Bissell partnered both of them with well-mannered elegance.