There is a moment in the first act of Ballet West's "Abdallah," as lights and music darken and terrified people fleeing from the Turkish Guard run onto the stage, when it really does seem as if a 19th-century ballet has been brought back to life. It's not an orderly crowd, dancing on in neat, nimble rows, but people of all ages and sizes pouring on in uneven waves, dashing about distractedly, bumping into each other, behaving as real people would.
August Bournonville, choreographer of the original "Abdallah," often arranged scenes like this to contrast with classical dancing. He liked to vary textures in his ballets, balancing mime and dance, crowd scenes and intimate ones. For the most part, Ballet West's staging, which received its second performance last night at the Kennedy Center Opera House, preserves these contrasts, especially in the first two acts. The company has entered into the spirit of things, never condescending to the old-fashioned sweetness of the ballet, seldom looking embarrassed by its sentiment.
Lisa LaManna made her Washington debut as Irma, a role that demands little of an actress and much of a dancer. LaManna is an exceptional Bournonville dancer, with a jump as light and high as flight and feet that chatter playfully through the intricate steps. Her dancing is large in scale and as soft as foam. Irma has little to do in "Abdallah" except appear winsome and virtuous at all times, and this LaManna succeeded in doing so, although her portrayal was a bit colorless.
In contrast, the title role, danced last night by William Pizzuto, is mostly mime (and was probably originally more so). It would be difficult for a contemporary dancer to present Abdallah as a positive character, but Pizzuto limited his characterization to a too-broad smile. His dancing, although he had some fine moments in the last act, was often forced and off balance.
Neither principal made as much of the mime as could be made, and this is a fault of the whole production. Some parts of the plot are lost (when does Irma tell Ismail that she still loves Abdallah, for example?), some passages are garbled, done so hastily that the mime is hard to "read." Bene Arnold's greedy Fatme' is marvelously shameless, Matthew Degnan makes Hassan a lovable bumpkin, and Thomas Morris' Capidgi Bashi, the man who sets all those people in flight, is grandly ferocious, but these are exceptions.