Ghosts of dancers past hung over the Kennedy Center Opera House stage last night as three legendary ballets received performances by American Ballet Theatre. Opening the third and final week of ABT's Washinton season were "Dim Lustre," "Symphonie Concertante" and "Push Comes to Shove," ballets that are all strongly attached to the reputations of the dancers who created their leading roles.
Choreographed in 1943 for Nora Kaye and Hugh Laing, Antony Tudor's "Dim Lustre" received its Washington premiere in revival. Hailed at its creation, the work comes here preceded by a reputation enshrined in ballet histories as a lost masterpiece, a Proustian meditation on memories as forces stronger than present passion.
As currently revived, however, the work shows its age. It is dated by its cinematic flashback techniques, its complex system of doubles who represent other aspects of its leads, and its use of characters who exist only in the imagination. What should have been evocative -- a kiss conjuring memories of lost love -- brought titters from last night's audience, and by the end of the ballet, there were chuckles at each change of the time frame.
The ballet seemed to pass in a rush, belying its theme of reverie, with dancers required to turn emotions on and off abruptly like spigots. It is clearly a fiendishly difficult work to do well, requiring precision in lighting cues and synchronization among the dancers. Led by Susan Jaffe as The Lady With Him and Kevin McKenzie as The Gentleman With Her, the cast mugged their emotional turbulence, though one hardly knows whether to blame this on faulty coaching or on the difficulties inherent in making this complex scenario clear.
George Balanchine's "Symphonie Concertante," another ballet from the '40s, which was originally choreographed for Maria Tallchief and Tanaquil Leclerq, remains a jewel of Cartesian order. Even in last night's lackluster performance, Balanchine's paean to symmetry and harmony filled the heart and mind.
In "Push Comes to Shove" Danilo Radojevic possibly had the most difficult task of all in competing with the far fresher memory of Mikhail Baryshnikov in the leading role. However, by the third movement, Radojevic had caught fire and made the ballet his own.