American Ballet Theatre Mixed Repertory Program at The Kennedy Center by Carolyn Kelemen

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ABT springs into dance

Perhaps it was the blossoming cherry blossoms nearby. Or the promise of full spring which always brings a fresh look to art. Or that we’re so hungry for dance that takes us to that special place without worries. Whatever the reason, American Ballet Theatre  (‘ABT’) chased away all left over winter doldrums last evening at The Kennedy Center.

All the elements were there in ABT’s opening performance – the dancers scrambled, the dancers soared, the dancers sizzled and the dancers flowed as naturally as a stream tumbling downhill.

Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes in 'The Moor's Pavane.'  Photo by  Gene Schiavone.
Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes in ‘The Moor’s Pavane.’ Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

The level of accomplishment displayed by the large touring troupe (ABT was once based at The Kennedy Center) should be heartening to area balletomanes. Few ballet companies equal ABT for its extraordinary works, some old, others brand new, and a bunch of classics that always bring down the house. The mixed program (which repeats tonight) opens with George Balanchine’s glorious Symphony in C, set to Bizet’s vibrant score – you want to tap your feet to it. Every dancer in this ballet looks fabulous, from the corps to the soloists (especially Paloma Herrera, the Argentine beauty who still knows how to suck in an audience).

The complexity of the dances for the corps de ballet may be the ballet’s most exceptional feature. Kudos to Howard County native Katherine Williams for her standout part in the Second Movement of the ballet where she was partnered by Daniel Mantei, an up-and-coming dancer who reminds us another ABT wunderkind Ethan Steifel, now directing dance in New Zealand.

Serious balletomanes might have spotted Katherine (“Katie”) Williams’ promise years ago when she first stepped on stage as a tiny ballerina in Columbia. And they surely made note of it when the teen soloist performed the lead part of The Sugar Plum Fairy in the Ballet Royale production of The Nutcracker, directed by Donna Pidel.

Whatever that unique quality is that makes one performer stand out above the others, this now tall, lithe ballerina has made audiences sit back and pay attention throughout her local dance career. One can’t help wonder how long a dancer can pose on pointe with one leg held high above her head as she prepares to dance a difficult variation in last night’s ballet. Her arms gracefully lifted above her head, she takes off in a grand jete, leaving us breathless as she seemingly sits in the air. Then landing as softly and quietly as a pin dropping from the hands of a skilled seamstress.

The virtuosity of male dancing at American Ballet Theatre right now is extraordinary, thanks to international stars like Marcelo Gomes and Herman Cornejo (you can see them soar in Le Corsaire and in the repeated repertory show tonight.) LGomes joined Cory Stearns, Stella Abrera, and Washington’s own sweetheart ballerina, Julie Kent in The Moor’s Pavane (Variations on a Theme of Othello), a haunting piece, quietly placed between the two show pieces, Symphony and C and the closing Symphony #9

What can one say about four outstanding dancers performing a work by the legendary Jose Limon to the story by Shakespeare? As for the local premiere by Alexei Ratmansky, the first installment of his coming Shostakovich symphony trilogy, it’s a pure dance work that folds and unfolds in kaleidoscopic wonder. Reminiscent of Jerome Robbins’ Glass Pieces-meets-Russian folk dances, here’s the best example of “musical visualization” seen since the late Choo San Goh choreographed for the Washington Ballet. Can’t wait to see it again.

Veronika Part and Roberto Bolle in 'Symphony #9' Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center..
Veronika Part and Roberto Bolle in ‘Symphony #9’ Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Running Time: Two hours, with two 20-minute intermissions

American Ballet Theater performs a repertory program tonight at 7:30 p.m. at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – 2700 F Street, NW in Washington, DC. ABT performs Le Corsaire Thursday through Sunday (matinee and evening), April 11-14, 2013. For tickets, call (800) 444-1324 or (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.