Irina Dvorovenko, the Kiev-born ballerina who joined the American Ballet Theatre in 1996, takes top honors as Russian ballerina Vera Baronova. She dances well, naturally enough, but also has a charming way with comedy (albeit with a thick accent). Shonn Wiley (My Vaudeville Man) undertakes the Ray Bolger role as the hoofer-turned-college professor who unaccountably finds himself on his toes in the two ballets. Wiley excels in the hoofing component, although on opening night—after that brief rehearsal period—he did not yet demonstrate the level of musical comedy charm that the role calls for.
That killer climax was originally choreographed by George Balanchine and is staged here by Susan Pilarre, the ballet mistress of the ’83 revival. Before that climax, though, there’s a story to get through — a pretty silly one concocted by Rodgers and Hart and George Abbott.
As good as those ballets are, the highlight is when the musical theater dancers and the muscular ballet dancers face off in the title tune. As each group ratchets up the tricks - the tapping hoofers smack boards for percussive effect, while the ballerinas do their steps while being held upside down - one of the most thrilling dance numbers of the season is unveiled.