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Nadia and Solomon Tencer did it again. A sold out performance of their 31st gala of artists from around the world brought together, for 3 brief hours, stars and audience to revel and kick up their heels in a whoop-di-do of pleasure and real artistry under the intriguing appellation "Hearts On Fire" which hinted of love, lust, passion, ardor, sexual tension and sizzle.

And we got it all.

For sizzle and sexual tension, there was the sultry Argentinian exhibition of "Tango Metropolis" dancers Pilar Alvarez and Claudio Hoffman. They danced once in each act, first "Ablivion" and in Act II "Libertango", both to the music of Astor Piazzola. These two technically superb dancers mounted the art of the tango on a new pedestal, moving as one body around the stage -- one undulating, ever-mobile, smoothly changing, mesmerizing body -- never losing the rhythm of the steps or the ballroom requirements of the tango, but elevating them to a classical level. Bravo/Brava! They brought down the house in both acts.

Sizzle, again, was brought to us in the forms of Desmond Richardson and Sandra Brown of Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Sizzle and tension, spidery plasticity, opening-closing, folding, expanding, jumping, falling, slowly fanning out, unravelling, pulsing, stretching, smooth as silk, unbroken movement.

Sandra Brown (SAB --> Baryshnikov's ABT --> Lar Lubovitch --> theatre, TV, movies ++ --> Complexions since 1998) is 3 months pregnant, and, seeing her ever-so-slightly thickening middle (bare in the costume) harboring the new life inside her added a palpable living energy to the piece. While remaining a mystery to the audience, this element gave the performance a real, nurturing, maternal "heart on fire", leaving them poignantly moved without even realizing why. Their appreciation of both dancers and the piece they performed -- "Ave", choreographed by Dwight Rhoden to music by Caccini -- was vociferous.

Eleonora Abbagnato and Gaël Lambiotte, she of Paris Opera Ballet and he of Dutch National Ballet gave us simple, unadorned love. They danced a pas de deux in each act, first "Nuages" by Jyri Kylian to Debussy, second "The Man I Love" (Gershwin) from Balanchine's "Who Cares". Those who saw Abbagnato in New York February 14th and were left unsatisfied by the choice of choreography, would have enjoyed her performances in Toronto so much more.

Wearing bright red, befitting of the evening's theme, instead of the Karinska-pink for "The Man I Love" [sidebar: I would have loved to have seen Patricia McBride in the "perfectly simple strapless black velvet" (Toni Bentley, Costumes by Karinska) she wore while guest performing the pas de deux somewhere outside of New York in the 1960's.] -- Abbagnato and Lambiotte carried off the choreography skillfully, with technical near-perfection, but without the Balanchinian sense of abandonment-outside-the-technique. Hands were too held, body movements not off-center enough (and we know Abbagnato can do off-center after seeing her "Kasimir's Colours" in New York's gala), and without real sensuality or anticipatory sexual tension. Maybe a hint of flirtation was there, but mostly it was a comfortable, easy love displayed by characters who, most of all, loved to dance. Not the stuff of which this choreography is made, especially given the underlying circumstance of its creation, the departure of Suzanne Farrell from NYCB.

Still, it's always wonderful to see anything from "Who Cares", just for the music and choreography and the pretty positions it demands. If you wanted a Balanchine-fix, however, you didn't get it. To be fair, if one is not trained in the style, then it is the rare dancer who can adapt it on top of their own training, no matter how well-honed their technique. I think you have to "live" Balanchine -- for a few years at least -- to get it into your body and senses.

More to come.

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I was at the gala as well. As always, it was a superb and well organized. The program had a nice variety of classical and more contemporary ballets, as well as those stunning tango dancers!

Thank you for posting, Marga. I totally agree with your comments, and I was not aware that Sanda Brown was pregnant!

For me, one of the highlights of the evening was Daria Pavlenko in the black swan pas de deux. She commands an audience like no one I have ever seen before, and her technique is very strong and confident. I thought she was a little tall for Ivan Putrov. It's not just her height, but she also dances "big". They were both beautiful in Giselle.

I wish Lacarra and Pierre danced the Carmen pdd, as the program said. I would love to see them in it. They danced Light Rain a few years ago, so I had already seen it. It is an ideal showcase for Lacarra's extreme flexibility, but little else. La Prisoniere was nicely done though.

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