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ABT City Center - Opening Night Gala 10/23/07

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A terrific opening night at City Center!

Ballo della Regina lit up the stage with the whiz-bang wattage of Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg and the sensational soloist, Hee Seo. Murphy tore through this like it was child's play. Everything was crystalline clear even with the music speed pushed to the max. Hallberg was superb in his variations, making it clear that the City Center stage just is not big enough to contain his jumps. All of the soloists, including Maria Riccetto, Misty Copeland, and Jackie Reyes, were wonderful -- and I was pleasantly surprised to see such different dancers assembled as the soloist bunch for this piece. I am so happy that Jackie Reyes is being given these little opportunities. She is a very classical looking dancer, with modesty and grace in the upper body and speedy, reliable technique in the feet and legs. Add to that a dazzling smile. But I must say that I was completely blown away by Hee Seo. Her dancing is rich with nuance and color usually seen in much more mature dancers. The women in the corps were darn near perfect. Speedy without looking rushed. Tidy port de bras. Everyone was definitely on their toes tonight – pardon the pun. Did I mention Hee Seo?

The pas de deux from Clear marked the comeback (from injury) of Xiomara Reyes, partnered by Herman Cornejo. I doubt there's ever been a dancer happier to be back on stage than Xiomara tonight. She poured the equivalent of six months of soul and passion into this little pas. Herman's partnering was secure and Xiomara was not being particularly careful with him. I kept imagining Herman racing down the diagonal in a frenzy of uncontrolled brissees to his knees before Myrta.

Next came the 4th pas de deux from The Leaves Are Fading with Michele Wiles and Alexandre Hammoudi. Michele was extremely balanced and well-centered for every movement, particularly her turns. It was lovely to watch, but the end result was that it interfered with any sensation of flowing or falling, you know, like leaves. She was so on center that she needed no partner tonight, as much as Hammoudi tried to fill the role. He is tall and has a nice line, but he was clearly outmatched by Michele. Still, all in all, it was refreshing to see her in something atypical.

The Don Quixote pas with Jose Manuel Carreno and Paloma Herrera closed the first half of the program. Wow. I don't remember them having this hot, little, make-you-wonder-what-they-have-been-up-to chemistry. Just when I thought Paloma could not be any better in this, she slows down her double turn a la second and slowly, slowly stretches into a long arabesque penche. It went on forever. My only complaint is David LaMarch's conducting. Every time he conducts her in this piece he holds back the orchestra during the eschappe section making Paloma look like she's off the music on that first eschappe. He makes me crazy. Whether this is some kind of ongoing joke between him and Paloma, I don't know, but he wrecks a nice moment in her variation every time.

Fancy Free was the second half of the program with Gomes, Radetsky, Cornejo, Abrera and Kent – with Melissa Thomas as the final walk-through girl. A spirited performance from everyone, especially Cornejo who was the spunky little popeye who was always ready for a fight. They sure don't make dances like this anymore. It's the whole package – an ensemble of principal characters, great story, great dancing, great music, sets and costuming. Why has that seemingly fallen out of fashion with today's choreographers?

One performance down. Ten more to go. Not kidding.

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I thought it was more of a mixed bag. Ballo had a few ragged moments with corps and soloists well out of unison. This should improve in later performances. The principals and four soloists all looked constrained by the small stage. And Murphy gave 300% to every moment -- bam, bam, bam. She needs to let the choreography breathe. I expect she will, and then her role will bubble, as it's supposed to. Hallberg fared better, a chivalrous partner to Murphy, his long legs seeming not to realize that all that fast batterie is supposed to be hard. Hee Seo stood out among the well cast soloist quartet. A lovely moment during the curtain call when Murphy handed her bouquet (minus the single bloom she gave to her partner) to Merrill Ashley, who was applauded by the company.

The DonQ pas, slightly abridged, had a rough spot or two. The overhead lift to fishdive took three distinct moves instead of one. I don't mind seeing Herrera's exquisite legs and feet in second position sur les pointes. The conductor can take as long as he wishes to allow us to drink in that beautiful sight. Paloma's best feature is her lower half, and between the echappes and pas de chevals, you can't find a better vehicle to highlight it than the Don Q pdd. Suave and sexy Carreno may have had an off night, or maybe he's succumbing to age, but the excitement he has generated in the past was muted, and his shoulders were very tight.

The surprising surprise of the night was Fancy Free, as fresh as you can imagine. The one complaint was that Abrera lacked the aplomb to hold her own among her castmates: Cornejo, Radetsky, Gomes, and Kent. But it's been a long time since I've seen five people having so much fun together on stage.

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I'm with Carbro....

Ballo looked to me very ragged though I loved Hallberg, Seo and Copeland's dancing. Murphy had this frozen smile and very turned-in with bent-leg lines nearly the entire time, though Murphy was extremely strong (giving it her all).... Still it lacked a joy at brilliant risk taking that Ashley Bouder seems to capture much better for this role.

Thought Merrill Ashley, taking her bow, looked more radiantly beautiful than ever in her long, elegant dress and newly sun-kissed haircut. Merrill also looked so tall which reminded me that City Center's stage is indeed tiny.

Also thought DonQ pas was pretty dull until the final codas with Paloma's fouettes in high gear with many doubles thrown in, and Carreno's turns finally waking up to the huge challenge of the evening. Both looked as though they were taking it easy until the finale.

I totally agree with Carbro that it was one of the most spontaneous (it seemed) and charming moments when Paloma's solo tempi slowed down just in time for her to perfectly balance in echappe, second position, with her most exquisite legs and feet. A perfect balance, with perfectly stunning lines, for what seemed like an endless pause in the music....but Paloma looked as though she could have stayed sur les pointes all night if she wanted to..... and that was thrilling rather than unpleasant to see. It didn't seem as though Paloma was expecting it from the conductor, but if she had, she ought to have flashed a naughty smile back at him when the tempi returned to normal.

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Sorry. In my hurry to post, I neglected to note Alexandre Hammoudi, who partnered a somewhat subdued Michele Wiles with great care and elegance. Together they are a strikingly beautiful couple of contrasting types -- he dark and mysterious, she an all-American blonde -- and I hope we get to see this versatile and attractive young man build on this opportunity.

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