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American Ballet Theater - "Etudes" by Harald Lander and "Rabbit and Rogue" by Twyla Tharp

by Lori Ortiz
June 3, 2008
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
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American Ballet Theatre
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While Twyla Tharp's been busy on Broadway, emissaries have been staging revivals of her 70s works around the nation. Tharp, a household name, has set over a dozen dances on American Ballet Theatre. After an absence of eight years, her world premiere "Rabbit and Rogue" was much anticipated. It opened its week-long run June 3rd, 2008, as part of ABT's spring, Met season.

"Rabbit and Rogue" is not lightweight. Tharp's usual humor and playfulness is channeled into leading character-like roles for Ethan Stiefel and Herman Cornejo. After a musical overture, in a first section called "Frolic," a rogueish Stiefel roughhouses Cornejo who jumps like a rabbit. The two clash in slapstick antics and tours gone intentionally awry. They clown, wrestle, and tumble; and pirouette, wearing black unitards with a silver stripe wrapped around the length. Plank-like, bending back into Stiefel's outstretched arms, Gillian Murphy enters for the second of five sections, "Rag," to jazzy music in Danny Elfman's inspired score. Murphy wears a tiara and a glittery black leotard that's cut like a swimsuit. Costume designer Norma Kamali riffs on this with glittery black bikinis for the rest of the women. They flex and point in toe shoes of the same reflective silver.

Along with Tharp's typical wiggly moves, signature random-looking patterns, and twisty partnering, jazzy social and ballroom dancing motifs characterize the "Rag" and "Lyric" sections, where Murphy and David Hallberg duet in a Dancing-with-the-Stars scene. Paloma Herrera makes the slower, more classical, "Gamelan" pas de deux look inevitable in lifts and turns supported by Gennadi Saveliev. This is to repetitive bells in the music. She's clad in a shortish white, silky Grecian dress while Saveliev wears flashy silver tights and a white top.

The "Finale" is an exhilarating circus of tours. Cornejo amazes with his outlandish parallel windmilling arms, air drumming, and a super-revved chain of turns. The sense of many interrelated things happening at once, and at a frenetic pace, updates "Rabbit and Rogue." The Kamali-costumed glitterati, the ballroom dances, and the cool Grecian couple, give it a slick elegance; not to mention the leading men's xtreme virtuosity. The opening night crowd gave it a standing ovation. History may also prove that nonpareil Tharp has not lost her touch.

A revival of Harald Lander's "Etudes" was first on the program. Sascha Radetsky and Jared Matthews partnered Xiomara Reyes, who brought warmth and welcome to this 50 minute glorification of ballet. The dancers re-enact classroom steps: at the barre, floor adagios, pirouettes, entrechats, and jetes. A corps of thirty-eight are spectacular in black or white classical, taffeta tutus; their white tights are highlighted in Nananne Porcher's contrasty lighting.

Matthews, filling in for Angel Corella, and Radetsky didn't measure up to the Kirov "Etudes" danseurs seen recently at City Center, but in every other way this production was more enjoyable. The music, Knudaage Riisager's arrangement of Carl Czerny music, conducted by David LaMarche, and scenery and costumes by Rolf Gerard, gave the polish in this performance special sparkle.
Herman Cornejo, Craig Salstein and Ethan Stiefel in Twyla Tharp's 'Rabbit and Rogue'

Herman Cornejo, Craig Salstein and Ethan Stiefel in Twyla Tharp's "Rabbit and Rogue"

Photo © & courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor


Twyla Tharp's 'Rabbit and Rogue'

Twyla Tharp's "Rabbit and Rogue"

Photo © & courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

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