American Ballet Theatre offered a relentlessly lightweight mixed bill Saturday afternoon in Shrine Auditorium--recast repeats of George Balanchine's breezy "Donizetti Variations" and David Gordon's witty "Field, Chair and Mountain," along with the first look this season at two familiar, confectionary showpieces: Michael Vernon's "In a Country Garden" and Lynn Taylor Corbett's "Great Galloping Gottschalk." A kiddie matinee.
Indeed, the whimsical six-part suite "Great Galloping Gottschalk" seemed in this context a kind of dance equivalent to children's theater--every effect underlined.
Its pleasures came from the freshness of the performances--especially Deirdre Carberry darting happily through the corps in Section One and Johan Renvall nonchalantly winning the dance competition in Section Five by sitting down on his working leg while spinning and then rising up again.
Robert La Fosse danced splendidly in the lyrical pas de deux, as usual lost in a cloud and scarcely looking at his partner. Too bad, for opposite him Susan Jaffe was quite something to see: fleet, effortless, radiant and textbook-perfect technically. Paul Connelly conducted.
Interplay between the sparkling Marianna Tcherkassky and the playful Danilo Radojevic warmed and softened "In a Country Garden," in which Romantic-era music (by Herold, conducted by Alan Barker) supported Soviet-style exhibitionism. On Saturday the feats made their impact, but the dancers avoided any taint of hard-sell vulgarity, the neatest trick of all.
In "Donizetti Variations," Cheryl Yeager lacked the extraordinary technical plush of her Tuesday counterpart (Cynthia Harvey), but danced more brightly, closer to the temperature of the music (conducted by Jack Everly). Opposite her, Peter Fonseca looked airier, easier, more relaxed with the technical challenges than his rather grim predecessor (Radojevic).
"Field, Chair and Mountain," became a new ballet with its new leads. On Tuesday, a majestic Martine van Hamel had glided serenely through it partnered by a remote, efficient Clark Tippet. Saturday afternoon, however, Renvall and Elaine Kudo played off each other and every quirk of the choreography with great delight--like Astaire and Rogers in one of their imperishable tap duets. An inspired performance. Barker conducted.