Times Dance Writer

New casting lineups for the American Ballet Theatre "Nutcracker," Saturday afternoon and evening in Shrine Auditorium, illuminated technical and expressive facets of the major roles that remained unseen Friday.

At the matinee, for instance, Cynthia Harvey danced Clara with her familiar polished technique--but, for once, sustained a remarkably persuasive characterization, too. Her Clara was warm, kittenish and ravishingly vulnerable.

Harvey's little solo with the Nutcracker doll, midway through the first act, had a deep, private ardor that helped strengthen the whole theme of the ballet--even if her rapturous duets later occasionally looked slightly pro forma in their expressivity.

Harvey also took over, on short notice, a passage that Alina Hernandez should have danced. According to company representatives, Hernandez's leg cramped at the end of the Spanish dance and Harvey (who knew the role from previous seasons) volunteered to dance Hernandez's steps in the recapitulation-finale, opposite David Cuevas, with no rehearsal. Like nearly everything in her performance, this demonstration of grace under pressure went beautifully.

In the title role, Ross Stretton partnered suavely, danced the solos cleanly (and carefully, whenever Baryshnikovian virtuosity was called for)--never less than capable, tasteful and a bit colorless.

In his debut as Drosselmeyer, Michael Owen recycled some of the fussy mannerisms (hand tosses, for instance) that had served him as Clara's father in the opening-night cast and seemed nothing other than a parlor smoothie of questionable (rather than mysterious) character. Jack Everly conducted.

In the evening, Marianna Tcherkassky (the original Clara of this version) offered a Mannerist performance: bold and almost driven in her dancing, wild and almost mindlessly manic in her acting. Her energy and technical skill generated considerable excitement--but sometimes her portrayal of Clara came alarmingly close to being a case study of autism.

As her dream prince, Johan Renvall had problems with the knotty opening of his second-act solo, but otherwise capitalized on exceptional technique--his effortless beats, jumps and, especially, turns quite outclassed his predecessors in the role this season. Alexander Minz again appeared as Drosselmeyer, and the orchestra played with a new heat and vigor under Alan Barker.

Among subsidiary assignments, Christine Spizzo (Saturday evening) defined the mock-ballerina rhetoric of the doll solo especially sharply, Cheryl Yeager (also in the evening) made something gracious and warmhearted out of the inane Shepherd interlude and the Bonnie Moore/John Gardner Chinese dance (at the matinee) set a high standard of speed and lightness.

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