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DANCE REVIEW : STARPOWER ILLUMINATES BALLET GALA

Times Dance Writer

Although the Joffrey Ballet assiduously cultivates a no-star (or all-star) casting policy, such stellar guests as Anthony Dowell, Marcia Haydee and Richard Cragun have occasionally graced the company’s New York seasons. For the Joffrey’s 30th anniversary gala Tuesday--the opening night of its three-week engagement at Lincoln Center--the guest list was long and impressive.

Unfortunately, not everything worked out as planned. The reported illness of Bolshoi ballerina Nadezhda Pavlova prevented her appearance with Aleksei Fadeyechev (son of the great Bolshoi danseur noble Nicolai Fadeyechev) in two classical pas de deux. The contributions by singer Barbara Cook and composer/arranger Wally Harper to a piece d’occasion by company associate director Gerald Arpino proved distinctly minor. Even Fernando Bujones (dancing familiar show pieces opposite Yoko Ichino) rose to the occasion only fitfully.

These disappointments left the Joffrey dancers responsible for justifying all the hoopla--not to mention the ticket prices that rose to a $1,000 top (including dinner).

Not to worry. In three works to be seen during the company’s upcoming engagement at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, they demonstrated technical flair, stylistic versatility and, yes, even star power well worth celebrating.

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If Arpino’s new “Birthday Variations” (to Verdi ballet divertissements) looked decidedly familiar--with women rushing across the stage at the beginning in dappled light exactly like his “Suite Saint-Saens"--Dawn Caccamo, Glenn Edgerton and their four colleagues danced the intricate neo-Romantic choreography with maximum lilt and polish.

The New York audience gasped, oohed and applauded the raunchy gymnastics of Arpino’s “Light Rain” (music by Douglas Adams and Russ Gauthier) just like their presumably less sophisticated Los Angeles counterparts, and gave the awesomely pliant Leslie Carothers (partnered by Philip Jerry) a throaty chorus of “brava” at the curtain calls.

And in James Kudelka’s metaphysical passion play “Passage” (music by Thomas Tallis), David Palmer danced the grueling central role with extraordinary intensity and stamina.

Dedicated to Erik Bruhn, who had died of lung cancer earlier in the day, the gala hit bottom with Arpino’s new “Anniversary Pas de Deux,” in which Cook warbled Victor Herbert’s “Kiss Me Again” (accompanied by Harper) into a microphone, sounding out of her vocal depth throughout and dangerously frayed in the climactic ascents. Meanwhile, in flamboyant tango-style routines unsuited to the sweetness and modesty of the music, five men took turns partnering a terminally glamorous Carothers through splashy lifts, stratospheric extensions and rubbery backbends.

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Cook seemed to be wearing every bugle bead, sequin and rhinestone on the Eastern seaboard, Carothers was at times nearly invisible in a black gown, long black gloves and a black feather fan large enough to strip behind (though she didn’t). There were separate credits for “Head Dresses” and “Hair Design"--and ultimately the decorative elements came to seem far more significant than what these people were dancing or why.

As for Bujones, he has few opportunities to dance in New York during this period of estrangement from American Ballet Theatre--so each performance matters, perhaps too much.

He certainly has never looked as edgy in the “Don Quixote” pas de deux--dancing as if inclined to check off step sequences one by one or as if nervously monitoring his performance.

Yes, his dancing still has phenomenal elevation, nonchalant one-armed lifts, perfectly placed turns and flawless terminations, but only in the pas de deux from Frederick Ashton’s “La Fille mal Gardee” did he relax with the technique and dance with the generosity and sense of pleasure that have always marked his best performances.

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Formerly with the Joffrey and then Ballet Theatre, Ichino is now a principal at National Ballet of Canada and her style assimilates influences from her background with remarkable clarity.

Except perhaps in some clenched sustained balances, she danced Tuesday with utter simplicity and ease, her technique (especially in turns) highly developed but never showy, her articulation of steps precise yet so soft and light she scarcely seemed to bear her own weight. Obviously two excerpts on a program of this sort could not reveal anything about her dramatic powers, if any, but they confirmed her evolution as a ballerina of great taste, refinement and musicality.

Alan Lewis and Jonathan McPhee shared the evening’s minimal conducting duties, with the orchestra sounding pinched and ragged in the “Don Quixote” excerpt, but otherwise fine. Taped music accompanied “Light Rain” and “Passage” (though the company has announced plans to dance the latter with the Orange County Master Chorale in October).

But there are no plans for a Joffrey gala in Southern California. Reportedly, the company was forbidden to stage a similar fund-raising performance by Los Angeles Music Center officials because it would conflict with their own activities in the same period. A pity, because it makes the Joffrey’s 30th a New York-only event and bicoastalism alone should demand absolute parity in celebrations of company milestones and displays of community pride.

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