Times Dance Writer

Ashley Wheater is best known as the broad-shouldered, big-chested leading male in the Joffrey Ballet's "Round of Angels." However, his massive physique proved a drawback in a new angelic challenge: the Christ-like central role of James Kudelka's "Passage," Thursday in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Wheater is a commanding dancer, but his body is simply not built for flight and his weighty extensions, heavy landings from leaps and fleshy, earthbound presence de-emphasized the character's otherworldly purity (accentuated by white body-makeup) and made him seem all too palpably human.

Originally titled "Angel," the ballet might well have been called "Lifeguard" in this second local performance. To be sure, Wheater executed much of Kudelka's supple, expressive arm movements superbly and found a deep rapport with the role in the moving collapse-and-pieta sequence.

But his stop-and-go transitions between solo and partnering, and, in particular, his labored dancing in the pas de deux with Charlene Gehm suggested that Wheater is far from having all the ballet's demands on his technique and stamina under control.

Familiar Joffrey Ballet repertory completed the program.

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