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DANCE REVIEW : Bolshoi Ballet’s Andris Liepa at UC Irvine

Times Staff Writer

The anticipation was a killer. All evening long, one waited for Bolshoi principal dancer Andris Liepa to make his first American appearance in Fokine’s “Le Spectre de la Rose” at the Fine Arts Theatre, UC Irvine, on Wednesday.

In a kind of glasnost-in-excelsis, the 26-year-old danseur has been imbibing artistic revitalization through stints with major New York companies, guesting with City Ballet earlier this year and recently signing a one-year contract with American Ballet Theatre. Now, before ABT’s tour of the Southland, he had landed, improbably, perhaps generously, at UCI.

But before the main event came the filler: the UC Irvine Dance Ensemble essaying works by Perrot-Dolin, Tudor, Edward Villella and UC Irvine dance department chair James Penrod. Liepa, too, squandered his first opportunity with a trivial five-minute, bare-chested solo, Medkov’s “Sunlight,” set to James Last’s New Age-style score.

It would not be quite accurate to say that Liepa triumphed in Fokine’s “Specter,” that he achieved memorable poetry. But he did dance with spectacular elevation and sustained energy, tracing a series of light, bounding leaps that ended in explosive bursts.

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He also looked less mannered and self-absorbed than when he danced with the Bolshoi in Los Angeles last summer and was a considerate partner to Kaylee Orrell, a UC Irvine student who, understandably, made a conscientious, cautious Young Girl.

Yet it was not enough.

His turns could be unreliable; he indulged in slinky torso moves; he whipped himself round only to dead-end in the languid arm poses.

He also added a few embellishments but appeared to have simplified some of the familiar bravura challenges, cutting down, for instance, on leg beats, and relying upon less entangling port de bras.

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Indeed, the UC Irvine dance department had taken the unusual step of dissociating itself to some extent from Liepa in a program note asserting that he was dancing his own version of the “Variation of the Specter,” as distinguished from the rest of the production, derived from a version mounted at UC Irvine in 1986 by Isabelle Fokine, granddaughter of the esteemed choreographer.

Glasnost but no rapprochement?

In Medkov’s facile “Sunlight” solo, Liepa slunk, twisted, stretched and flew through the air. He ran in circles, arched supplely backward, rolled into a yoga-like shoulder stand and later rolled across the floor. He made forceful, emblematic offering gestures, then ended in curled-up, sleepy innocence. He was lithe and electric. The piece was tawdry and silly.

For its part, the UC Irvine Dance Ensemble looked best in Tudor’s “Sunflowers” and in the symmetry-obsessed, hand-me-down Balanchine in Penrod’s “Varsavia Variations.” But the four women in Anton Dolin’s reconstruction of “Pas de Quatre” could only approximate the requisite styles, despite Coast Ballet’s associate director and former ABT corps member Melissa Allen as Grahn.

Tudor’s “Little Improvisations” (music by Schumann) and two modest, skillful pas de deux by Edward Villella (music by Shostakovich) completed the program.

The dancers were accompanied by taped music, which was subjected to the added indignity of a primitive sound system. The university ought to kick in some cash to buy something better.


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