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DANCE REVIEW : Renvall, Van Hamel in ABT ‘Prodigal Son’

Times Dance Writer

Since 1985, when he last danced “Prodigal Son” locally, Johan Renvall has grown leaner and sharper-featured. His portrayal of the title role in George Balanchine’s 60-year-old classic has also developed a distinctive edge. No sweet, dumb kid victimized in the big city, this Prodigal has enough arrogance and hedonism to makes him a full accomplice in his downfall.

Dancing the ballet on Wednesday for the first time opposite Martine van Hamel--long a memorably sphinxlike Siren--Renvall brought to the second program of the current American Ballet Theatre season in Shrine Auditorium faultless mastery of Balanchine’s contorted dance design. The spiral turns and stabbing jumps of the first scene, for example, were perfect in their force and control.

But Renvall was most impressive Wednesday in giving his remarkably unsentimental conception a sense of tragic stature--the depth of someone who has come to know himself and been ennobled by his suffering.

Van Hamel proved the perfect lure into the abyss: exotic, enigmatic, elusive, winding her cape around her body, and her body around Renvall’s, in a glittering embodiment of the ballet’s serpent imagery. Michael Owen again portrayed the Father and Jack Everly conducted.

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Last seen in Southern California during the December Ballet Theatre engagement in Orange County, Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room” is a formal, postmodern ensemble piece that develops its strong emotional overtones through neo-Expressionist stagecraft and the relentless dynamism of the dancing.

Out of blackness and clouds billowing smoke, teams of dancers surged into short, punchy maneuvers set to taped music by Philip Glass. One team could be identified by ballet technique, the other by a modern-dance vocabulary, and the playoff between the two kept getting hotter and faster and more engulfing until some fusion of form seemed inevitable--if the dancers survived.

Unfortunately, synthesis didn’t quite happen, though it was hard to notice when such dancers as Danilo Radojevic, Elaine Kudo, Kevin O’Day, Gil Bogs and Jaimie Bishton set new standards of power and stamina. However, the three “modern-dance” women (Kathleen Moore, Cynthia Anderson, Isabella Padovani) still looked cautious, a letdown compared to their counterparts in the production by Tharp’s own company.

Completing the program: “La Bayadere” again, this time with jittery, underrehearsed soloists (Shawn Black, Amy Rose, Lucette Katerndahl), but a Niyika (Marianna Tcherkassky) of great Romantic purity and a Solor (Radojevic) with both virtuosity and partnering prowess to burn. Emil De Cou conducted.

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