Stars of American Ballet offered semi-demi sumptuous dancing Sunday afternoon at the Eisemann Center, heavy on well-known pas de deux but thankfully offering two delightful surprises.
The program opened with Daniel Ulbricht and Shelby Elsbree in Balanchine’s exuberant Tarantella. Mr. Ulbricht captures the exuberance by slapping his tambourine with gusto, turning on a dime, smartly snapping legs together and spinning across stage.
Mr. Ulbricht put this show together, bringing mostly principal dancers from New York City Ballet, two dancers from Boston Ballet and one from San Francisco Ballet.
The first surprise came in Christopher Wheeldon’s excerpt from Mercurial Manoeuvers, performed with flawless control by Tiler Peck and an attentive partner in Robert Fairchild. Set to the music of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor, Op. 35, it involved tricky partnering, devilish fast lifts and releases, and then, in the adagio movement, long-held arabesques and wonderful pauses that gave the work a hushed beauty.
We don’t often see Balanchine’s Diamonds Pas de Deux with its diamond edge clarity, its formal grace and elegance. Exquisitely performed by Teresa Reichlen and Ask la Cour, Ms. Reichlen executed even a quarter turn on pointe as though she were a wind-up doll on display.
The second surprise came in Johan Kobborg’s Les Lutins (The Goblins). A high-spirited comic competition between three dancers, it would be impossible to perform this ballet without pianist (Susan Watlers) and violinist (Kurt Nikkanen) on stage. The violinist goads the dancers to go faster and faster, and they reply with a kick a foot away, or come close up and glare. The style (those loose arms and beating feet suggest Bourneville) is understandable as Mr. Kobborg is Danish and this work was first performed in Denmark.
As for Le Corsair Pas de Deux, Jeffrey Cirio (Boston Ballet) had the leaps and gestures, but not the power. This is the trial of a dance critic: once you’ve seen Carlos Acosta make that panther leap onto stage it’s hard not to long for that again. Ditto for Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. Megan Fairchild floats across stage in piqué turns, her skirt billowing behind her, with Andrew Veyette eager to join her. But memories of Julie Kent and her rapturous daring make me long to see that again.
The program closed on a jazzy note with Balanchine’s Who Cares. The first piece, “The Man I Love,” was the ultimate love story. Robert Fairchild stands far away from Ms. Peck on a diagonal plane and Ms. Peck leans backwards, one arm languidly lifted, the gesture saying everything that can be said about surrender. As for the rest, which included “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” “Embraceable You,” and “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” they zipped through at a speedy pace. What was missing was an air of recklessness.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.