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Passion and spectacle at ABT's spring gala show

The Associated Press, Tuesday, May 17, 2011, 1:58pm (PDT)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Like a winning baseball team, a topflight dance company needs a deep bench.

And nowhere is the depth of American Ballet Theatre's "bench" more apparent than at its annual spring gala, where it displays nearly all its world-class dancers in greatest hits snippets.

That's not a simple task for a company with so many marquee stars — not to mention three guest ballerinas this season. But ABT has always known how to put on a show.

And so, the company packed in as much razzle-dazzle as possible Monday evening at the Metropolitan Opera House, including not one but two highlights from "Swan Lake," the "Nutcracker" pas de deux and a special performance by a group of Latin dancers to celebrate the career of Jose Manuel Carreno.

Carreno, a Cuban, is retiring this season, and the company plans a major send-off in the summer. On Monday, previewing the love it will shower on this much-admired dancer, it invited dancers from Miami City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and Boston Ballet to perform "Majisimo," a piece created in 1965 for the National Ballet of Cuba that combines Hispanic dance with traditional ballet.

Also dancing was Carreno's compatriot at ABT, Xiomara Reyes, and she seemed energized by the experience, dancing with particular gusto and verve, especially in a series of turns so speedy they drew cheers from the audience.

In other highlights, guest artist Alina Cojocaru of the Royal Ballet was stunning in the Rose Adagio from "Sleeping Beauty," a passage that requires great balance and concentration, all while displaying the breezy joyfulness of budding womanhood. Not an easy task, but she didn't seem to break a sweat — her full-length "Beauty" is sure to be one of the season's hotter tickets.

Marcelo Gomes was his usual dashing self in two excerpts that required his expert partnering skills. In the pas de deux from Alexei Ratmansky's "Nutcracker," he accompanied a radiant Veronika Part, whose daring physicality led to some wobbles; and in "Manon," he partnered the ever-gorgeous Diana Vishneva, looking light as a feather in the couple's swooning lifts.

If there was one curiosity on the program, it was choreographer Jessica Lang's "Splendid Isolation III," set to Mahler's lush Fifth Symphony, in which the star attraction seemed to be a giant white skirt, filling a huge swath of the stage and worn by Irina Dvorovenko. She looked lovely in it, but mostly she and partner/husband Maxim Beloserkovsky seemed to be moving around the stage with much fabric and little purpose.

Two ballerinas will be celebrating major ABT anniversaries this season, and they were both in lovely form: Julie Kent, marking her 25th year; and Paloma Herrera, marking her 20th.

But one of the most rewarding aspects of the gala evening came on the other end of the career spectrum — from students of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at ABT. Maybe it was the warm introduction from Caroline Kennedy, but the students looked crisp, confident, glowing and seemingly delighted to be sharing in the moment.

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