The Varone Company: Stylish, Kinetic, Ravishing

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YOU MAY WONDER WHY A RATIONAL dance critic (which somewhat narrows the field) would choose to go back to A.B.T. to revisit the James Kudelka Cinderella that paralyzed him with boredom a year ago. Extra-hazard pay? Not from The Observer! Intellectual curiosity? Hardly. Masochism? Not my thing. No, it was love—love of a particular pair of dancers. I’d walk a mile (and actually I did, all the way up to the Met) to see Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg in just about anything.

They did their best, but although they’re both up to any challenge, Kudelka doesn’t offer any: Since he doesn’t go in for steps, there’s almost nothing for the dancers to do. (Well, that’s not entirely true. I remembered Cinderella’s role as mostly sweeping; I’d forgotten that she also mops.) I’d also forgotten how dreary the work for the corps is—they just noodle. I’d even forgotten how wrong-minded most of the costumes are. The “garden creatures”—all those pretty young women got up as autumn leaves—are flattened and thickened; it’s unconscionable. The poor corps guys in the garden scene have to jump around with pumpkins on their heads—you try it and see how it feels. And in the ball scene, Prince Charming is straitjacketed by his white tie and tails. (Perhaps you don’t remember that this Cinderella is set in the far-from-roaring 20’s.) To do that to Hallberg, with his thrillingly expansive movement, is a crime against humanity. Somebody call The Hague.

There are exactly three rousing dance moments. 1) Murphy of the steely technique has a dazzling series of traveling pirouettes. 2) She makes the most of a pleasant little barefoot solo in her kitchen at one of the rare moments when she isn’t sweeping, mopping, putting dishes away or mooning by the fire. 3) Hallberg, searching the world for the owner of the glass slipper, sails across the stage in a series of immense bounds—it’s not just his elevation that’s so remarkable but the way his big body and endless legs fill space; they still seem to be moving straight ahead through the air while he’s already coming down. As for the rest, let’s put Cinderella behind us, with a vow never to go near it again.

The end of the A.B.T. season seems a good moment to salute a few of its high points: The pairing of Stella Abrera and Maria Riccetto in Symphonie Concertante—both of them looking like Balanchine dancers performing in the same ballet. Riccetto has had a good season—she’s working hard and steadily improving. And Abrera goes from strength to strength: In the Swan Lake Act I pas de trois, she showed us elegant, precise entrechats and a charming musicality. Kristi Boone, always impressive, bringing a breath of life to Othello with a passionate tarantella. The swift rise through the company of petite Sarah Lane with her strong technique and focused determination.

Boone and Lane have just been rewarded with promotion to soloist, joining Riccetto and Abrera, and so have Misty Copeland, Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews, all of them deserving. Congratulations, boy and girls.

The Varone Company: Stylish, Kinetic, Ravishing