Jerome Robbins would have been so pleased by this presentation of Other Dances (by American Ballet Theatre). If you had asked me for my dream pairing of current dancers to perform this legendary pas de deux, I wouldn’t have picked Hee Seo and David Hallberg. They are two of the most beautiful looking dancers working today but they often fall short in charisma. Other Dances, created on Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov, is a poetic rendering of nostalgic longing that refers frequently to their Slavic heritage with little folk steps in between the balletic flow. There are stretches during the ballet in which there are no steps, per se, and the pair must fill it with their personalities. Without any pyrotechnic tricks to hide behind, this piece succeeds or fails because we care about the relationship between the couple. The moment Seo and Hallberg walked on stage I felt the collective sigh at how perfect they looked just walking together. And then they danced. Their every breath was harmonious from the first step. They moved together with the easy familiarity of best friends and lovers. Their rapport was so warm, spontaneous and joyful that I was at first stunned. I’ve never seen these two look so alive, so full of poignant humanity. All I’ve ever wanted from David Hallberg and Hee Seo is that they would open up and let us in; share with us their secret joy at being able to dance so transcendentally. Truthfully, I’ve never seen anyone, even Makarova, handle those balances so effortlessly. However, to say that Seo lingered playfully on her balances misses the point that her open heart was fully on display. That’s where her performance soared. Hallberg cavorted boyishly in his solos and handled Seo so reverently in their partnering that I never wanted it to end. He was princely, charming, thoughtful, accessible and fun. Every dance lover dreams of being present at a perfect performance and I was privileged to see this one.

David Hallberg in Robbins' <i>Other Dances</i> © Rosalie O’Connor
David Hallberg in Robbins' Other Dances
© Rosalie O’Connor

Opening the show was Jessica Lang’s Her Notes, set to piano music of Fanny Mendelssohn. I was unmoved by this ballet last year despite its nice choreography but the company seems to have more fully embraced it. More than any other in the cast, James Whiteside captured the wild spirit of the Romantic era that made this ballet come alive. He was emotionally extravagant but managed to keep it from spinning out of control. Sarah Lane and Arron Scott were compelling. We cared about them. Christine Shevchenko let us know that she had inner secrets propelling her forward while Skylar Brandt (last minute replacement for Paulina Waski) and Catherine Hurlin brought vitality with their speed and enthusiasm. Emily Wong’s piano playing more deeply mined the tonal richness in Mendelssohn’s music. The result is a much warmer and more heartfelt ballet that I enjoyed this season.

Frederick Ashton’s Symphonic Variations ballet is old and looks it. Created just after World War II, it belongs to a different era and what was modern then is not now. Some of the sequences are too pedestrian for today’s dance world. As a result, my attention began to wander. It was most notable for the presence of Betsy McBride, dancing in her first principal role with the company. McBride looked so thoroughly pleased to be there that she dragged everyone else along for the ride. At one point, she was downstage right and she looked across to Cassandra Trenary who was on the other side. Her grin was huge and it lit up Trenary as well. I owe most of the pleasure I received from watching Symphonic Variations to Ms. McBride.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Thirteen Diversions closed out the show. It’s impressive with all its speed, shifting patterns, and four main couples to watch but I wish that this ballet was a little more brightly lit. I lost track a few of times of who was partnering with whom. Catherine Hurlin was again a standout. She has a definitive presence with long legs that move her quickly from one place to another. Stella Abrera and Thomas Forster were a passionate pair and Jose Sebastian flew through his solos. Ormsby Wilkins led the orchestra for the finale and the playing was superb, from pianist Barbara Bilach to Timpanist Lou Barranti.

As a whole, this American Ballet Theatre program was good but the presence of Hee Seo and David Hallberg made it indelible. The last time I saw Other Dances done so well it was Susan Jaffe dancing, about twenty-five years ago.

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