Stella Abrera danced the "Nutcracker" grand pas de deux with Alexandre Hammoudi at Kaatsbaan's 28th annual gala.
Kaatsbaan International Dance Center’s galas are unlike any other fancy fundraising events for dance. The directors don’t get bogged down in motifs, premieres or novelties. They strive for the best.
And because the best unwinds like a spool of gold in such an intimate setting, the center’s 120-seat auditorium, audiences are struck by the power of the art not the price of ornamentation.
That’s what happened on Saturday night.
The center’s 28th annual “A Passion for Dance” featured New York Theatre Ballet in Jerome Robbins’ Grecian “Antique Epigraphs” with the peerless composer Joan Tower with Michael Scales at the piano playing the four-hands Debussy’s score. The evening also showcased the company in a pas de deux from “Such Longings” by Richard Alston as well as the “Nutracracker” grand pas de deux with American Ballet Theatre principals Stella Abrera and Alexandre Hammoudi. Legendary ballerina Martine Van Hamel performed an all-too short solo “On Performing.” Martha Graham Dance Company star Blakeley White-McGuire shattered the night with excerpts from “Cave of the Heart.” And that was followed by a knock-out world premiere choreographed by New York City Ballet principal Lauren Lovette.
It was a fantastic night.
There is hardly a squabble with anything that was done – except for maybe the lighting in “Antique Epigraphs,” which usually casts a sepia-toned shimmer on the dancers. Staged by Kyra Nichols, the eight female dancers, dressed in muted colored tunics, enthralled with Robbins’ stylized configurations that came to rest in elegant poses. They looked as if an urn has spun, pitching its bas relief figures to life. Needless to say, the music with Tower, Scales and flutist Mira Magrill was gorgeous.
Equally beautiful and moving was Steven Melendez and Amanda Treiber in “Such Longings” to Chopin’s Mazurka Op 17 No 4 and his Nocturne Op 27 No 2. Melendez, the lead male in many New York Theatre Ballet programs, has matured into a soulful dancer that brings much to the stage. The rapport with Treiber too, whom he has been partnered with for years, shows a richness and depth that often goes missing when two dancers meet.
Abrera and Hammoudi also share chemistry and daring in the grand pas de deux in the holiday favorite from Tchaikovsky. Choreographed by ABT’s Alexei Ratmansky, the pas savored the usual Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier’s elegance with a dash of sport. While a tad under rehearsed, Hammoudi missed his mark a few times, their sauciness kept everyone in the seats smiling.
Even more delightful was Lovette’s premiere of “Le Jeune” for five couples from ABT Studio Company. To Eric Whitacre’s “Equus,” the dancers flew through a frolicsome and frothy gambol that announced that Lovette is not only is a wonderful dancer, she’s also an amazing dance maker. The ballet had a retro-Balanchine look with the female dancer in leotards encircled with a belt. But it was fully-fledged contemporary creation that signaled the end of a drought for female choreographers coming out of City Ballet.
The Van Hamel short, conceived by Ann Marie De Angelo, was an ode to the joys of performing. While the prima ballerina can probably no longer whip of 32 fouettes without pain, she has not lost her glamorous sparkle.
Finally, White-McGuire held audiences in a vice as Medea in Graham’s “Cave of the Heart.” Her grip on the role, its intentions and its murderous ending was unflinching. It also reminded how modern Graham’s work remains. No one, except those in the know, could date it to 1946. White-McGuire lent it a vitality that could speak to everyone today.