Fairy-Tale Skirmish

Extra! Prince abandons court life to cultivate garden!

ABT's all-Stravinsky program is a rewarding one. The scores—Petrouchka, Apollo, and Jeu de Cartes—span three decades. Stravinsky, not yet 30, wrote Petrouchka in 1911, during the early years of Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, and Apollon Musagéte for the 24-year old George Balanchine in 1928, during the company's final years. He composed Jeu de Cartes for Balanchine too, in 1937. That ballet, Card Game, has disappeared; what ABT is recycling is the version John Cranko created for the Stuttgart ballet in 1965.

I can understand why Balanchine at some point cut the opening sequence of Apollo. As a mature choreographer, he found it OK to affirm how his creative surrogate auditioned three muses and gave Terpsichore, muse of dance and song, pride of place. It was evidently another matter to show Apollo as a bawling, swaddled infant; the two pert nymph attendants (cut in New York City Ballet's version) actually have to teach him to play his symbolic lyre. In ABT's "original" version, the birth pangs strike me as a little odd. On a high platform, the seated Leto not only spreads her legs, she appears to stab herself in the abdomen instead of clutching it in pain. But the presence of the platform makes possible the original ending with Apollo confidently leading up its stairs the three sweetly ministering muses (Tired? Here, lay your head on our hands) who've groomed him for godhood.

Maxim Beloserkovsky's Apollo impressed me. He looks technically assured, vigorous, eager, and as if he's given some thought to impetus and the way he might shade repetitions of a step. At the performance I saw, before picking up a muse to swing on each arm, he registered a lusty hint of "Here we go!"—as much to himself as to them. His Terpsichore that night, Irina Dvorovenko, danced clearly and brightly as usual, but—also as usual—with more consciousness of visual effect than of the shape and thrust of phrases.

Grand Entrance: Kent in Kudelka's  Cinderella
photo: Gene Schiavone
Grand Entrance: Kent in Kudelka's Cinderella


American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
Lincoln Center
Through July 15

Two things hit me about Cranko's Jeu de Cartes, which I haven't seen since the Joffrey mounted a production. One: It's very British. The Joker suddenly appears in drag like a pantomime dame, and in several scenes, guys stand around being droll, making stiff "After you, Alphonse" gestures like music-hall dimwits and popping into jumps as they play pattycake with one another Two: The ballet makes more sense if you're a card player, or have read the program note carefully. When the prop cards, as big as screens, are trundled on and then off again, they leave a dealt hand of dancers in place. The Queen of Hearts gets along fine with four guys, two 10s and two sevens, even though she's not happy squashed with them into a centipedal line. But when the Joker vaults in, his high value makes the Queen no longer necessary. She exits with a mournful, silent "Drat!" and the Joker lords it over the lower-ranking guys.

He gets his comeuppance in the second deal. Five pompous marching male hearts constitute a straight flush. Who needs him? They shove and drag him, and finally sling him away. Then they indulge in very snappy show off solos. The third deal features a sprightly female Two of Diamonds, scorned by some snooty high-ranking Spades of both genders. The Joker enters in drag as the Queen of Spades, seeing his chance to be part of a Royal Flush.

This is all pleasantly silly, more intrepid in terms of comic behavior than dancing. The night I went, the superb, soon-to-retire Julio Bocca revelled outrageously and deliciously as the Joker; Carmen Corella, a talented comedian, frumped and flirted engagingly as the Queen of Hearts; and Xiomara Reyes—although technically a bit sloppy—danced vivaciously as the low card with big ambitions. That last phrase sort of sums up the ballet too.

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