As new director of American Ballet Theater, Mikhail Baryshnikov promised an emphasis on the Russian classics, the style in which he himself was nurtured in Leningrad.
ABT's current repertory at the Metropolitan Opera is much too varied to warrant claims that Leningrad has moved to New York. But the all-Petipa evening unveiled by ABT this season provides an unusually concentrated dose of the kind of ballet St. Petersburg saw in the 19th century.
This potpourri of Petipa has selections from "Raymonda," a scene from "Le Corsaire," a duet from "La Fille Mal Gardee," and the last act of "The Sleeping Beauty." All pure-dance extracts from full-evening story ballets, the program presents Petipa as white-on-white. There is diversity, but within the narrow range of the divertissement.
Of course, the concept hangs on the notion that the divertissement isn't narrow at all when the choreographer is a genius. It's that fact which has sustained the enormous Balanchine repertory of the New York City Ballet.ABT's all-Petipa program proves that a choreographer working in the drastically different social context of 100 years ago is amenable to the same approach as contemporary dancemakers.
If white-on-white Petipa is truly viable, the program is not completely successful taken piece by piece. A few years ago ABT produced a full "Sleeping Beauty" and then shelved it. The revised last act still has the flaws of its predecessor. Despite fancy costumes and decor, the production aims at grand scope halfheartedly. Some of the variations are absent, and their absence seems stingy. When you sit down to a seven-course meal, five courses won't do.
Turgid tempos and an inconsistent beat mar many of the big dance moments. Perhaps the most splendid dance on the program, the garden scene from "Le Corsaire," is almost ruined by honky-tonk orchestration of Delibes -- almost but not quite. Petipa's vision of a universe of women, all waltzing and galloping merrily away in austerely chiseled patterns, proclaims with bold conviction the quintessential beauty of the chorus line.
The company performs through June 13.