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Galas are often long-winded affairs, heavy on speeches and showy pas de deux drawn out of context from full-length ballets. Not so American Ballet Theatre’s gala opening of its two-week season.

Commendably to the point, there was only one short speech by artistic director Kevin McKenzie and two pas de deux, one of them the obligatory showpiece from Act III of Don Quixote, with Paloma Herrera and Jose Manuel Carreño dancing well, though lacking the fiery excitement they have brought to it on other occasions. An all-too-brief excerpt from Antony Tudor’s exquisite The Leaves Are Fading to Dvorák had a graceful autumnal feel as danced by Michele Wiles and Alexandre Hammoudi, making one long to see more than this short fourth movement. (The ballet will be given in full later.)

An excerpt from Clear at least provided a good example of Stanton Welch’s choreographic vision. Set to J.S. Bach, it introduced six men who paced on formally then broke up for independent allegro dancing. They were joined by Xiomara Reyes, who threaded alone among them, then faded away when Herman Cornejo remained to join her in a slow, romantic pas de deux ending with them entwined, caught in a shaft of light.

Of particular interest is Ballo Della Regina, newly staged for ABT by New York City Ballet’s Merrill Ashley, its original ballerina. Balanchine used music from opera more than once, but never so vivaciously as with Verdi’s Don Carlo. Gillian Murphy and high-bounding David Hallberg, a great partnership, kept up with Ormsby Wilkins’ brisk reading of the score, dancing with ease, verve and swiftness. Not so the corps, who strove valiantly but failed sometimes to execute the rapier-like demands of the choreography, Hee Seo stood out with particular style and clarity in a foursome of excellent women soloists.

What can one say about Fancy Free, the ballet that Jerome Robbins choreographed and danced first in l944? Now an icon with both ABT and NYCB, it is the superlative feel-good ballet that spawned both a musical and a film. This time Cornejo, Sascha Radetsky and Marcelo Gomes as three sailors on shore leave pursuing two pretty passers-by (Stella Abrera and Julie Kent) were the believable good old boys on the town.
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