Who Cares — if it’s not Baryshnikov?

You wouldn’t find a better looking bunch of dancers than American Repertory Ballet’s, and Friday night, at the premiere of Graham Lustig’s 10th anniversary piece, they danced their hearts out. One of his newest dancers, Max Levy, “said” it all. Near the end of “Rhapsodia,” set to Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, is that familiar tune that puts rainbows in the sky. Levy, ingenuously boyish, turns to the audience with a jubilant grin, arms overhead, opening wide – it made my heart leap with joy.

Michael Crawford and Pedro Gamino also get to bless the finale with their pyrotechnics. We’ve seen these eight dancers invest the variations with all kinds of moods, but joy is the capstone.

Lustig is known for telling stories, and he found a unique way (I don’t use that word lightly) to give us a glimpse of hidden smidgens of a story. The dancers wore red (sequined pants for the men with stretch chiffon tops, the same chiffon for the women, but with two piece flared tunics). Graham used that stretchy fabric as a prop to add an extra emotional dimension to a movement. The women hold their tunics up and flirt behind them, or they saucily hold their skirts like aprons, or they stretch it into V patterns. At one point, to stormy music, they cover their faces, channeling Martha Graham. It’s not overstated, sometimes just a touch of collar or a hem, and you found yourself watching for it, the way you listen for the undertones in your friend’s voice.

The costume credits include Sarah Romagnoli, who also designed the fun pajama attire for Lustig’s opening romp, Stardust, set to Mozart’s piano variations of “Twinkle Twinkle.”

It was fun, and certainly a great piece for children, but after watching a bunch of adults pretending to be rambunctious children I was more than ready to see dancers acting like adults in Twyla Tharp’s’ “Baker’s Dozen.”

With me was my friend Mary, who had never seen anything like Tharp before, and of course she was astounded. Because we sat near the front (I’m usually in the balcony) I could see how Always On they were. Tharp’s work shimmers with presto details that look tossed off. These are gorgeous dancers, and Crawford, in particular, captured the easy elegance and the insouciance of Tharp’s style.

The perfect segue to dancing by Willie “the lion” Smith was Sinatra Suite (photo by Eduardo Patino). I am handicapped, when I see this wonderful duet, by having seen Baryshnikov do it. No matter who else is dancing, I spend the first half appreciating the woman (in this case the wonderful Jennifer Cavanaugh) and trying not to look at the man. By the end, Baryshnikov’s solo – difficult not so much for the obvious technique but for the inner pulse of the movement – I have almost forgiven the male dancer for not being Baryshnikov. But not quite.

On this night I was so glad to be with Mary, who in her day had filled her life with dancing, and who fell totally in love with Pedro Gamino. I imagined her imagining herself being whirled through the air by the glamorous Gamino as Sinatra crooned in their ear. I imagined myself being loved, and tossed, and knocked about. Goodbye Misha. I’m over you – almost.

ARB is performing at Stuart School, a wonderful new hall (both chapel and theater) with state of the art lighting and acoustics. This could be a wonderful new home for them. Start figuring out how to get there. Details on this performance – and on the two other dance concerts tonight (women choreographers at Rider, students at McCarter’s Berlind) are on the events calendar at http://www.princetoninfo.com. The front page lists “What’s going on tonight.”

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