Dance review: 'Kings of the Dance' at the Ahmanson Theatre
The best dog-and-pony show in town — paced by thoroughbred racehorse David Hallberg — was impresario Sergei Danilian’s ballet franchise, “Kings of the Dance,” which opened a two-night run as part of the Dance at the Music Center series Tuesday night. The all-star showcase of top male ballet dancers, now in its third permutation after an Orange County debut in 2006, demonstrated a spectrum of national styles of ballet pedagogy.
British choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, who contributed a quartet, “For 4,” explained in a video that “Kings” is designed to meld “Russian refinement, American attack and Spanish spontaneity.”
Fair (and alliterative) enough. But beyond that high-minded stuff, “Kings” also gave seven monster technicians permission — and an outlet — to leave the ladies in tutus behind and let loose their spectacular ballet chops. They did this with great gusto in an evening-ending coda, tossing off every thrilling grena de that ballet technique offers to men. The rapid-fire barrage of soaring leaps and whirring vertical air turns, some with scissoring directional changes while hanging in space, reduced the Ahmanson Theatre audience to blithering disbelief.
En route to this fabulous payoff came a mélange of works showing the sensitive side of the masculine psyche. Hallberg, the 27-year-old blond wonder from South Dakota, made a perhaps overly reverential tour of a rarely seen, somewhat thin solo created by Frederick Ashton for Anthony Dowell in 1978. Clad in ghostly white, Hallberg’s presence riveted, as did, unavoidably, his enormous long line: tapering elastic legs, high-arched feet, perfectly placed head, and splendid artful hands. He was a huge white bird.
It was a joy to watch Hallberg navigate Nacho Duato’s marvelous “Remanso” along with Québécois Guillaume Côté and Brazilian-born American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes. Duato’s loopy dance injected space in an evening crammed with steps and charmed with its whimsical use of an oversize rectangular stage prop and magical pairing to an Enrique Granados piano score.
We saw a lot of Côté, who appeared in three ballets. A clean and competent dancer, his focused performance energy impressed, as did the plunging line of his arabesque. He and Gomes were impeccable partners in a well-crafted pas de deux by Frenchman Roland Petit, “Morel et Saint-Loup,” a now-historic piece dating from 1974.
The evening’s revelation was Joaquin De Luz, the spitfire Spaniard who drew the eye in Wheeldon’s otherwise bland, traction-free quartet that turned Schubert into wallpaper. De Luz stood out not because he was the shortest in the cast but because he was the best. Every inch a mover, De Luz now dances with New York City Ballet where, in stature and moxie, he evokes the young Edward Villella. De Luz wore casual practice clothes when firing off a merciless battery of triple tours en l’air in David Fernandez’s “Five Variations on a Theme.” He nailed every last one.
Other highlights included Desmond Richardson, still the bomb at 41, giving the deep-muscle, deep-feeling treatment to Dwight Rhoden’s “Lament.” Ukrainian dancer Denis Matvienko and ABT’s Cuban heartthrob José Manuel Carreño rounded out the endearingly hard-working cast.
-- Debra Levine
"Kings of the Dance," Ahmanson Theatre. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Info at musiccenter.org.
Photos: Guillaume Côté, left, Joaquin De Luz, Jose Manuel Carreño, and Denis Matvienko in "For 4" and David Hallberg in "Dance of the Blessed Spirits." Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times