Ambition was the theme on all fronts. Balanchine brought out the blazing speed and mysticism of Bizet’s long-lost symphony with his invigorating vision of ballet (and, in true 1940s fashion, a dash of Rockettes-style gigantism, the stage filling with all that perky white satin, all those lively bare legs). Limon, with uncanny perception, distilled Shakespeare’s “Othello” into a 20-minute dance for two couples. That ABT delivered on both — the first one pure technique and killer timing, the other all mood and understatement — speaks to its impressive range.
And Ratmansky? How he teases out the subtle unnerving ribbons running through Shostakovich’s 1945 symphony, written in the thick of Stalinism, while staying true to its overtly jaunty atmosphere, and how he holds light and dark in perfect balance, is a marvel to experience.
As for the quality of the dancing, this program attests to a company in fine fettle, which grew in confidence as the evening progressed. If the speed of the steps occasionally got the better of the cast in “Symphony in C,” high spirits and eagerness compensated. Paloma Herrera, whose natural rhythms are legato, was a surprising choice to lead the brisk first movement, but her warmth of character lent her performance great charm. Hee Seo was delicate and sure in the enigmatic second movement; promoted to principal less than a year ago, she is a young dancer to watch.
Once the Balanchine work was dispatched, ABT came into its own with dancing of deep understanding and sensitivity. “The Moor’s Pavane” shows how the perfect union — represented by the courtly pavane and other Renaissance dances — can be poisoned by rumor. All it takes is a whisper. An inclined head, a pair of lips to the ear, a sharp look. By these simple gestures, Limon squeezed all the tragedy of “Othello” into a quiet, tense and painfully human drama.
Wednesday’s cast was marvelous: Marcelo Gomes as the brooding, violent Moor; Cory Stearns as his wicked, cunning friend; Stella Abrera as the friend’s proud mate. But it was the peerless Julie Kent, as the Moor’s Wife, who stole the heart. Simply the way she lifted her face to Gomes, illuminated with all the trust of a child, made you fear for what was coming to her. Later, after Gomes’s first swift outburst of heat, the way Kent stood — still as a mouse, turned upstage so we could barely see her face, but we could well imagine how the air had left her lungs — just that quiet pose told us of her shock.