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Release: Immediate

American Ballet Theatre ranges from Tharp and Robbins to Balanchine

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The American Ballet Theatre, one of the world's legendary ballet companies now in the midst of a new golden age, will present two programs in the University of Iowa Hancher Auditorium, at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 26-27. The performances, which are the American Ballet Theatre's UI debut, open Hancher's Silver Anniversary Series, sponsored by the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center.

The two American Ballet Theatre evenings share a single element, Twyla Tharp's "The Elements," set to music by 18th-century composer Jean-Fery Rebel.

The Sept. 26 program is completed by James Kudelka's "Cruel World," set to Tchaikovsky's "Souvenir of Florence," and three versions of the virtuoso classical pas des deux -- excerpts from Marius Petipa's "Don Quixote" and "Swan Lake," and the "Tchaikovsky pas de deux" by George Balanchine.

Kudelka, whom Hancher commissioned to create "The Heart of the Matter" for the Joffrey Ballet in 1985-86, is now the artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, scheduled to perform in Hancher April 14. "Cruel World" is becoming an American Ballet Theatre signature piece.

On Sept. 27, the American Ballet Theatre will also perform "Bruch Violin Concerto" by Clark Tippet, set to Bruch's Concerto No. 1 in G minor; and "Fancy Free," featuring choreography by Jerome Robbins and music by Leonard Bernstein. The impact of "Fancy Free" in the mid-1940s was such that it was adapted into the hit musical and movie "On the Town."

American Ballet Theatre (ABT) -- the company of Baryshnikov, Nureyev, Makarova, Alicia Alonso, Cynthia Gregory and Gelsey Kirkland -- has long been one of America's "big three" ballet companies, a top tier shared with the Joffrey Ballet and the New York City Ballet. Now, under the direction of Kevin McKenzie the ABT is considered to be in the midst of a new golden age, a revival that boasts a roster of stars unmatched by any other company, anywhere in the world, propelled by what the Orange County Register called "the joy of a fresh new spirit."

Although ABT is not touring with its enormous full corps, nearly all of its stars will be on the Hancher stage, including Susan Jaffee, Robert Hill, Amanda McKerrow, Ethan Steifel, Paloma Herrera, Angel Corella and Julie Kent.

ABT was debuted in 1940, and in its first four decades it developed a repertory unmatched in ballet history, including all the great story ballets of the 19th century and commissioned works by the choreographic geniuses of the 20th century, including George Balanchine, Antony Tudor, Jerome Robbins and Agnes de Mille.

Mikhail Baryshnikov became the artistic director of ABT in 1980, and under his direction the company restaged many classical ballets and expanded its scope. Baryshnikov's charisma became identified with ABT, and members of the corps starred with him in the film "The Turning Point."

Kevin McKenzie, a former ABT principal dancer, became artistic director in 1982, and he has been credited with infusing a new spirit of excitement and commitment into the company's performances. In describing his outlook, McKenzie has said, "We're about ballet, but most of all we're about theater."

The ABT's two Hancher programs reveal the company's scope under McKenzie's leadership. For the lovers of classical ballet, the sets of pas de deux on the Sept. 26 program represent the classical tradition in its purest expression, from the story ballets of the 19th century to the neo-classical technical fireworks of Balanchine.

Twyla Tharp's work is well known to Hancher audiences, through the performances of her own company, her collaboration with Mikhail Baryshnikov, programs by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and the Joffrey Ballet's many performances of her works. The critic of the Princeton Times wrote of "The Elements," "Tharp's powers of invention continue to boggle the mind."

Kudelka is known for the powerful emotional content of his work, as he explores the complexities of human relationship through dance. Anna Kisselgoff of the New York Times called "Cruel World" "a near perfect ballet and a total triumph for Mr. Kudelka."

"Fancy Free" is the simple tale of three sailors on shore leave and the two women they encounter. At the time it was created Jerome Robbins was a new talent on the scene and composer Leonard Berstein was an unknown. But the work, with the youthful zest and its audacious mixture of old and new dance styles, was so immediately successful that it was expanded into "On the Town," which, in turn, was brought to the screen in a film starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.

Robbins' subsequent career has encompassed more than 50 ballets as well as choreography for Broadway shows including "West Side Story," "Peter Pan," "The King and I" and "Fiddler on the Roof."

Tickets for American Ballet Theatre are $52.50, $49.50 and $43.50. UI students and senior citizens qualify for a 20 percent discount, and Zone 3 tickets are available to UI students for $10, a savings of $33.50 compared to the general admission price. Tickets for audience members 17 and younger are half price.

ABT tickets are also available at a substantial discount as part of the Silver Anniversary Series. Other events in the series are the National Ballet of Canada on April 14 and England's City of Birmingham Symphony conducted by Simon Rattle on May 11. The Clarion Hotel and Conference Center is the corporate sponsor of the Silver Anniversary Series, through the University of Iowa Foundation.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and 1-3 p.m. Sunday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. This number will be answered by box office personnel prepared to offer assistance with handicapped parking, wheelchair access and seating, hearing augmentation and other services. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.