Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Baltimore Ballet-10 Year Anniversary Gala

The Lyric Opera House-Baltimore, MD
March 28, 2010

A Gala is a much-anticipated event in any ballet company's season. It is even more special when it commemorates a milestone, like the 10 Year Anniversary Gala for the Baltimore Ballet. But, behind the jubilant nature of a gala lies a ton of work and effort. In addition to the usual logistic issues associated with such a production, this particular celebration had to weather and deal with the unexpected: Mother Nature. The original performance had to be canceled because of this year's epic snowstorm. Rescheduling could not have been easy (juggling everyone's timetables, re-booking the venue, advising the patrons, etc.) but they made it happen. The result - an inspiring evening of dance, rewarded with a lengthy and well-deserved standing ovation.

The program's varied skill level was refreshing: students of the school, dancers from the Baltimore Ballet, guests artists - some seasoned professionals and others at early points in their careers. Cem and Elysabeth Catbas assembled a wonderfully diverse cast, reflecting the scope of any ballet company. Many directors are afraid to put their students onstage with professional dancers and many professional dancers feel that it is beneath them to perform with students. But, in reality, all dancers are students; they exist in a constant state of learning. How fitting to show this journey of the artist in concert with the journey of this company.

The sixteen pieces in the program also showed incredible breadth. Of all the solo variations, the most technically-sound were Katherine Williams (Aurora's Variation from Act 3 of Sleeping Beauty), Devon Teuscher (Gamzatti Variation from La Bayadere) and Jade Payette (Medora Variation from Le Corsaire). Payette's turns in second were extraordinary. Amanda Cobb and Alys Shee also gave compelling performances which highlighted both their electric stage presence and technical aptitude. Cobb performed two divergent works – Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux's haunting Chaconne and the charming, light-hearted Bluebird pas de deux. She always dances with her entire being; an inherent quality that is truly transformative. Alys Shee's role in Catbas' Carnival of the Animals also deserves particular mention. Her performance in this controlled variation demonstrated a deep understanding and knowledge of how adagio choreography must be danced. Turns and pirouettes are easier when done quickly, but in adagio work, every rotation demands a steady, equal pace mirroring the rest of the movement. This is a rare skill and Shee has mastered it.

I was fortunate to have had a sneak peek of In Between Time; choreographer Tony Powell invited me to watch him create this work. And, the excerpt performed in the Gala was the section that I saw in rehearsal back in February. The beginning duet, danced by Devon Teuscher and Junio Teixeira, was full of rich movement material, and what I noticed in the performance is that, under Powell's direction, they were able to mold all the ideas and motifs into a steady stream of consciousness. The transitional steps were there, but there were no visible stops and starts; the whole work was seamless. This is an excellent example of polyphonic technique, which does not have any phrasal breaks. Polyphony needs an unbreakable flow and In Between Time has captured this essence.

Gala performances are really all about the dance; it is exposed and revealed without any of the peripheral 'stuff'. This vulnerability definitely tests the strength of the choreography and the performer. Yes, each dancer, or group of dancers, have their costumes and their music, but they are performing entirely out of context (no set, no story, no corps, no conceptual framework). In most cases, the Gala stage is bare with minimal lighting so each variation must compel in its own right. It is a pure forum in which to see dance; where the choreography and the dancer's performance become the only commanding elements. At times, it can feel a little manic to be in the audience while the action moves from Sleeping Beauty to La Bayadere to Swan Lake to Le Corsaire, but if you can get past those abrupt transitions, you will realize that the Gala format, like that of Baltimore Ballet's 10 Year Anniversary Gala, gives a truly genuine celebration of dance.

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