Saturday, October 16, 2010

Diablo Ballet

Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, CA
October 15, 2010

The Lesher Center in Walnut Creek was abuzz with excitement this weekend as Diablo Ballet opened its 17th season.  The first program demonstrated their signature style, strength and sophistication with Balanchine's "Valse Fantaisie", the Act I pas de deux from Val Caniparoli's "Lady of the Camellias" and the world premiere of "A Tribute to Lena Horne" by choreographer and company dancer Tina Kay Bohnstedt.  All that was missing from this exceptional evening of dance was the full house that this group deserves.

"Valse Fantaisie" was quite literally the most silent dance I have ever seen.  Every jump had impressive height and ballon followed by an incredibly gentle landing.  The use of plié in the preparation and completion of every allegro movement was beyond textbook, it was transcendent.  Even the huge grand jetés ended in a whisper.  The accuracy of "Valse Fantaisie" was also stunning.  Diablo Ballet is diligent in its re-staging of Balanchine's choreography, paying special attention to all of the steps, not just the flashy ones.  Not every company can pull off such an authentic representation of this choreographic genius.  Balanchine loved quick, intricate, detailed movement - the 45 degree arabesque, frappé, pas de cheval, lightning-fast batterie.  Erika Johnson deserves particular mention for her series of saut de basque, en dedans turns as does Nikki Trerise White for her picture perfect glissades and pas de chats.    

The pas de deux excerpt from "Lady of the Camellias" reinforced my belief that Val Caniparoli is the master of innovative partnering.  His unexpected balances, supports and lifts add extra drama to the narrative because his choreographic choices are such a surprise: the turning fan lift, the use of the legs extended straight up in the air.  In addition, Caniparoli seeks to develop the individual characters through their own recurring motifs, so that their identity has been well-established before they begin dancing together.  In his work, the audience is truly seeing a union; two people working as one entity. 

"A Tribute to Lena Horne" transported the audience to a jazz club, where music soared from voices, from instruments and from bodies.  The dancers relaxed on chairs while each of them took turns in various groupings: solos, duets, trios, etc.  As each feature began, the dancers themselves became a line in the musical score.  They were not dancing to the music; they were the music using their bodies as the instrument of expression.  I would categorize Tina Kay Bohnstedt's choreography as jazz ballet, combining traditional ballet elements with jazz movement vocabulary.  There were lay-outs, stag leaps, hinges, hip isolations, and contractions - all of which are straight out of the jazz dance dictionary.  Mayo Sugano and Rory Hohenstein were the embodiment of this contemporary and classical combination.  Each had the enunciation in the spine, the articulation of the hips and the flexibility in the rib cage that is required by jazz.  They really sold Bohnstedt's amazing fusion of jazz and ballet.  The other four dancers are adjusting to this style; they still have too much rigidity and tension for this supine choreography.  Letting go a bit more would really allow them to project the quality of the piece.  Erika Johnson was almost there, but her performance in this dance was definitely affected by her pointe shoes.  They were so soft on Friday night; it was almost as if she was dancing in regular flat slippers - her right foot never reaching a full extension on pointe.  "A Tribute to Lena Horne" also may have been a little long.  Near the end of the ballet, the dancers looked like they were getting tired.  Whether that was an issue of the dance itself or their own endurance, I don't know, but I imagine as the work gels a bit more (Friday was its premiere), these very minor kinks will work themselves out.   

Tina Kay Bohnstedt and Jekyns Pelaez in Val Caniparoli's "Lady of the Camellias"   Photo credit: Ashraf

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