Thursday, May 12, 2011

"Inside the Dancer's Studio" - Diablo Ballet

Mayo Sugano and Rory Hohenstein. Photo credit: Aris Bernales
Shadelands Arts Center, Walnut Creek, CA
May 7, 2011

It is fantastic to see ballet companies who are cultivating long-term relationships with their subscribers.  In addition to the expected big theater performances. many seasons now include Q&A sessions and shorter programs in smaller venues.  New York Theatre Ballet's "Dance on a Shoestring" is a wonderful example of this trend, showcasing its company repertoire in a studio theater with very affordable ticket prices.  Diablo Ballet must also be added to this list of arts innovators.  Their "Inside the Dancer's Studio" series allows increased access to quality ballet: incredible talent, varied repertory and high production value all in a close-knit, intimate setting.  This outside-the-box thinking is what builds lifelong support for the arts.

The six offerings on Diablo Ballet's spring program showcased the significant breadth of this company.  The lights went up on the first excerpt to reveal Mayo Sugano and Jekyns Pelaez in George Balanchine's "Apollo".  Their pas de deux was astonishing and Sugano's batterie truly gave Stravinsky's music new life.  The second piece, "Shadow" was choreographed by company member David Fonnegra and danced by the exquisite Tetyana Martyanova, reminiscent of a young Merrill Ashley.  Fonnegra's contemporary choreography was quite interesting, particularly his treatment of the arms.  The shoulders were a focus of his, as well as the scapula, where the arms initiate in the back.  This led to some unique arm positions, none of which could be considered typically ballet.  Fonnegra also experimented with levels, have Martyanova move very quickly from standing to rolling.  Occasionally these transitions were a little awkward and maybe a tad abrupt.

Sally Streets' "Encores" was my favorite piece of the afternoon.  In it, we were treated to amazing lifts in the first pas de deux and delightful flirtation in the second.  Edward Stegge's double pirouettes were absolute perfection and with the audience being so close, there is nowhere to hide.  I was also heartened by his emboite turns.  Even though this ballet step is a favorite of choreographers, it is not often performed very well.  With Stegge, I think I finally saw emboite the way it was meant to be danced.  "My Way", by Tina Kay Bohnstedt, was a choreographic celebration of groundedness.  With the exception of a couple of jumps, this piece, danced beautifully by David Fonnegra and Rory Hohenstein, was anchored to the floor.  Bohnstedt was able to illustrate that spectacle does not only exist in the air, it is also present in contact with the ground.    

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