Monday, July 25, 2011

"Stars of American and Russian Ballet"

Yuri Possokhov's "Talk to her". Photo by John Bonick

Black Swan Pas de Deux from "Swan Lake". Photo by John Bonick
Napa Valley Festival Del Sole
Lincoln Theater, Yountville, CA
July 22, 2011

The promise of a dance gala is that of something special.  The gala suggests more than a regular performance; it is celebrity; distinction and majesty.  And, when the title is 'Stars of American and Russian Ballet', one might anticipate even more opulence.  Napa Valley Festival Del Sole's 2011 Dance Gala did not disappoint.  Dancers from American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and Bolshoi Ballet treated the packed house to a performance of a lifetime.

Act I provided a perfect mix of ballet's past and present with works by Marius Petipa, George Balanchine, August Bournonville and Yuri Possokhov.  Possokhov's dramatically charged "Talk to her" was the evening's choreographic highlight and the audience favorite.  Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz danced this daring pas de deux on the dynamic and technical edge, the risky place where true magic happens.  Utilizing Feijoo's pointe shoes as purposeful percussion was a fantastic touch.  Irina Dvorovenko (American Ballet Theatre) was brilliant in the Black Swan pas de deux - perfectly alluring and devious at the same time.  Her staccato approach to the choreography was an impeccable match for this character whose sole purpose is to captivate and capture the Prince's attention.  The Bolshoi Ballet's "La Sylphide" was good though I think I'm a bit spoiled after just having seen The Royal Danish Ballet in this historic piece.  The lightness and airiness that Bournonville demands was definitely present with the Bolshoi dancers, but it just wasn't quite as entrenched in the physicality as it is with the Royal Danish company.  There was too much emphasis on height and technique and not enough attention to the articulation, quality and intonation of the steps. 

The Bolshoi opened the second act with the adagio and trio from "The Oath of Ushers" and this ballet was both perfect for them and perfectly danced by them.  Marianna Ryzhkina's boureés traveling backward gave an astonishing crescendo of urgency, emotion and intensity.  Their interpretation and performance of Vladimir Vasiliev's choreography was beautifully artistic and very emotive - just stunning.  The pas de deux from "Les Sylphides" demonstrated the forgotten art of repetition.  Fokine's repeated use of boureé and relevé takes one back to the intricate foundations of classical ballet.  Feijoo and Luiz returned in the pas de deux from "Le Corsaire", and though a little shaky at first, they quickly found their bearings and proceeded to give flawless individual solo variations in the coda section. 

The two Balanchine works on the program ("Diamonds" pas de deux from "Jewels" and the pas de deux from "Agon") were danced by masters of Balanchine technique: New York City Ballet's Charles Askegard and Wendy Whelan.  From the incredibly difficult fouettés to the off-balance poses and spins to the complex musical attack, they were the essence of Balanchine.  In his work, dance, itself is the star and this vision is exactly what was communicated to the audience at the Lincoln Theater.  However, I must admit that I found both of these excerpts to be too cold and detached.  Whelan and Askegard were technically superior, but in terms of performance, it really was a little sanitized.  

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