Monday, February 04, 2019

Diablo Ballet

Diablo Ballet
Balanchine & Beyond
Del Valle Theatre, Walnut Creek
February 1, 2019

Diablo Ballet, under the Artistic Direction of Lauren Jonas, is currently marking a major milestone – their silver anniversary. Twenty-five epic years of stellar dance and community engagement, all while building programs that both inspire and challenge audiences. Friday night’s opening of the Balanchine & Beyond program certainly continued this trend. And what a shining, winning program it was! With a classical excerpt from the mid-1800s, an early neo-classical work and a contemporary quintet, the mixed repertory bill showed terrific choreographic range. I thoroughly enjoyed the two historic ballets, though the standout piece of the night for me was From Another Time, created in 2013 by Diablo Ballet alumna Tina Kay Bohnstedt and set to Justin Levitt’s original piano score, which he performed live.

Jackie McConnell and Michael Wells in
From Another Time
Photo Aris Bernales
An abstract work for two women and three men, From Another Time invited the viewer into a flowy, ethereal space of blues and grays. Levitt was poised at the piano and from the first notes and the first movements, it was clear that this piece was going to be special. Special in a number of ways. First was the marvelous performance by the entire company. And the marriage of movement and sound - pulsing chords were met with strong extensions, while lyrical melody lines were paired with flowy, partnered spins and breathy arms. But there was something deeper about how the score and the physicality meshed. Together, the two disciplines created an almost cinematic quality, even though the piece didn’t appear to tell a particular story. Sadness and joy emanated from the stage, as did uncertainty and assuredness. There was such a complex mosaic of tones and moods (like that in a good movie); it was just beautiful. From Another Time also used a favorite dance configuration of mine, the pas de cinq. It is so rich, format-wise, and Bohnstedt utilized all the possible iterations. Duets and solos abounded, as did trios and unison work, including a gorgeous unison promenade in arabesque.

Raymond Tilton in Apollo
Choreography by George Balanchine,
©The George Balanchine Trust
Photo Aris Bernales
From Another Time was sandwiched between two iconic ballets, George Balanchine’s Apollo and sections from Marius Petipa’s Paquita. I think the biggest surprise for me every time I see Apollo is its premiere date. Balanchine choreographed the work almost a hundred years ago (world premiere 1928), and yet, it feels like it could have easily have been crafted this century. Many of the movement phrases, poses and postures are so modern (though the gender roles/relationships are indeed not): bourées on the heels, parallel jumps, that memorable spin from standing into grand plié on pointe. Raymond Tilton impressed in the titular role, as did Jackie McConnell, Rosselyn Ramirez and Amanda Farris as the three muses who visit him. Tilton had total command over the space, every step and position radiating power, strength and precision; even his walking double frappés felt formidable. In their solos, McConnell as Calliope, muse of mime, had such loft and forward motion counterpointing emotive contractions that were sharp, yet pliable. The muse of mime, Polyhymnia’s variation features a series of fast turns and directional changes all while holding the index finger in front of the mouth. Ramirez handily navigated through this difficult phrase with enviable skill and confidence. And Amanda Farris as Terpsichore, muse of dance and song, brought intricate pointe work and swiveling hips to the table, as well as whisper soft landings. The jumps themselves were sensational, but the landings, wow, by far the quietest of the entire night. And kudos to Tilton and Farris for handling a tricky moment when the music cut out; true professionalism at its best.

Diablo Ballet’s Balanchine & Beyond program closed with the oldest work on the bill, Paquita. From the first solo entrances to the ensemble finale, musicality and elegance reigned supreme. Jillian Transon and Jacopo Jannelli’s grand pas de deux had such calm and assured partnering, particularly in the supported turns. The variations that followed were imbued with ample batterie, multiple pirouettes and grand allegro, all of which were approached with that same refinement and finesse. Paquita provided a graceful cadence to the night, though I do wonder if it might have been better suited to a different spot on the program. While it does conclude with a full cast finale, it really reads more as an opener than a final act.