Thursday, March 03, 2022

Diablo Ballet

Diablo Ballet

Pictured: Raymond Tilton and Jackie McConnell
Photo: Rosselyn Ramirez

Cinderella’s Wedding

Performed live at The Lesher Center for the Arts - February 11th-12th, 2022
Streamed online – February 18th-27th, 2022

As the time came to bid February adieu, Diablo Ballet had a special invitation for virtual audiences. For a little over a week, they made their most recent program, Cinderella’s Wedding, which ran at The Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek over Valentine’s Day weekend, available for online viewing. It was such a wonderful opportunity both for viewers not in the area, or for those who may still feel a little more comfortable at home than in the theater. 

Diablo Ballet, under the Artistic Direction of Lauren Jonas, is known for crafting well-rounded programs, with something for every taste. Cinderella’s Wedding was no exception. The quadruple bill was filled with contemporary ballet, classical ballet, historic works and new debuts. It was classy and charming – a real treat to enjoy in person or at home.

An ideal welcome into the performance arena, George Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux took the opening spot on the program. What an elegant duet to transcendent music, danced beautifully by Olivia Powell and Walker Martin. The classic 1960 choreography is simply a joy to watch, a love letter to movement - light and lofty, sophisticated, precise yet delicate. Never overly busy, but always captivating. Powell and Martin handily delivered both the partnering and the individual variations. The fish dives, daring; Martin’s triple tours en l’air, textbook perfection; and the final lift, phenomenal. 

Up next was the first world premiere on the bill, Wayfaring Pilgrim, choreographed by current Diablo dancer Michael Wells, set to a blues suite. While the contemporary ballet ensemble work did not feel like a linear narrative, it was surely charged. Moments where the group clustered together and then fractured apart felt a comment on community, and the loss of it. Solo sequences indicated a lone-ness, an isolation, even when surrounded by others. Wells cleverly injected the choreography with stylized pedestrianism, giving Pilgrim an approachable, relatable tone. The drama and emotion were well communicated by the entire cast, though the unison was a bit iffy from time to time.  

Wells was back with Amanda Farris for an excerpt from Val Caniparoli’s Book of Alleged Dances (1998), scored by John Adams. The chosen chapter, a duet titled She’s So Fine, provided another lens on contemporary ballet but this time, peppered with disco tropes. Slides and step touches abounded with appropriately matched arm gestures – rolling hands, motions led by the thumbs. It was a celebration of the fun of that time. But the genius of Caniparoli’s work is that She’s So Fine is not a ‘disco’ duet nor does the music particularly suggest it. Instead, disco form makes an appearance every once in a while, almost like the pas de deux is seasoned with that esthetic. 

The final world premiere, and centerpiece of the program, was Julia Adam’s Cinderella’s Wedding – a lovely, graceful interpretation of the last part of the Cinderella narrative. As the work begins, the audience is transported to the thick of the action. The Prince (Raymond Tilton) and his friend’s (Felipe Leon) search for the foot that fits the shoe left behind at the ball. Feet that hope to be a match appear from behind the scrim, until Cinderella (Jackie McConnell) is found. And from there, the story unfolds with a celebratory reception, fairies from every season, and a happily ever after for the happy couple. Stand out performances included Powell as the stepmother as well as Wells and Martin as Cinderella’s stepbrothers. In fact, the pas de trois for the three of them was a significant part of the overall piece. The ensemble waltz sequence was sweeping and grand. And amongst the fairies, Julia Meister’s spring was sprightly and staccato, while Jordan Tilton’s summer was oh so dreamy. Joyful, buoyant and flirtatious certainly describes the main couple, with the final pas de deux filled with giant lifts taking up space. An excited, elated tone pervaded the entire stage from beginning to end, albeit a stage that was a little crowded.


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