Carolina Ballet‘s production of Balanchine Rarities, a program including 3 works by George Balanchine, Lost and Found by Lynne Taylor-Corbett, and Moving Life by Robert Weiss, opened to a nearly full house Thursday night, and I expect the house will stay full for the duration of its run.
The program began with short ballets by George Balanchine. Balanchine was one of the greatest and most well known choreographers of the 20th century, and co-founder of the New York City Ballet. The dances were choreographed for his dancer André Eglevsgy, hailed as one of the greatest male dancers of all time. His daughter Marina Eglevsgy, a dancer in her own right, staged the pieces with the dancers of Carolina Ballet. Carolina Ballet‘s performance of Glinka Pas de Trois, Minkus Pas de Trois and À La Françaix, each named for its composer, are perfect examples of Balanchine’s genius. These pieces showed dancers’ skill with challenging leaps, beats and turns. The dancers never stopped moving while on stage, making them exhilarating to watch. They moved so rhythmically, it was as if they and the music were one.
Minkus Pas de Trois was danced by Randi Osetek, Richard Krusch, and Lara O’Brien. The regal tu-tued costumes of red velvet, designed by Kerri Martinsen, hinted at the grandeur of the dance to come. Osetek appeared uncomfortable for much of the dance, with one blunder made more apparent by her facial expression. Still, she performed the fast and tricky footwork, and always seemed at home when her leg was extended behind her in a high arabesque. Krusch’s solos were one series of crowd-pleasing leaps or turns, or leaping turns, followed by another. He changed his feet in the air with beats so fast his feet became a blur. O’Brien performed her role gracefully and deftly. Among other impressive feats, she performed a series of fouetté turns, the repetitive, center-stage turns en pointe that always bring applause, in a unique and skillful way.
Glinka Pas de Trois was no less impressive, and was my favorite dance of the night. The dancers, Lilyan Vigo, Gabor Kapin, and Margaret Severin-Hansen, were dressed in gold with blue accents, the girls in classical tu-tus, designed by David Heuvel. The way the dancers quickly switched places, going from solo, to pas de deux to pas de trois made this dance exciting and interesting. Kapin partnered with both ballerinas, sometimes simultaneously, and sometimes going quickly from one to the other, appearing after a leap just in time to assist with an arabesque en pointe. The 3 made lovely pictures together, with a 3rd dancer peaking through the shape of 2. All of them kept up super-fast beats and small footwork, as well as leaps, that, even in their speed still had great height. They formed a cohesive group so that no one stood out beyond the others, as should be the case when all dancers in a group are performing at their best. They were all three magnificent and perfectly-suited to this challenging piece.
Balanchine’s sense of humor was apparent in À La Françaix. Jan Burkhard danced the part of the Flirt. With her hair down in a short skirt she was fun-loving and flirty. Two Sailors, Eugene Barnes and Oliver Béres, held her attention until the Dandy, Yevgeny Shlapko, appeared. In his all white suit and fake mustache, he had fun with the Flirt until the Sylph, danced by Lindsay Purrington, bourrée-ed onto the scene. The Sylph was dainty, wholesome and beckoning with her overly romantic, long white tutu and comically contrived sweetness, leading the Dandy to dump the flirt. This was a light-hearted and fun ballet that elicited laughter. Burkhard was convincing as the Flirt with her youthful excitement that turned to deflation when the Dandy sent her away, and then to frustration when the Sylph, with her false innocence continued to appear and ruin her day. This ballet was full of skillful lifts, and Burkhard’s high leaps and kicks were a memorable highlight.
Lynne Taylor-Corbett‘s Lost and Found followed. This was an intimate dance made more intimate by the live solo piano accompaniment, selections by Schumann played by Karl Moraski. Eight dancers began on stage, 4 women in silhouette-shaping, simple dresses in natural colors, and 4 men in similarly colored pants and t-shirts, all designed by Jeff A.R. Jones. Taylor-Corbett choreographed this piece in the aftermath of 9/11 and dedicated it to the memory of Patricia Colodner.
The dancers told the story of people, strangers, coming together to share a loss. The dance was contemporary and jazzy at times, very original and beautifully staged. Melissa Podcassy was featured and was at her best in the role. The choreography complimented her strength as a dancer and her depth as an artist. The dance ended powerfully with Podcassy leaving the stage to the piano chords of an “Amen.”
Taylor-Corbett is a selfless and objective choreographer. She shows the ability to handle heavy topics like disaster and grief honestly, to represent the range of emotions, from the grief to the feeling of futility, stating human truths, and to still be subtle. And most importantly, to show these things without self-indulgence or melodrama. She may be expressing herself and her own feelings through her work, but she does so while capturing a common element in the human experience, so that we aren’t forced to think about the artist when observing her dance. Rather, we reflect on our own experiences through her work.
The final piece of the night was Robert Weiss‘s Moving Life, originally created for the opening of the new NC Museum of Art. The first impression was a feeling of fresh, youthful innocence. There was a kind of minty coolness about it with the dancers all in white. At the end of the first section with 6 female and 1 male dancer, they reached a pose together, and when the music stopped, the the movement continued for a short time. This was an interesting moving stillness, which I thought might be a theme throughout the dance, based on its name, but it was not.
It was refreshing to see some new faces as soloists. One who stood out was Cecilia Iliesiu. She filled the stage with energy and had a kind of humble confidence. Like Margaret Severin-Hansen, she danced as if the audience were there as her guest and she were the gracious host. Her solo and pas de deux were brilliant, and she also stood out in a group. Yevgeny Shlapko did a short jazzy and slightly crazed (in a charming way) solo that was reminiscent of his role in Dracula as Renfield, the mental patient.
Moving Life, like some of Weiss’s previous works related to an idea (eg. Oblique Dreamscapes, Time Gallery) is too broad in scope to allow for depth. It leaves no lasting impression because it has no emotional impact. Sometimes the dancing is just about the dancing, as in his beautiful, and one of my favorite Weiss ballets, Adagio. But if it isn’t all about the dancing, the dancing needs to be about something. He describes the piece as the dancer’s answer to a visual artist’s still-life. While we don’t get the details of the activities that surround the still-life, the painting contains specific elements. It isn’t any fruit, it’s an apple and a banana, for instance. It is a zoomed-in image of a life, something mundane, but specific. Moving Life displays beautiful dancing, and interestingly juxtaposed shapes, as Weiss says he intended, but it lacks intimacy. It is a zoomed-too-far-out view of a life.
Balanchine Rarities was a thoroughly satisfying theater experience. The woman next to me gasped out loud several times, and there was a buzz about the theater each time the curtain closed with talk of the “breathtaking” dances. This is a performance not to be missed. It will be running through March 4th at the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater.
by Denise Cerniglia