Opening night of An Evening of Robert Weiss demonstrated that as they begin their 15th anniversary season, Carolina Ballet will continue to keep audiences interested, entertained and educated. Dr. Robert Weiss, founding artistic director of Carolina Ballet, has created more than 45 pieces for the company in the last decade and a half, from short abstract pas de deux to new takes on classic full-length story ballets. The show this weekend is an impressive sampling of his extraordinarily diverse repertoire. The program includes four selections, two of which are new, all of which are timeless.
A Classical Ballet is set to the music of Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony #1. In grand gold classical tutus in front of a royal blue backdrop, this lively piece of fourteen dancers is a lovely interplay between pas de deux, pas de trois, solo and ensemble. The visual design and changing patterns make this piece especially interesting.
A new piece, Meditation from Thaïs, is a sensual pas de deux with the dancers mirroring each other’s flowing movements. The slow controlled movements and symmetry are the perfect visual representation of Jules Massenet’s music. (The program doesn’t say, but I think it is Yo-yo Ma’s cello we hear.)
Another new work is Intimate Voices, described by Weiss himself as a story with a simple plot. It begins with a happy family who suffers the sudden loss of the father. Eventually the family in mourning sheds earthly roles and reaches a state of transcendence. There are many beautiful scenes throughout, and many crafty quick changes, not all of which happen in the wings. The story moves at a brisk pace from the family home, to the church and cemetery, and through the woods. The last scene is more abstract and could stand on its own as a ballet. The joyous ending invokes a feeling of hope after loss.
The last piece, Symposium, is an exhilarating and dynamic piece in six movements set to Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade. Each movement represents a speech from Plato’s Symposium, a dialogue about the nature of love, which was Bernstein’s inspiration while creating the music. Each movement has a unique style of music and motion reflecting the speaker’s assertions, from fluid adagio to super-fast allegro, topped off with some swinging jazz. All of the movements are geometrically contrasted, with bodies in relation to each other and also with the arrangement of bodies on the stage. The last movement, Alcibiades and the Revelers, is an exciting fast paced finale with dancers traversing the stage in all directions, creating disorder, until an ending that might inspire you to jump to your feet or joyously deface property.
This was an all-around first-rate performance, but a few of the dancers gave particularly noteworthy performances. Jan Burkhard gave a strong start to the season with what for me was her best performance. In A Classical Ballet Burkhard showed precision and grace, but was no delicate flower. Her power gave the impression she could lift herself if she were so inclined. She had fabulous cabrioles – lifting one leg behind her and jumping effortlessly off the other to have them meet in the air. In Intimate Voices we got to see a soft and innocent side of Burkhard. In the role of Loyal Housekeeper she danced as convincingly as any of the playful roles she has seemed so fitted to.
The adagio pas de deux Meditation from Thaïs was danced superbly by Lara O’Brien and Marcelo Martinez. They drew the audience in from the first motion, and that single motion continued uninterrupted for the five minutes of the piece. They were so entwined that even when they danced away from each other they moved as one. They started toward a shape that would disappear as soon as it began to be realized, so that the incompleteness and connectedness became what entranced and drove the dance forward.
The star of the night was Melissa Podcassy, who danced with gracious expression in roles that perfectly captured her finest strengths. In the role of the Eldest Daughter in Intimate Voices Podcassy movingly acted out familial love and the pain of loss. She stepped seamlessly through her pain into the uplifting second half where she led the corps to the joyous end. It is fitting that Podcassy and Timour Bourtasenkov would dance the most poetic of the speeches in Symposium, that of Agathon. Podcassy showed her versatility in the contemporary style of choreography. What she portrayed in this dance were lines and angles, softened by her own unique and beloved style; she was sensitive to the form of a square, for instance, without letting it limit her.
This production is a spectacular start to the fifteenth anniversary season for the Carolina Ballet. Weiss consistently shows artistry, creating complex and intricate works with changing patterns that keep the audience visually engaged and intrigued. After fourteen critically acclaimed seasons, this celebration of Dr. Weiss’s ballet says: Stick around, we are just getting started.
Review and photos by Denise Cerniglia
You can still see An Evening of Robert Weiss Sept 22 – Sept 30
Get tickets here