The five ballets by George Balanchine that are part of Carolina Ballet’s Rubies program are humorous, sensual, dramatic, playful, and never trite, even when venturing into stories of love triangles and dancing dolls.
Raymonda Variations, a collection of dances to music of Alexander Glazounov, was a striking visual treat, with gorgeous aqua-colored costumes against a brilliant backdrop of changing deep royal colors. Dancers moved deftly about the stage in changing patterns, passing between each other and setting the tulle skirts into simultaneous spins. The nine variations (solos) that followed the company’s opening were short exciting displays of skill. My personal favorite was Variation VII, a pizzicato piece danced by Alyssa Pilger. Pilger danced delicately and crisply to match the plucked strings with her movements. Carmen Felder’s jumps and landings were all perfectly timed with the music in Variation VI, and in Variation V Ashley Hathaway hopped more comfortably on one toe than many people seem on two feet.
Steadfast Tin Soldier might make you think of the Nutcracker with its dancing dolls under a Christmas tree, but there is an air of melancholy behind the dolls’ playful expressions. It’s the story of a tin soldier (Sokvannara Sar) who woos a beautiful paper doll (Margaret Severin-Hansen) only to see her taken away by a gust of wind. Irreparable tragedy makes this short ballet complex.
The gypsy-themed Rondo Alla Zingarese is a sensual dance set to music from the Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet. Cecilia Iliesiu and Eugene C. Barnes III led the band of seventeen gypsies. Their grand lifts and leaps had the intensity of a lion jumping through a ring of fire. The movement of nineteen dancers in gold rags was exhilarating.
A La Francaix is a comedic ballet with a love triangle. The Flirt (Alyssa Pilger) was consistently disappointed when the Dandy (Marcelo Martinez) turned his attention from her to the Sylph (Randi Osetek). When she wasn’t flirting with the Dandy, Pilger danced with the two good-natured sailors (Sean Armstrong and Adam Crawford Chavis), who playfully tossed and teased her. The trio gave enthusiastic performances that were convincing of their youthful roles.
Osetek was less convincing as the Sylph, though. I am a fan of Osetek. She was the high point of Carolina Ballet’s The Little Mermaid as the Sea Witch, and her dance with Sokvanarra Sar in Symposium was one of the most memorable from that performance in 2012, but this was not the right role for her. The Sylph has a comically exaggerated sweetness that Osetek didn’t convey. Her presence is too commanding to be demure and some of the comedy got lost.
The program’s title piece, Rubies, was a sparkly and spectacular scene set to music of Igor Stravinsky. The ruby red costumes were adorned with jewels and the backdrop twinkled like a rich gemstone mine. The combination of traditional and avant-garde movement styles was an intriguing juxtaposition that keeps Balanchine works like this current in any time. Jan Burkhard and Nikolai Smirnov partnered in unique ways in their pas de deux, entangling arms, and reclining into each other. Randi Osetek’s solo role in this abstract ballet allowed for her intensity, as well as her incredible range of motion, to fill the stage.
Carolina Ballet gets better every season. Principal dancers like Lilyan Vigo and Richard Krusch in Raymonda Variations always represent professionalism and composure. And young fresh-faced and eager dancers with the skill to perform fast and challenging choreography are becoming more and more plentiful in the company. I usually attend the opening night performances, on Thursday, and this time I went on Friday. I don’t know if that’s the reason that I saw so many new faces dancing larger roles, but it was a treat and I look forward to seeing more of these young dancers.
Rubies is a visually striking and exhilarating program that foretells more good things to come.
Review and pictures by Denise Cerniglia
You can see Rubies at Fletcher Opera Theater in Raleigh through October 27.
See more pictures from the show at: http://artsviewnc.com/2013/10/16/carolina-ballet-rubies/