After a day’s delay due to snow, Carolina Ballet opened its newest repertory program, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, in Raleigh’s A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater on Feb. 14th (I attended the matinee on the 16th) and brought a welcome treat for previously snowbound patrons.
Corps de ballet member Zalman Raffael’s Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2 was first on the program. The curtain rose to reveal a man (Yevgeny Shlapko) standing alone stage right, with a group of female corps de ballet dancers ranged in diagonal lines stage left — a striking opening image. Raffael’s ballet told the story, however abstract, of this lone man’s melancholy yearning, which was eloquently expressed by his opening solo. Jan Burkhard was the object of his yearning, at first elusive, just out of reach. Alternating leading and weaving between demi-soloists Ashley Hathaway and Sarah Newton, Burkhard traversed the stage, stepping softly, with supple arms, floaty turns, and deep pliés.
When Schlapko and Burkhard finally came together, the result was one of the loveliest pas de deux I’ve seen in a very long time. It was tender and gentle, quietly passionate, the two dancers lost in a world of their own, completely enveloped in each other’s energy. The partnering was fluid and flawless, the chemistry between Schlapko and Burkhard palpable. In addition to sweeping lifts and turns, there were lovely small moments, such as Burkhard gently placing her foot into fifth position, a normally insignificant movement that took on great import because of the intentional yet delicate way that it was presented.
Cecelia Iliesiu and Oliver Berés seemed to represent some sort of “intervention of the gods” in this enchanting ballet. Early in the piece, they hovered over and encircled Schlapko in a joined port de bras, later orchestrating (along with Adam Crawford Chavis and Adam Schiffer and the corps dancers) the uniting of Schlapko and Burkhard. Their duets were more extroverted — sweeping, grand, elegant.
Zalman Raffael has the makings of a great choreographer. He interpreted Rachmaninoff’s romantic music masterfully, not only expressing the fluidity and expansiveness of the score, but also evoking the various moods of each section and of the overall piece. Kerri L. Martinsen’s costumes — chiffon-skirted, knee-length dresses in shades ranging from pink to deep salmon for the ladies and tunics in shades from gold to rust for the men — further enhanced the romantic mood of the ballet, and Ross Kolman’s lighting wrapped the entire work in rich, warm tones.
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is Carolina Ballet artistic director Robert Weiss’ newest work, set to Antonio Vivaldi’s masterpiece of the same name. “Spring” featured Lilyan Vigo and Richard Krusch leading a small corps of female dancers through spritely choreography. All was green in this section: The cyclorama was a lovely clear spring green. Pale green unitards served as the base for the costumes, with wrap skirts for the ladies and a loose tunic for Krusch, all made of the same shimmery soft green fabric. Vigo’s dancing was suitably light and lovely, and Krusch never fails to amaze with his long legs, his ballon, and the articulation of his feet.
Eugene C. Barnes, III led the “Summer” section, accompanied by Ashley Hathaway, Cecelia Iliesiu, Randi Osetek, and Lindsay Purrington. Parts of “Summer” were languid and easy, expressing beautifully the lazy days of summer. These were contrasted with livelier sections marked by the dancers crisscrossing the stage with fiery grand jetés. It was all yellows and bright oranges (even orange-red) in this section, with a wash of warm, tropical shades on the cyclorama.
The colors shifted to mauves and rusts and burgundies in “Autumn.” Lara O’Brien and Marcelo Martinez led four couples in a lively, swirling dance. The ladies’ skirts fluttered like autumn leaves and a series of lifts done in succession in one section of the dance gave the impression of leaves blown about the stage. O’Brien and Martinez are both gifted dancers and executed the choreography with skill and verve; but for me, their pairing lacked chemistry. It felt as if they were dancing next to each other but not with each other.
“Winter” was led by Pablo Javier Perez, Sokvannara Sar, and Nikolai Smirnov, joined by Carmen Felder, Elice McKinley, Lindsay Turkel, and six corps dancers — all clad in icy blue. The men’s quick jumps and turns brought brisk winter winds to mind, and even the slower sections, with the female dancers executing smooth turns trailing their legs along the floor in arabesque à terre, had the spare stillness of winter.
Jennifer Aiello and Sydney de Briel’s colorful costumes effectively conveyed the four distinct seasons of the ballet, and Ross Kolman’s lighting, especially the ever-changing colors of the cyclorama, completed the splendid spectacle of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
With Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2 and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Carolina Ballet has added to its ever-growing repertoire two strong new works, both of which provide Weiss with ample opportunities to show off the many talented dancers in the company. I was especially pleased to see corps de ballet members given the chance to shine in these two works.
Weiss noted in his curtain speech that the only company to have produced more new works than Carolina Ballet in the past 16 years is New York City Ballet, which has a budget nearly 20 times that of Carolina Ballet. This is both an impressive and an important accomplishment. While new works can be risky, it is new works that challenge both the dancers and the audience; and it is new works that will keep Carolina Ballet a vibrant, successful company.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 19th Durham, NC Indy Week review by Brian Howe: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/passion-and-pleasure-at-the-carolina-ballet/Content?oid=3855961 and Feb. 12th mini-preview by Chris Vitiello: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/vivaldis-four-season/Event?oid=3817144; and Feb. 18th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/02/18/3633559/two-pretty-pieces-from-carolina.html.
Carolina Ballet presents VIVALDI’S FOUR SEASONS at 8 p.m. Feb. 21, 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 22, 2 p.m. Feb. 23, 2 and 8 p.m. March 1, and 2 p.m. March 2 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $32.50-$78.00 (including fees), except $15 per tickets for college students with ID.
Carolina Ballet Box Office: 919-719-0900 or http://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/836166.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-719-0900 or http://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets/group-sales/.
SHOW: http://www.carolinaballet.com/program/vivaldis-four-seasons and https://www.facebook.com/events/257657321059339/.
PRESENTER: http://www.carolinaballet.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaBallet.
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2 (1901 piano concerto): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piano_Concerto_No._2_%28Rachmaninoff%29 (Wikipedia).
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (1723 violin concertos): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Four_Seasons_%28Vivaldi%29 (Wikipedia).
Robert Weiss (artistic director and choreographer): http://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/staff-directory-entry/robert-weiss (Carolina Ballet bio) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Weiss_%28choreographer%29 (Wikipedia).
Viki Atkinson danced professionally in musical theater for a number of years and later shifted her focus to choreographing for theater. Locally, she danced in the North Carolina Theatre productions of Cabaret, My Fair Lady, Man of La Mancha, Oklahoma!, and West Side Story. Additional performance credits include Kathy in Company, Peggy in Godspell, and the title role in Gypsy. Later, Atkinson lent her dance expertise to Spectator Magazine, serving as chief dance critic from 1987 to 1999. She also holds a degree in Dance Education from UNC-Greensboro; and she has taught extensively in a variety of settings, including Meredith College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Appomattox Regional Governor’s School (Petersburg, VA), and the School of Richmond Ballet. She was also on the faculty of the Raleigh School of Ballet for 10 years and directed the dance program at Martin Middle School for four years. Viki Atkinson recently returned to Raleigh after living in Richmond for six years, and is thrilled to be back in North Carolina! To read more of Viki Atkinson’s reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/viki-atkinson/.