Before each performance at the Carolina Ballet, artistic director Robert Weiss comes out onstage to introduce the performance. The most recent performance appears to be especially close to his heart, perhaps because all of the music, classical and composed originally for dancing, was researched and chosen by Weiss himself and choreographed for the Carolina Ballet by Weiss and Zalman Raffael, the Ballet’s resident choreographer.
With works written by some of the best known composers in history, this performance breaks new ground and cements the Carolina Ballet as one of the finest and most creative in the nation. Robert Weiss is rightfully proud of Master Composers: Music for Dance. I echo his exhortation to spread the word about this phenomenal performance and urge you to call your friends and get your own tickets for this ballet.
The dances/composers are set in chronological order, with the exception of the prologue and epilogue. The prologue is the Polonaise in F Sharp Minor by Frédéric Chopin; and the epilogue, The Waltz from Eugene Onegin by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Each is introduced by a projected image of the composer’s name, often a signature, and the notes of the composition, sometimes scrolled as the music begins. The effect is a simple and evocative one that underscores the historical significance and age of each composition without taking away from the dancers onstage.
The first dance of the evening is Chopin’s Polonaise, a march-like and precise dance made more beautiful by presenting it as a ballet. Even the dancers are dressed in the clothing version of the polonaise, a tight bodice with an underskirt opened from the waist downward, then looped up to create a “poufed” overskirt. Almost the whole company is onstage for this famous polonaise that has been recorded by such virtuoso pianists as Vladimir Horowitz and Artur Rubinstein.
The polonaise requires meticulous accuracy and that is often difficult when there are lines of dancers moving in opposite directions while trying to maintain a ruler-straight line onstage. The dance is complicated and the 24 dancers move from almost the full company to pas de deux in a seamless fashion. Each of the pas de deux is slightly different in form and athleticism. Margaret Severin-Hansen and Nikolai Smirnov’s dance is lighter, more open than the other four dances. She practically floats during the lifts and arabesques.
When the polonaise finishes, the dancers move directly into a medieval piece called Danse Real, written anonymously. A solo danced by Elizabeth Ousley, the music is very Irish-sounding with the echo of bagpipes and deep drums reminding the audience that a piece like this might have been performed with traveling musicians at a festival near the lines of a military encampment. Ousley accompanies herself with hand claps occasionally through the dance. She connects through her open facial expressions, practically invited them into the story she tells with her dance.
Ashley Hathaway and Alyssa Pilger join to dance William Byrd’s Galliard, written in the early 17th century. The harpsichord appears to offer a call-and-response style of composition that sets the stage for the dancers to respond with a choreographed ballet dialogue. The dancers do not mirror each other, as they have in other dances, but instead seem to answer each other, though not in a daring, challenging manner.
From this rather light piece, the dancers move into a darker colored composition by Bach. The Cello Suite in C Major. The rich tones of the cello are highlighted when the dancers begin the first portion of the dance in the shadow. Though 12 of the corps take the stage, the pas de trois is the centerpiece of this composition.
Jan Burkhard, Amanda Babayan, and Rammaru Shindo are the stars, equal to each other in weight and force though their styles are different. Burkhard’s range often overshadows lesser dancers. She is truly a jewel in the Carolina Ballet’s crown and dances like she could both levitate and reach into the hearts of her audience to palpitate them with her intense and delicate fingertips. Babyan and Shindo are also intimately related to the dense tones produced by the velvety cello. The pas de trois is frequently dominated by one dancer, and each takes his/her turn in this piece.
Before the first intermission, there is one more dance: a German dance written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Once again, a large contingent of the company takes the stage prior to the pas de deux performed by Lilyan Vigo and Richard Krusch. Mozart’s composition uses a full orchestra and the music is lighter and quicker than some of the previous compositions.
The music gives the choreographers room for some of the more intricate lifts and arabesques and jumps, both petit allégro and grand jetés. Vigo and Krusch, experienced principals, dance their parts with enthusiasm and excellence.
The Ritterballett by Ludwig van Beethoven is this reviewer’s favorite dance of the evening. Written for a masked ball, the dance is a story of a woman, danced by Lara O’Brien with passion and acting worthy of a stage award, and four potential lovers: Marcelo Martinez (who seems to win occasionally, but is then tossed over for … possibly … one of the others), Oliver Beres, Adam Crawford Chavis, and Adam Schiffer. As in most masked balls, the masks stay in place until the stroke of midnight, when all bets are off.
This dance is one where the woman holds all the power and O’Brien seems to relish the possibilities. She plays, entices, seduces, decides, changes her mind, flirts, and all the while, engages the audience. It’s fun, sexy, well-danced, and tells a story that brought some titters from the audience. Its brilliance weaves the audience into the story, and that is what the best choreography does.
Enrique Granados’ Valses Poeticos represents the late 19th century and the work is danced with finesse by principals Margaret Severin-Hansen and Rammaru Shindo. Severin-Hansen’s hands are extremely expressive and anyone who dances with her is able to “fly her” when lifts are expected as part of the choreography. She appears to have an invisible line tied to the ceiling which elevates her higher than any other dancer.
More Hungarian Dances, this time written by Johannes Brahms, close out the second section of the performance. Four pas de deux dominate this lively performance but one dancer draws the eye more than any other: Cecilia Iliesiu. Her large, expressive movements are executed flawlessly. Her facial expressions match the dense, almost tragic, tones of the music and dance, especially when juxtaposed against the larger group. She stands out in her passion and sensuality.
Another intermission, and the last third of the ballet begins: the 20th century. Tango by Igor Stravinsky starts the set, and is danced with a corporeal seductiveness by Randi Osetek and Adam Crawford Chavis. Originally composed in 1940, this composition seems to herald the upset of the world in its rhythmical construction.
Tango is all about passion and loss of control, yet Stravinsky’s tango displays as much or more control as some military marches. Osetek and Chavis work within the composition to prove that most passion is about controlling that passion rather than losing it.
Written after that world war, John Adams’ Lollapalooza lets loose with big brass and sounds that state that the secrets of war are over and the world is set to start living again. The choreography of this dance is as large as the composition demands. Sokvannara Sar and the six members of the corps appear to have a wonderful time filling the stage for this energetic dance.
And, finally, the epilogue. A grand Waltz from Eugene Onegin by Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky. What a wonderfully grand waltz it is, with the full company on stage. What is amazing is that this particular piece of music, though written for the dance, has not been fully choreographed before. Robert Weiss has outdone himself on this piece with a vibrant and fully explored balletic waltz that showcases not only the Carolina Ballet company but also his love for the classical music explored in this evening’s performance.
Though the dancers are the interpreters of the vision of the choreographers in this special program, the composers and choreographers are the true superstars of this latest foray into creativity by the Carolina Ballet. And that creative venture is one that everyone who supports the arts, loves dance or respects originality should experience.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 27th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2015/02/28/4587672/on-tap-at-the-carolina-ballet.html.
The Carolina Ballet presents MASTER COMPOSERS: MUSIC FOR DANCE at 2 and 8 p.m. March 21 and 2 p.m. March 22 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: $25.14-$68.14.14 (including fees), except $16.01 for college students with ID, purchased by phone at 919-719-0900 up to the day of the performance or at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium box office, starting one hour before curtain.
Carolina Ballet Box Office: 919-719-0900 or http://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 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: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/master-composers-music-for-dance and https://www.facebook.com/events/1494577930757181/.
PRESENTER: http://www.carolinaballet.com/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaBallet, https://twitter.com/carolinaballet, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_Ballet.
2014-15 SEASON: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/2014-2015-season.
Robert Weiss (Carolina Ballet‘s artistic director): ttp://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/staff-directory-entry/robert-weiss (Carolina Ballet bio) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Weiss_%28choreographer%29 (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. She is also Dean of General Education and Developmental Studies at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, where she oversees the theater program at the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, and a member of the Person County Arts Council. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.com/.