The Triangle is home to a strong community of people in the creative arts; and it was more evident than ever on opening night, Sept. 24th, when the world premieres of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and The Planets lit up the stage at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. Two of this area’s brightest stars, Carolina Ballet’s artistic director and CEO Robert Weiss and the company’s choreographer-in-residence Zalman Raffael, partnered to design the innovative choreography for both programs. By envisioning and producing new and challenging dances here in the Triangle, Weiss and his star choreographer are working diligently to bring the international ballet spotlight to the Carolina Ballet; and, in turn, they are highlighting the creative hub that exists in the Triangle.
The excitement in the auditorium buzzed before Weiss took the stage to introduce the season and the premieres. Ballet aficionados anticipated the show, curiously speculating how the dancers would fill the stage, and gossiping about “Zali” (Raffael) and his brilliance as well as about Weiss’ wisdom in leading off the season with new work rather than leaning on the tried and true. When the first chords of the violin concerto sounded and three ballerinas in greyish-pink tutus fill the stage, the audience settled back into their seats to enjoy the music and choreography. Though the sound system struggled to fill the auditorium, the dancers made up for the lack of power of the sound system’s speakers. Principal dancer Lara O’Brien and soloists Yevgeny Shlapko and Adam Crawford Chavis employ their musicality and considerable strength to successfully deliver the choreography Raffael and Weiss spent two years creating.
Though only a prelude for the main performance, the Violin Concerto showcases both the choregraphers’ talent, as well as the dancers. There were a few obvious opening-night jitters and several moments when the dancers were out of sync, but Felix Mendelssohn’s last orchestral work is well represented by this interpretation.
Gustav Holst created the seven-movement orchestral work The Planets in his early forties, during a period in history when the ninth planet (Pluto) had not yet been discovered. Holst’s work was meant to celebrate astrology, and was written at a time when following horoscopes became fashionable. Each movement is titled after a planet and the corresponding god for which the planet is named. Holst chose not to include the Earth in his work, since our planet was not included when the astronomical signs were named. Through the years, other composers have added to or changed the composition of The Planets, but Weiss’s concept for this ballet interprets the original version. One of the stellar additions to this version is the sculpture of local artist Guy Solie. His gigantic metal sculptures are raised and lowered for each movement, their shining puzzle-like pieces arranged and connected by the stage crew while the dancers exit or enter the stage. The addition of this artwork once again underlines the creativity of the Triangle and lends a very different type of backdrop for this ballet.
The first movement, Mars, the Bringer of War, showcases principal dancer Pablo Javier Perez in a powerful, militaristic dance that has elements of contemporary dance with whispers of hip-hop shading the ballet. It’s an expressive and interesting dance, and Perez’s great extensions and leaps underline Holst’s strong horns and heartbeat undertones. The audience sees the coming together of an army, their precision and preparation for war, then the ultimate battle with two factions led by soloist Nikolai Smirnov and up-and-coming company member Rammaru Shindo. Their stiff arm and leg movements evoke the Russian army: commanding and precise.
Venus, the Bringer of Peace is the opposite of the previous piece. Populated by women, the dance is a soft, ethereal one, with the all-female cast clothed in floaty white led by the graceful blond beauty of soloist Randi Osetek. With eight other ballerinas on stage, she stands out and is so memorable that audience members still talk about her stage presence when exiting the evening’s performance. She embodies the movement, exuding peace not only with her gorgeous arabesques but also with her beautiful facial expressions.
The third movement, Mercury, the Winged Messenger, features Sokvannara Sar, a soloist who hails from Cambodia and who has been a soloist with the ballet for the past four years. His leaps and bright personality make him the perfect choice for the quick movements that define Mercury. The costuming for this movement—a blue sparkly material—provides additional spirit to the dance he leads with his three female partners.
Principal dancers Marcello Martinez and Llyan Vigo show their virtuosity in the next movement, eliciting bravos from the crowd with their interpretation of Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity. One of the most recognizable movements and known to be the centerpiece of the orchestration, the music features woodwinds and is light and quick, a challenge that is demanding even for the best dancers. Martinez and Vigo not only meet the test, but pass it with flying colors, and the audience recognizes and appreciates their talent.
The opposite of jollity is old age in Holst’s composition and Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age, is considered heavy and plodding. Soloists Oliver Beres, Alicia Fabry, and Lindsay Purrington portray the solemnness of the piece but without sacrificing their incredible artistry. The large planet is elegant in its enormity, framed by concentric circles. Named after the god of agriculture, the planet is distant, but often visible to the naked eye. The dance is as romantic as the planet itself.
Uranus, The Magician, danced by Jan Burkhard and Rammaru Shindo, is a sprightly, though often discordant, piece of music that critics have called “vulgar.” The music may be called such, but the ballet is far from vulgar. Burkhard and Shindo pair to bring a brilliant — and, yes, magical — quality to the penultimate piece in the orchestral movement.
The final movement brings principals Margaret Severin-Hansen and Richard Krusch, two audience favorites, to symbolize Neptune, the Mystic. Severin-Hansen’s ability to both embody a character and to fill the stage though she is one of the smallest dancers in the company impresses even the most jaded audience members. She and Krusch bring the 12 dancers who accompany them to a synchronized moment where one can almost imagine seeing the future.
All in all, the premieres of the ballets to both Mendelssohn’s and Holst’s compositions are ballets that would please each of the great maestros. The Triangle should celebrate this world-class ballet company and its talented director, choreographer, and dancers. The 2015-16 season has just begun, and tickets are still available not only for this opening production, but also for the rest of the season. Instead of watching dance on reality television, enjoy the immense gift that the company of the Carolina Ballet offers each time their toe shoes hit the stage.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 19th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article35722839.html.
The Carolina Ballet presents THE PLANETS, a world premiere by Robert Weiss and Zalman Raffael, at 8 p.m. Sept. 25, 2 and 8 p.m. Sept. 26, and 2 p.m. Sept. 27 in in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $30.14-$68.14 (including fees), except $20 per ticket for college students with ID.
Carolina Ballet Box Office: 919-719-0900 or https://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/.
PRESENTER: http://www.carolinaballet.com/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaBallet, https://twitter.com/carolinaballet, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_Ballet.
Robert Weiss (Carolina Ballet 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).
Zalman Raffael (Carolina Ballet choreographer-in-residence): http://zalmanraffael.com/ (official website) and https://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/dancers-entry/zalman-raffael (Carolina Ballet bio).
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, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. 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.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.