Opening night for the ballet means you’re in for a treat, and Robert Weiss’ phenomenal Carolina Ballet didn’t disappoint on Sept. 15th, with the world premiere of choreographer Zalman Raffael’s La Mer. The lovely principal ballerina Lara O’Brien welcomed the audience with the reminder that the Carolina Ballet creates more original ballets each year than any other corps other than the New York City Ballet. “And three of the ballets tonight are world premieres!” she said.
Each of the ballets is quite different from the other in almost every way except for the way the images last in your memory after you see the performances. In a very wise move, the evening opened with the title ballet, La Mer. Claude Debussy’s music creates the bathing scene with dancers in 1920s bathing costumes moving languidly across the floor. Each couple appears interested in nothing but their own love, until one girl appears interested in an unattainable man. When another couple appears overly concerned, the program notes start to make sense. This is a story about a family’s fight to keep their daughter from being taken by the sea; and in true balletic metaphorical sense, that sea is represented by the lost soul that the daughter befriends.
The story — danced emotionally by Lilyan Vigo Ellis and Yevgeny Shlapko as the worried parents, and Amanda Babayan as the daughter, Maxmilian Isaacson as the lonely man on the beach — is timeless but something about Kerri L. Martinsen’s costuming gave the ballet a very special, almost photogenic feeling. Everything was right about the choreography and the costuming, the dancers connected with the story and the multilayered familial structure in a way that came across even without program notes, and Ross Kolman’s lighting gave the scene a golden beachy glow that accentuated the costumes perfectly.
Lilyan Vigo Ellis and Yevgeny Shlapko’s partnership as the parents offered the right amount of tension as they attempted to make a decision about their daughter, as well as a strong loving partnership that makes them appear both compassionate and supportive for each other as well as their child. Vigo Ellis dances in a stately yet approachable manner, as a worried mother might, a great foil to the innocent, daydreamer that is the daughter (Amanda Babayan).
The ballet can only be described in one word: lovely.
Igor Stravinsky’s Pas de Deux (Encounter), choreographed by Robert Weiss, offers a stark contrast to the family-based story in La Mer. Weiss calls the music “wry and astringent,” a perfect description for the discordant jazzy overtones in this piece.
The dancers, Lily Wills and Miles Sollars-White, are company members, an excellent pairing who danced as well as some of the principals. They appeared to execute the concept flawlessly, their timing was impeccable, and they created a dance of which Weiss should be proud. Certainly, we’ll see this partnership again.
In the third piece, we did see a partnership that we’ve seen before: Alicia Fabry and Lindsay Purrington, in The Double, with music by César Franck. The dance is about doubles or doppelgängers, a belief that everyone has someone in the world who looks exactly like them.
Fabry and Purrington are almost twins on the stage. They move in a synchronized fashion, almost as though there were a mirror between them. The music is pretty and sentimental; but toward the latter part of the refrain is a more anxious strain, as though the music attempts to create its own individuality, as the dancers are unable to do themselves.
When the dance comes to a close, with a tableau moment of the two dancers with their heads tucked into each other’s shoulders, one wants to capture the emotion on canvas. Well-deserved “Bravos” erupted throughout the crowd after people caught their collective breaths.
After the second intermission (if there’s one thing that could be improved, it would be deleting that second intermission — one long intermission is enough), the third premiere began; and not only was the music an audience favorite, but the piece also showcases the best of the best in the Carolina Ballet.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #5 is a romantic piece, the kind of music that makes you realize this is what falling in love is like. It’s a haunting piece, perfect for a ballet, which is exactly what prompted Robert Weiss to choreograph to it.
There are three movements to the concerto, and Weiss appears to have played off that trio of musical pieces by casting each dance with three principal dancers. In the first movement, Richard Krusch, Margaret Severin-Hansen, and Marcelo Martinez dazzle with their power and grace. They never disappoint the audience with their ability to leap effortlessly, create perfect arabesques, and sculpt air with quick flicks and shapes that don’t seem humanly possible. Their corps is also a multiple of three: six couples.
The second movement is anchored by soloists Oliver Béres, Ashley Hathaway, and Adam Schiffer, ; and again, the corps is a multiple of three: six female dancers. Their pas de trois has a different feeling than the trio in the first movement, it is a bit lighter yet powerful, and it is still as lovely as the first movement. Hathaway can be delicate and brilliant with her small movements, and Béres and Schiffer partnered her well.
The final movement spotlighted another pas de trois, pairing them with the entire cast. This time, Rammaru Shindo, Alyssa Pilger, and Nikolai Smirnov. A much brighter allegro provides the dancers with a type of rondo that makes the piano the star. Weiss correctly chose this trio for the third movement, especially since Shindo’s dancing tends to be more energetic and passionate than some of the other male principals.
It was the perfect ending to the evening, and a great beginning to another wonderful season of the Carolina Ballet, one of the best companies in the country.
La Mer is showing at the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in Raleigh through Oct. 2nd.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 18th Raleigh, NC News & Observer article by Linda Haac: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article102212542.html, Sept. 16th review by Linda Haac: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article102258592.html, and Sept. 3rd preview by Linda Haac, Roy Dicks, David Menconi, and and Mary Cornatzer: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article99092812.html; and Sept. 14th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by David Klein: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/la-mer/Event?oid=5061772.
Carolina Ballet presents LA MER at 2 and 8 p.m. Sept. 24, 2 p.m. Sept. 25, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 1, 2 p.m. Oct. 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: $30.14-$68.14 (including fees), except $20 per ticket for college students with ID.
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/.
Robert Weiss (Carolina Ballet artistic director and choreographer): http://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/staff-directory-entry/robert-weiss (Carolina Ballet bio) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Weiss_%28choreographer%29 (Wikipedia).
Zalman Raffael (Carolina Ballet‘s 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/.