Even though we cover the Carolina Ballet regularly, we seldom get a peek behind the scenes like a dress rehearsal. On Wednesday night, we were treated to a spectacularly danced ballet with high octane, an incredible intensity, and emotional impact. Though the title ballet, choreographed to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Serenade, is George Balanchine’s first dance choreographed in the United States, a brilliant and beautiful ballet, the evening’s shining star is Robert Weiss’ new ballet, written to Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs.
Serenade is the first ballet of the evening, and the curtain opens on a corps of female dancers lined up like grammar-school children against a blue screen. Then the dancers move through a meticulously timed set of movements that create stunning abstracts against the blue screen. One at a time, the dancers (principals Jan Burkhard, Margaret Severin-Hansen, Richard Krusch, and Yevgeny Shlapko, and soloist Lindsay Purrington) appear onstage for magical pas de deux or pas de trois.
These dancers are at the top of their game. Burkhard is a delight, with strength, accuracy, and an intensity in her dance that makes one tired simply watching her. Severin-Hansen floats through a series of intricate leaps and footwork, always stretching her body so completely that she actually appears to grow on stage, and Purrington is especially ethereal when interpreting Balanchine’s choreography. Shlapko and Krusch, both strong and supportive to whomever they partner, are simply that during the evening’s performance: strong support. For these performances, it’s all about the women.
The second ballet is sweet, tender, nostalgic, and beautiful. Robert Weiss has choreographed a story to Strauss’ haunting Four Last Songs and founding principal dancer Melissa Podcasy portrays the lead in the ballet. Podcasy retired in 2012 after 15 years with the Carolina Ballet. Her appearance onstage is apropos of the woman she portrays, since that woman is looking at herself at different times in her life. It’s a tale of the four stages of a woman’s life: the child, the goddess, the good mother, and the crone.
In One: Fruhling/Spring, it is 1948 and the Woman appears to be looking back at her life. Podcasy dances delicately and forlornly, until she enters the phase of her life, where she was in her prime (Two: September, Woman/1932, danced by principal Lara O’Brien). The women dance beside each other, at times, and pass by each other, at other times. It is as if they can see/feel each other, yet they cannot; and the effect is as haunting as a great poem.
In Three: Bien Schlafengehen/Going to Sleep, Yevgeny Shlapko is the Man who supports the Woman in 1922 (Lily Wills) as they fall in love amidst a Roaring Twenties setting. And in Four: Im Abendrot/At Sunset, the youngest Woman (1903) is played by Courtney Schenberger, and her man is Christian Gutierrez. Wills is both sensual and fun as the flapper, whereas Schenberger charms as the youngest version of the Woman.
The metaphors throughout this quartet of dances (particularly, the red rose) add to the emotional power of this beautifully choreographed ballet. Creatively, Robert Weiss has made some interesting and impactful choices, particularly in ensuring that Melissa Podcasy’s character blends in with the others in each segment of the ballet, since her life at various stages is what’s being enacted. He also adds drama where necessary and has given the women in this piece the most intricate combinations to execute. Again, the women shine.
That theme for the evening continues with associate director Zalman Raffael’s choreography for In the Gray. For the second time during the night’s performance, Ross Kolman’s lighting is used to accentuate the dancer and to provide heightened drama for the dance itself. A single spotlight illuminates the bodies of Marcelo Martinez and Randi Osetek, highlighting the muscles of their arms and legs. Alyssa Pilger joins as the third principal dancer, with nine other members of the corps as support.
Though Kolman’s lighting is fabulous and provides a mood for this piece, it is the dancing that outshines Philip Glass’ music, the Violin Concerto No. 1. During this evening’s performance, Martinez is the only man who truly has his moment onstage, underscoring it with a spectacular cabriole and grand jetés that make him look like he’s flying.
But, again, the women also dance with abandon; and they, too, cover the stage with grand jetés and knife-sharp footwork, arabesques, and tour jetés, all of which are danced at a breakneck pace. It’s a demanding evening of dance, and the women are the stars equally. Normally, one dancer stands head and shoulders above everyone else; but in Serenade, the women come together to create a body of work that is stunning and not-to-be-missed.
SECOND OPINION: April 22nd Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Linda Haac: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/article209295239.html.
The Carolina Ballet presents George Balanchine’s SERENADE at 2 and 8 p.m. April 28, and 2 p.m. April 29 in the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601. TICKETS: $32.15-$91.15, except $20 per ticket for college students with ID and free to high school students with ID. Click here for details.
Carolina Ballet Box Office: 919-719-0900 or https://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or https://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/serenade, https://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/repertoire-entry/P44, https://www.facebook.com/events/1751796281786242/, and http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/serenade-8231.
2017-18 SEASON: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/2017-2018-season.
PRESENTER: http://www.carolinaballet.com/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaBallet, https://twitter.com/carolinaballet, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_Ballet.
DIRECTIONS: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/directions. PARKING: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/parking.
Serenade (1935 ballet): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serenade_(ballet) (Wikipedia).
George Balanchine (choreographer, nee Georgi Melitonovich Balanchivadze, 1904-83): https://www.britannica.com/biography/George-Balanchine (Encyclopædia Britannica), https://www.nycballet.com/Explore/Our-History/George-Balanchine.aspx (New York City ballet bio), http://www.balanchine.org/balanchine/index.html (George Balanchine Foundation), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Balanchine (Wikipedia).
Robert Weiss (Carolina Ballet‘s co-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 co-artistic director and 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 the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.