Though we all would name different people when asked who “the masters” might be, one thing is for sure: the Carolina Ballet celebrated the best of the best with A Tribute to the Masters, last night’s tribute to the music of Beethoven and Grieg. But those internationally famous composers are not the only masters in the latest performance in the ballet’s 2019-20 season. With choreography by Carolina Ballet’s founding artistic director, Robert Weiss, paintings/scenery by artist Gerry Lynch, costumes by Kerri L. Martinsen, and a special performance by world-renowned pianist William Wolfram, the stage is full of masters, all of whom deserve the same respect as the composers celebrated in this beautiful tribute.
With only one intermission, the ballet, under the artistic direction of Zalman Raffael, explores the DanceSymphony (7th Symphony) by Ludwig van Beethoven and Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto with energy and creative flair. Beethoven opens the evening, with principals Margaret Severin-Hansen and Richard Krusch dancing the first movement of the symphony with the unparalleled talent they both possess.
Even when lost within more than 20 dancers simultaneously onstage, Severin-Hansen stands out. Something about the way that she sinks herself into a dance, her musicality, the way she provides just a bit more nuance to her footwork, tilts her head a little more, and assists her partner by almost making herself birdlike, draws the audience’s eye to her. The piece is joyous and light, well-danced, and a pure delight to watch.
As with the others in this part of the program, Margaret Severin-Hansen’s and Richard Krusch’s costumes are inspired by the huge projected image of Gerry Lynch’s paintings; and the braid of creative arts (music, dance, and art) brings the piece to an erudite level of choreography that few choreographers reach during their lifetimes. Robert Weiss’ premiere of this particular ballet speaks of his own creative genius, and the Carolina Ballet is quite lucky to enjoy his inspired work.
In the second movement, principal Yevgeny Shlapko and soloist Lily Wills, in deep red costumes that repeat the colors of the five-piece artwork projected behind them, create a dreamlike sequence. It’s a passionate piece, punctuated by leaps and lifts that are painfully exquisite. The duo dances well together, though there are others in the company who appear to have a better connection with each other.
The third movement is a folk dance, and Robert Weiss has chosen the perfect dancer to embody the quick and exuberant movements: principal Jan Burkhard, assisted by soloist Jayson Pescasio. This duo is well-matched, both in height, coloring, and ability to execute quick mood changes in both the music and the dance. They appear to have wonderful stage chemistry, often glancing at each other to smile before a leap or turn, and they are quite enjoyable to watch.
A Bacanalle is the title of the fourth movement, and it’s an appropriate one for the chaotic dance. Principals Lara O’Brien and Marcelo Martinez, two of the strongest dancers in the company, appear to struggle a bit with the frenetic opening of this ballet;, but they recover and prove their mettle with some of the most challenging lifts of the evening. In fact, the last lift of their dance would be a 10 on a scale of difficulty.
During this dance, the corps also struggles with lifts that almost missed and one dancer falling mid-step. The discombobulated actions of the dancers often appear to reflect the distracted atmosphere of a bacchanalia itself, thus speaking to the theme, but from the audience’s viewpoint, there might be too much going on and that would be the culprit that causes mistakes.
After a short intermission, the simple beauty of white leotards and tutus fills the stage for a revival of Robert Weiss’ choreographed dance to Grieg’s Piano Concerto. Three duos dance to this selection, and they often compete for attention, yet each partnering is unique. Principal Ashley Hathaway and soloist Sam Ainley are perfectly paired. He’s a strong partner for her in lifts and their timing is spot-on. Principals Alyssa Pilger and Kiefer Curtis also appear comfortable together. She’s a precise, delicate dancer whose turns and arabesques are picture-perfect. He’s attentive and quick to make adjustments to support her. Soloists Courtney Schenberger and Christian Gutierrez dance well together and share a chemistry and trust that builds a great sense of timing between them.
In the midst of this concerto, the music changes and Weiss takes advantage of it by supplying a dancer-ly pause, a moment that actually creates a tableau when one of the couples is surrounded by female dancers. The second movement begins, slower and more thoughtful — pensive, in fact — and once again, the pas de deux takes the stage. It’s a lovely ending to the recognizable strands of Grieg’s well-loved piece, created when he was only 24, younger than some of the dancers.
Taking on the masters is a challenge, but Robert Weiss and the Carolina Ballet’s dancers meet it with style and grace. With the live music of William Wolfram’s classical piano and Alfred E, Sturgis’ direction of the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle, the ballet offers an evening of world-class music and dancing that’s a perfect prelude to the holiday season. A Tribute to the Masters will continue at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium through Sunday, Nov. 24th.
The Carolina Ballet presents A TRIBUTE TO THE MASTERS at 8 p.m. Nov. 22, 2 and 8 p.m. Nov. 23, and 2 p.m. Nov. 12 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/369155/836166.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-719-0900 or https://www.carolinaballet.com/tickets/special-rates/.
SHOW: https://www.carolinaballet.com/2019-2020-season/a-tribute-to-the-masters/, https://www.facebook.com/events/395578387731201/, and https://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/events/tribute-masters-grieg-piano-concerto-beethovens-7th-symphony-carolina-ballet.
2019-20 SEASON: https://www.carolinaballet.com/season/.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23rd, performance.
Robert Weiss (Carolina Ballet‘s founding artistic director): https://www.carolinaballet.com/robert-weiss/ (Carolina Ballet bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/robert-weiss-87951 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Weiss_(choreographer) (Wikipedia).
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/.