Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My love affair with the accordion

A love affair like no other, love of the accordion is genetic, ethnocentric, and unavoidable. My own affair with it began before birth and followed the rules below:

First, you've got to be lucky enough to be born Estonian. Second, you must try to be born into the incomparable Anto family. Third, you must grow up hearing the most beautiful, heart-lifting, inspiring, toe-tapping music in the world, played on the most beautiful instrument that exists, the accordion. Fourth, this music must be played by those also lucky enough to be born Estonian. This is the circle of fourths, accordion version, or the time signature for the polka. Those who -- through no fault of their own -- cannot experience step two, can do the waltz, which is just as fine.

Antopoisid - The Anto Boys - of Rahuste küla (village), Saaremaa, Estonia (left to right, top row first): Fred (Värdi), Heino, Leo, Edward (Ardi), and Evald.
Leo was my father who died at the age of 69 in 1991. Fred died first, very young, at age 50. Then Ardi, at age 65. Evald, the youngest (born in 1924) is the last Anto standing, Heino died in January, 2007, at the age of 90.
There are no better people in the world. The hospitality and friendship of these brothers was legendary. Our family get-togethers were unparalleled in fun, music, and good eating (boy, could the Anto wives and sister cook!!!). My cousins and I had the best childhood a kid could have.

We assembled often throughout the year, for birthdays and anniversaries, barbecues at home and at Jones Beach (in the early 50's it was at Orchard Beach), and, of course, for Christmas. Uncle Ardi was the only brother who read music -- he had taught himself -- and led the brothers into Latin and Italian music as he discovered different pieces. He used the sheet music to learn, his brothers took his lead and filled in with harmonies, duets and trios, and the house rang with rhythms that encouraged movement and song.


My twin cousins, Heino's sons John and Heino, became piano virtuosos (while I was an ordinary piano student during the same years) and a big part of the entertainment at each family party (such entertainment was the very lifeblood of our being together and went on for several hours). They could pick up anything and play along.


With only one piano, the other twin would sit at the bongos and I sometimes rounded out the action with the maracas. This was NOT Estonian music! Our native genre got addressed also as singalongs erupted toward the end of the evening, but the Anto accordions had evolved.


Our parties lasted well into the wee hours, with plenty of food and drink always on hand (two of the brothers and my aunt's husband had basements with built-in bars, ever popular in the 60s) and my dad always drove home with a little buzz on.



Sometimes the family get-togethers were in the apartments of the brothers who did not live in houses, or at my grandparents' small walkup. I am always awed when I think of how many people could comfortably fit into those 2-bedroom flats and have a hearty party.
The food would be a groaning board of delectables laid out on the kitchen table, the coats were thrown on the beds, there was only one bathroom, and all of us gathered in either the living room or around the kitchen table. In my twin cousins' parents' apartment, there were two pianos in the living room, a spinet and a baby grand! We had a ball growing up in that nurturing atmosphere, where the aunts and uncles made us feel important and loved and the music never stopped.


Those years have given me memories to fill my mind when I need to go back to the simple times when life held no worries (at least not for us kids) and when the most exciting thing to see was your uncle's car rounding the bend onto your street. Long live the accordion! It is the one thing that centers me as it unfolds memories of my past. When I hear a familiar song played the way my father or uncles played it, tears come to my eyes and I get a lump in my throat.
One of the best-known and
beloved Estonian accordion players
 in Toronto, Lembit Nieländer.

He reminds me so much of my father and I am very happy to count him among my friends. I've heard him play since he was a teenager (he accompanied the folk dance lessons I taught at summer camp back in 1974) and, like all the best accordion players, it was clear even then that he was born to it. Today he is on call for all kinds of social events and it is a fortunate person who gets to dance and sing to his playing. 

"He makes me feel like dancing...."



This first fellow plays something that may be familiar to ABT and Paul Taylor fans. It was a family staple for me. I don't have any videos of my dad and brothers playing -- so sad. It was before the time of video recorders. I like this white-haired accordion player I found on youtube and am sure his family thinks he is as wonderful as I think the Anto brothers are. I love his little smile at the end, after he finishes playing.



From one to a a whole group of accordions to give you the flavor of what gatherings in our family were like. 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cinderella -- Festival Ballet Providence, October 2007

Leticia Guerrero in a publicity still for Cinderella
I wrote this review a year ago for Ballet Talk

An incredibly innovative performance of a new contemporary Cinderella was performed October 19, 20, and 21 at the Veteran's Memorial Auditorium in Providence by Festival Ballet Providence, artistic director Mihailo (Misha) Djuric.

Viktor Plotnikov was a principal dancer with Boston Ballet from 1993-2003 (his wife Larissa Ponomarenko is currently principal dancer with BB) and from 1998 has choreographed numerous works in Boston and for many other companies and schools, as well as choreographing pieces for major ballet competitions, for which he has also received many prizes. He has created many commissioned works for Festival Ballet Providence in the last few years.

His Cinderella was a contemporary masterpiece, incorporating steps and movements new to the ballet stage. The use of props was striking and appealingly clever, as were the special effects which created the magic that Cinderella needs, especially for today's children raised on Disney's version. This was anything but Disney -- as far from Disney as one could get -- probably much to the initial disappointment of Sunday afternoon's child-filled theater, many of whom came dressed in official Disney Cinderella costumes -- but there was magic -- Plotnikov's version.

There was a fairy godmother whose entire dress lit up, huge soap bubbles in the air which changed to festive ballroom lights, a golf cart which whisked Cinderella off to the ball, an imposing mechanical clock made up of 13 children (students from the Festival Ballet Providence Center for Dance Education) and Cinderella's magic dress. Lest this leads you to think the piece was in any way fluff, let me dispel the notion -- pouf! -- as instantly as Cinderella's drab gray garment changed to a bright yellow dress when touched by the magic sunflower.

The artful use of props like enormous balls, cubes, planks, and cones, and moving doors to change the set design, needs its own review. Think of Drew Carey's "Whose Line is it Anyway?" -- the segment where the panel of regulars shows the many uses and moods a single prop can convey. That will give you a rudimentary idea. Now imagine that made large scale, with several dancers moving props simultaneously to transform the stage set and to surprise and enchant us.

Oh, and did I mention that all the costumes were black and white (with a few pleasant and necessary exceptions that were part of Cinderella's transition from real life to magical going-to-the-ball life), and so was the cat (admirably -- and very authentically -- portrayed throughout the ballet by Ilya Burov)?

This was a modern Cinderella the likes of which no one has seen before. The music was indeed Sergei Prokofiev's Op. 87, there were an evil stepmother (although this one was more like an upper east side New York modern mom who treats her nanny like a slave) and two evil stepsisters (again, not so evil .... more a spacey sister and a wannabe young socialite sister), an adorably loyal cat, a fairy godmother, handsome prince and lots of dancers at the ball, but there was also Cinderella's father (after all, where does a "step"mother come from?) who softened the poor girl's solitary existence and longed to spend more time with his daughter (whenever he could get away from the stepfamily).

Leticia Guerrero
Three acts and two intermissions long, the ballet enthralled until the perfect ending, when the prince found his Cinderella and they were showered by, first, a dusting of yellow petals, then, a spring petal shower of torrential proportions that made the audience ooh, aah and squeal in delight.

The intended prince was Gleb Lyamenkoff, but he was injured about a week before the performance and Mindaugas Bauzys saved the day. Borrowed from Boston Ballet, where he is a soloist (his wife Vilia Putrius, also formerly with BB, dances with Festival -- she was the stepmother), Bauzys had to learn the part in less than a week. He did a magnificent job (there was a lot of choreography for him to get into his mind and muscles) and was a perfect prince, from his beautiful line to his flawless technique and speedy execution of tricky steps. The company dancers had a few weeks to get used to the quirky head, neck, upper body and arm movements that Plotnikov devised, but Mindaugas had only days. He danced as if he, too, had been rehearsing for weeks and knew the ballet cold.

Mindaugas Bauzys
Leticia Guerrero was Cinderella in every performance and, because of her unsylphlike lines, was a welcome new choice for the plum role. She is also a flawless dancer, with especial gifts in making complex movement look like a breeze and in drawing the attention of the audience (especially the children, who also glommed onto this new, shorter, dark-haired latino Cinderella and made her their new favorite).

Guerrero is well known as a principal dancer with this rankless company and has a wide repertory of main roles in her arsenal. She was a wonderful Cinderella and seemed well-suited to the weird Plotnikov movements and pas de deux. There was one rather conventional PDD that she and the prince were given to dance during their falling-in-love scene, which showcased their smooth partnering and effortless flow through lifts and traditional steps. This was immediately followed by another pas de deux of the Plotnikov persuasion, which they also carried off with exciting, though odd, lifts and flexed-foot steps and intentionally jerky approaches to movements.

Lauren Kennedy, one of the stepsisters (her role was shared with Jennifer Ricci -- each had 2 performances) was a beguiling spacey sister, who, with her long, long legs and arms really created a compelling caricature of a girl who can't be bothered to apply herself to anything, including standing up. She repeatedly had to be lifted out of a deep plié, only to sink back again, or out of a 180 degree sidesplit, or carried off as a statue because she was too fixated or spaced out to change the position of her body. Her comical rendition of this role was so much fun!

Ricci tailored the part to her own personality and strengths. The difference in appearance of the two dancers is like night and day. While Kennedy is long-boned and blond, Ricci is tiny and dark-haired. A veteran with the company (this is her 17th year) she is gifted in comedy -- a regular Lucille Ball. Watching her expressions as she goes through the same steps is rollicking good fun, and her ballet technique is well-honed and effortless.

Erica Chipp and Lauren Menger shared the role of the "wannabe" stepsister on alternate days, each dancing with aplomb the strange choreography while giving a definite personality to the character portrayed. They ran Cinderella only a little bit ragged as they were more focused on finding their own way to appeal to the prince.

Every featured dancer exhibited strong technique and accomplished stage presence. There was always so much going on and so many places to look that it was easier as an experienced audience member (who enjoys watching the ballet training that went into each performer's development) to pick just a few dancers to follow rather than try to take it all in. It helped to attend three performances. By the third go, I had a grounding in this complicated ballet and enjoyed it even more than the first two times.

I will not review my own daughter's performance in it, as that just isn't right, but you have to know that when she was onstage I had eyes for no one else. :)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ballo della Regina, ABT at City Center, Sunday matinée, November 2, 2008

Gillian Murphy in Ballo della Regina
Gene Schiavone photo



Ashley Bouder in Ballo della Regina
Paul Kolnik photo

Today's 1:30 performance (Nov. 2) began with Ballo and the slip of paper announcing Yuriko Kajiya and Eric Tamm in place of Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg. I knew Gillian wouldn't be dancing as planned, but I was so looking forward to David in this. But no worries -- it's always exciting to see a new'un in a new role and I thought Eric Tamm was very, very good. Kajiya, too, after her troubled "Theme" a week ago (last Sunday's afternoon performance) was confident, strong, and bursting with energy. I was happy I saw her in a better light. When she got to that special Merrill Ashley variation, I looked at her very closely, Ashley's dancing running through my head.
Merrill Ashley
Martha Swope photo


Allegra Kent was seated near me and I wondered what she was thinking, too. Kajiya tried her darndest, she really did, and without the knowledge of Merrill Ashley's precedent-setting performances, one could say Kajiya did very well indeed. Alas, we DO have knowledge of Miss Ashley's incomparable antecedent! It makes you treasure having seen Ashley do it all the more and place a higher value on her considerable ability with the special choreography of this piece.

Isabella Boylston and David Hallberg in Ballo della Regina
Gene Schiavone photo
It was the collaboration with George Balanchine , who simply incorporated things Merrill Ashley could do -- and she could do just about anything -- that made this ballet so special. The speed! The precision of those hops! That unique 3-part drawing in of the leg from grand battement à la seconde to high passé!


But this review is supposed to be about Kajiya. I was pleasantly surprised at how pleasantly and surprisingly she danced today.

With ease and showing beautiful lines, good elevation and a much better facial expression -- joyful! -- to replace that upper lip curl that looked almost like a sneer last week when she was dancing unsure, Kajiya won my heart. She is quite the sublime dancer. I'm glad that I can end my season of watching by saying so, that I was able to change my mind about her (even knowing she was thrown into "Theme" and had to make [really sour] lemonade). Yuriko, you were wonderful this afternoon and you have t-i-m-e to get better at things like Ballo. You certainly took the bull by the horns today. More power to you.

Yuriko Kajiya in Ballo della Regina
Gene Schiavone photo
Eric Tamm -- such a fine danseur noble. He's been given so many opportunities this fall season and he is using them so well. He stepped up today, too. Most of his turns were straight, fast, and beautiful-looking. His line is gorgeous. He was an attentive, strong partner. He covered the stage with his leaps and was right on the music throughout. I can still see him in my mind's eye, so that makes him memorable as well.

The corps was crisp, generous of movement, sprightly and long-limbed. My Isabella was there, so of course I watched her loveliness quite a lot of the time. Maria Bystrova stood out for me, too. It's a darn shame she grew so tall and big-boned for I think that's what's keeping her from being moved up. She was a darling, pixielike 15 year old who danced like a dream in all the cute little girl variations. I was so excited when she joined ABT. For years, I've been itching to scream at someone about her still being kept from showing us all she's got. The other females (Nicola, Zhong-Jing, Nicole, Melanie, Anne, Luciana, Jacquelyn, Christine, Leann, and Karen U.) each had their own personality as they danced and it was fun to identify them as they whizzed by.
All were in good form, some in sensational form. The four soloists -- Misty, Maria, Hee, and Marian -- were wonderful. I don't have a bone to pick with any of them. Sheer pleasure in beautiful costumes. Marian Butler is so pretty!

Preview: My new corps favorite is Roddy Doble (who knew?!) in “Company B”.
He was fantastic! And Carlos Lopez! Could he BE any better? WOW!




Isabella Boylston, Luciana Paris, Nicola Curry in Ballo della Regina
Gene Schiavone photo




















Hee Seo in Ballo della Regina
Gene Schiavone photo



The Leaves are Fading, ABT at City Center, Sunday matinée, October 26, 2008

The Leaves are Fading

Today's matinée (Sunday, Oct. 26th) was a present to myself on the occasion of one of children's birthdays (the 4th to turn 28, egad!) and what a wonderful gift it was. I don't think I've been inside the City Center theater since NYCB called it home prior to moving to Lincoln Center. My mother, and at Nutcracker time my father too, took me there back then and I remember it being BIG. Well, either it shrunk or I grew up. I think we know which. Entering the orchestra section flabbergasted me -- it was such a little place!

I was led to my front row seat (a perfect one, no.105) and seated, had the stage almost in my lap. I don't think I ever sat in the front row with my folks when I was little. The orchestra pit is quite small and deep, so the lip of the stage puts you intimately in touch with the action on it.

I was so eager to see "The Leaves are Fading" for it was to be the second time I'd seen a company dance it this year. In February I watched all performances of Festival Ballet Providence's production of it because my daughter was a member of the company.

Järvi Raudsepp and Roger Fonnegra in Festival Ballet's
The Leaves are Fading, February, 2008
Gene Schiavone photo
It is one of the loveliest ballets in existence and could be watched repeatedly without ever becoming tiring. Melissa Thomas was the lady in green. She floated through the mini-role, both pre-ballet and at closing, with a beatific and understanding smile on her lovely face, with just a trace of wistfulness at the very end as she let the last memory/dancer fade away. First to appear Hee Seo had me fixated on her at various times throughout the ballet because of the exquisite carved shape of her legs and feet (reminds me of Irina's legs). A precise dancer with a high passé position, her form was compelling to follow as she drew arcs with her legs and positioned her long high-arched feet from movement to movement. I also loved watching Jacquelyn Reyes who has such a sunny look and beautiful body. Her lilting front brisés showed off her long legs and delightfully high jump. One of my favorite dancers today.

Jared Matthews also had a loose, joyful jump as he partnered Maria Ricetto in one of the duets. Both danced with enchantment and pleasure and conveyed it to us in the audience very easily. A lovely pas de deux. After being so charmed by Tobin Eason last Friday at Bard, I noticed him as soon as he danced onstage today. He had a similar jovial face, a little toned down to befit "Leaves", and my glance gravitated toward him again and again.The partnership of Veronika Part and Alexandre Hammoudi worked very well in this ballet. Their pas de deux was golden. I especially loved the weighted way Veronika lifted her leg in grand battement, achieving a solid position at the top of the movement and holding it. She was secure throughout and, yes, I will add, perfect. An absolute standout in "Leaves". Hammoudi was a skilled partner with an accomplished performance himself, and they suited each other fully.

Marcelo Gomes and Julie Kent in The Leaves are Fading
Gene Schiavone photo
As at Bard, my eyes were also on Nicola Curry, and she didn't disappoint. Her stage presence continues to fascinate. She is one divine dancer. Marian Butler keeps growing on me, too. She has such a beautiful face, is a meticulous technician, knows how to enthrall the viewer and engross us in her stagework. As five couples, early on in the ballet, formed a circle and whirled by us, I was so involved in identifying the individual dancers that it was with a pleasant jolt that I saw Marcelo Gomes and Julie Kent fly by as part of the group. When did they blend in? I was looking forward to their pas de deux -- the famous John Gardner/Amanda McKerrow pas -- and soon it began. Kent is such a delicate china doll, it's always so satisfying to see her pull off difficult choreography with the aplomb of the ballerina she is. "Leaves" is not in the league of difficulty that the classics are, but to make the central pas de deux look flowingly effortless is at all times a challenge.

Marcelo, king of sensual dancing, yearned for his ladylove, playfully drew her into his circle of allure -- even his eyes alone flirted with her -- and then he rejected her, as is meant to happen. Julie was sheer perfection but for a botched turn sequence which forced her down to flat, but this was probably only noticed by the ballet-savvy. In Providence (where McKerrow and Gardner spent weeks teaching the ballet), Mark Harootian danced Marcelo's role extraordinarily well. I liked parts of Mark's interpretation even better than I liked Marcelo's. To be able to compare is interesting. I loved the way Marcelo danced it and I loved the way Mark danced it. Who's next?

The success of the ballet lies in Tudor's choreography. The close-fisted men's steps danced to a staccato beat, for instance, lend a certain clever power to the gender which may be reminiscent of a time period (as this ballet deals with the passage of time) where "men were men and girls were girls". It's an appealing and eye-catching movement. The overhead lifts, with the women held on straight arms just above the back of the waist, draping languidly backwards over the men's heads, have such a pleasing appearance that Tudor must have used them as often as he did just for the aesthetic effect. Same goes for the lifts where the female's front and back legs are simultaneously bent at the knee from a 180° split position while being held aloft over the man's shoulder while both gaze lovingly into each other's eyes. Looks so pretty.

When the stage fills with all 15 dancers, it's a splendid flurry of strikingly simple, flowing pastel costumes, expansive, elated movement and longing glances which draw the ballet to a close with the reappearance of the one having the memories. We who watch are filled with longing, too, for we crave more of such loveliness.

A word about the conductor, Charles Baker. Never since Leonard Bernstein have I seen an orchestra leader so involved with the music he's conducting. My seat was to the left of him by three seats and during the overture he was as wonderful to watch as the dancers who followed. During the ballet, he sometimes vocalized quietly along with the musical strains as he gave himself a workout, especially upper-body, in his effort to elicit the beauty of Dvoràk's score. Tudor and Dvoràk together anointed his face with a magical, angelic expression.

Next installment(s): Baker's Dozen and Citizen (I liked it!)

Baker's Dozen -- ABT at City Center, Sunday matinée, October 26, 2008

Baker's Dozen

Same cast as Sunday evening. Barbara Bilach at the piano. I had a good seat for watching Bilach as she played the overture. We were facing each other, she in the orchestra pit, me in the front row. Her face was calm throughout as she tackled yet again the contrapunctal jazzy rhythms of Willie "The Lion" Smith.

She is used to playing this. The ritardandos and diminuendos, accelerandos and and crescendos linking the different pieces are usually also in counterpoint, making it a bit of a difficult piece to get under your belt. Perhaps that is why I felt she was a little insecure at Bard. I take it back. She is skilled enough to be able to play this wildly speedy, galloping music with nonchalance. For viewing purposes (knowing that the pianist is to be heard, not seen, when she accompanies ballet), Bilach was boring. Were she in concert I'd love to see some animation as she tickled the ivories.

Curtain opens. Female dancers in white tops with criss-crossed straps in the back. An embroidered-looking beige sash-width belt cinches the waist of beige skirts, split to the top both front and back to allow for acrobatic movement. Legs are covered in lacy, legging-like tights which end inside white jazz shoes. The males are in beige trousers and shirts.One thing about ABT's rendition, as has been mentioned in previous reports, is the lightness of the company's dancers. I agree that this must be, if not the finest, then one of the finest ballet casts to dance this modern work.

Misty Copeland in Baker's Dozen
Gene Schiavone photo
So much of this piece is performed in the air as dancers grand jeté on and off the stage, throw themselves into each other's arms or onto their backs, jump off each other's bodies, and propel themselves straight up like rockets, with legs tucked in beneath them. There's groundwork, too, with lots of sliding movements, being pulled into the wings while in splits, rolling around from one side to the other via a fellow dancer's back, plenty of rond de jambes in plié, falling to the floor, turning upside down with butts sticking up, and signature Tharp traveling modes.

Sassy shoulder rotating, arms loosely hanging, leading with pumping arms to traverse the floor, funny bits like not being let onto the stage by an unseen dancer in the wings, first pulled back by an arm, then a leg, and being left alone on stage to display antic moves as if in front of one's bedroom mirror, make for a lively, infectious gambol that leaves the onlookers in such good spirits.

Isaac Stappas and Kristi Boone in Baker's Dozen
I could see "Baker's Dozen" again and again. There's too much going on for me to follow everyone in only two showings. I'd like to follow each dancer throughout the piece -- that's how I enjoy ballet. The whole cast had great facial expressions as they acted their way through the dance. Sitting where I was I got to really see everything.

Standouts in Sunday's matinée were Arron Scott, who got the plum role of the dancer alone on stage sitting on his knees who starts to sway his hips as he realizes the others have taken a powder, and continues into an endearing solo dance charming himself as well as the audience, the very blond Blaine Hoven who was high-spirited throughout, Eric Tamm, looking so Tommy Tune and Broadway, and Isabella Boylston, to whom I will devote the next few paragraphs.

Isabella Boylston, left
Järvi Raudsepp, right 
I have to preface my remarks by stating that I knew Isabella when she was Hildur Boylston and a 12 year old summer ballet student at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C., 1999. My daughter and she became soulmates that July.

They're the two dancers at the barre in the forefront of this picture. 

The following summer, Isabella went to SAB and the year after, also, after winning the Gold medal at the Youth America Grand Prix finals at Pace University, which I attended because my daughter was in the competition too. A few months later, after the SAB SI, my daughter and I saw her taking class at STEPS where a crowd of students had gathered around the doorway to watch her in Willie Burman's class, informing those who didn't know, that she was this "amazing" dancer from the SAB SI. She was 14 years old. And, yes, she was indeed amazing.

Isabella went on to complete 2 1/2 years at the prestigious Harid Conservatory, graduating from high school there to move right into ABT's Studio Company (having already been approached at ABT's SI the previous summer). She participated in several ballet competitions, including the NYIBC, and won some top prizes and gained notice, becoming one to watch.

(Sidebar: A veteran competitor, she was a Grand Award winner at the Colorado State Science Fair in 2000, winning first place, Junior Division All Fair, for her project on Beetle Juice.)

My daughter has not seen her since the last two classes they took together that day at STEPS 7 years ago, but I made a point of going to ABT's Met season this past summer in order to see Hildur dance. She was featured as a D'Jampe soloist in La Bayadère and otherwise performed corps roles, and as I was sitting on the hard right side the day she was lined up with the corps on the same side (thereby not visible), I felt really gypped out of getting my full dose of Isabella Boylston.

Well, it seems I was to be deprived of her again, since the cast I got for City Center was the second cast for Citizen, in which Isabella is first-cast, and just as I was resigning myself to my fate, I noticed her name in the program for Baker's Dozen! Happy days (as Jamie Oliver would say)!

With nearly in-studio proximity, I sat upright in my seat ready for bliss. And I got it! Isabella Boylston is a blissful dancer, no question. And anyone who saw her nine-page photo spread and sublimely tutu'ed cover shot in Dance Spirit in September 2006 knows she has the ballet body of perfection: long, shapely legs, high insteps and arches, long arms, fingers, and toes, a beautiful countenance, narrow hips, taut yet free torso, linear sculpted muscles, gorgeous flexibility.

Her solo in "Baker's Dozen" (thank goodness she had a solo!) showed off her ease of technique, speed, musicality, lyricism, and charm. Isabella even threw in a "glinch" reminiscent of the great Suzanne. I enjoyed her performance so thoroughly and wondered why other reviewers hardly refer to her (lumping her in with others, or not even mentioning her dancing at all when she was indeed one fifth of a small ensemble).

Her duet with Patrick Ogle in Baker's Dozen was full of split positions, both on the ground and en l'air, high-swinging grand battements, energy, energy, energy, and fun. She'd be a major standout even if I didn't know her. But I'm so glad I do.

Citizen, ABT at City Center, Sunday matinée, October 26, 2008

Why I liked Citizen (to continue my report of the October 26th 1:30 PM performance):

Waiting for it to begin, I was mentally prepared to dislike the piece, given all the negative criticism it had received on Ballet Talk and newspaper reviews. When the curtain came up, I first noticed Sarah Lane, trying not to wobble as she held fourth position plié en pointe, her opening pose. I need not describe the set, for others have done so, but I'd like to add that the women were not wearing short shorts as others have said (at least not the kinds of short shorts I remember), but even briefer panties that were cut to skim the buttocks above the legs, a costume that might make some uncomfortable to move in for the amount of flesh it reveals.

Sean Stewart, wearing the girly, gauzy top was in stark physical contrast to Cory Stearns in the green corset and silver/mesh capri-length tights, so much shorter and smaller than the tall, larger-bodied Stearns. Lane, attired in the aforementioned underwear, also wore a bra with a corset-laced back, and long-sleeved fingerless gloves that covered most of her hands. Both Melissa Thomas and Devon Teuscher were in the brief briefs but had different tops, one which covered and one which left the midriff bare.

So.... nonchalantly sexy, skin-exposing costuming for the ladies, and both men wearing women's clothing. AHA! It was the beginning of Halloween week! Therefore, in the spirit of Halloween, this brief modern dance, with its witches' brew of strange happenings and weird flavor, worked out very well. It was clearly ABT's homage to the holiday. I loved it when the "other people" came on stage. Sunday afternoon these folks included some Baker's Dozen dancers (who had just performed) still in costume, a few stagehands, and a man carrying a two-year-old little boy in his arms. How very Don Redlich, I thought.

Next, I really loved the tiny gold glitter, especially at first, when the stage was dark, the falling flecks rendering a magical, mystical effect. Really beautiful. I don't remember too much about the dancing. Sarah Lane had many leg-turned-in pirouettes, there was off kilter balancing, sharply angled arm movements, and the neat ending where Lane, stepping slightly in front of the other dancers was finally separated from them by the descending curtain skimming her back as it lowered until she was standing alone in front of it, and, with inches of descent left, was yanked in a split second by unseen arms back behind it and out of view.

I'm sure the effect was even better for those seated farther away than I was.With my background being in modern dance as well as ballet, I had no expectations that Stallings' piece would be much of a ballet. Taken as a contemporary modern dance, I think it was not bad at all. Taken also as the effort of a youngish choreographer, I give Lauri credit for her audacity in exploration and fearlessness in working with well-known classical ballerinas and ballerinos and giving them such an utterly unballetic series of movements to do. I'd have been much too humbled at her age to attempt this on dancers of such caliber. With this kind of chutzpah, I'm eager to see what will be coming from Stallings in the future.

ABT at Bard College, Friday October 17, 2008

The program and dancers:

BAKER'S DOZEN

Choreography by Twyla Tharp
Staged by Elaine Kudo
Pianist Barbara Bilach
Music by Willie "The Lion" Smith
Original costume design by Santo Loquasto
Lighting originally by Jennifer Tipton

Kristi Boone, Marian Butler, Yuriko Kajiya, Simone Messmer, Renata Pavam, Devon Teuscher, Tobin Eason, Thomas Forster, Jeffrey Golladay, Craig Salstein, Eric Tamm, Roman Zhurbin

SINATRA SUITE

Choreography by Twyla Tharp
Staged by Elaine Kudo
Songs sung by Frank Sinatra
Lighting originally by Jennifer Tipton
Original costume design by Oscar de la Renta

Luciana Paris, Jose Manuel Carreño

OVERGROWN PATH

Choreography by Jiří Kylián
Assistant to the choreographer Roslyn Anderson
Pianist David LaMarche
Music by Leoš Janáček ("On an Overgrown Path")
Scenery and costumes by Walter Nobbe
Costume supervision by Joke Visser
Lighting by Joop CaboortTech and light adaptation by Kees Tjebbes

Our evenings: Veronika Part, Gillian Murphy, Misty Copeland, Paloma Herrera, Marcelo Gomes, Julie Kent, Kristi Boone

A blown-away leaf: Julie Kent, Misty Copeland, Jared Matthews, Gennadi Saveliev

Come with us: Jared Matthews, Thomas Forster, Gennadi Saveliev

The Madonna of Frydek: Veronika Part, David Hallberg and ensemble

They chattered like swallows: Gillian Murphy, Julie Kent, Misty Copeland, Kristi BooneWords fail: Paloma Herrera, David Hallberg, Marcelo Gomes, Jared Matthews, Gennadi Saveliev, Thomas Forster

Good night: Kristi Boone, Alexandre Hammoudi

Unutterable anguish: Veronika Part, Julie Kent, Misty Copeland, Paloma HerreraIn tears: Julie Kent, Gennadi Saveliev, Jared Matthews

The barn owl has not flown away: Gillian Murphy, Marcelo Gomes

COMPANY B

Choreography by Paul Taylor
Reconstructed by Patrick Corbin
Songs sung by the Andrews Sisters
(The songs express typical sentiments of Americans during World War II)
Costumes by Santo Loquasto
Lighting by Jennifer Tipton
Lighting recreated by Brad Fields

Bei Mir Bist du Schon: Full cast

Pennsylvania Polka: Maria Ricetto and Tobin Eason

Tico-Tico: Arron Scott

Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!: Craig Salstein with cast women

I Can Dream, Can't I?: Nicola Curry

Joseph! Joseph!: Karin Ellis-Wentz, Mary Mills Thomas, Nicole Graniero, Isaac Stappas, Tobin Eason, Craig Salstein

Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B): injured Herman Cornejo replaced by Joseph Phillips

Rum and Coca Cola: Misty Copeland with cast men

There Will Never Be Another You: Simone Messmer and Grant DeLong

Bei Mir Bist du Schon: Full cast

Overgrown Path and Company B were ABT premieres.

Company B -- ABT at Bard College, Friday October 17, 2008


Company B

Two words: Misty Copeland!

10 more words: Misty Copeland! Misty Copeland! Misty Copeland! Misty Copeland! Misty Copeland!

Did anyone else dance? Oh yes, did they ever! There was an actual baker's dozen of dancers, hot pastries fresh from the oven: German apple strudel (Maria Ricetto and Tobin Eason), puffy popovers (Arron Scott), curvy croissants (Nicola Curry), steaming muffins (Craig Salstein with his gaggle of swooning women), bittersweet chocolate mousse (Simone Messmer and Grant DeLong), spicy hot cross buns (the Joseph! Joseph! cast), all-American brownies (Joseph Phillips) and a tangy tropical tart (Misty Copeland). Paul Taylor's rousing, lively portrayal of the devil-may-care side of World World II masking the underlayer of devastation saw its premiere in 1991, first by Houston Ballet, then by the Paul Taylor company. Like "Overgrown Path", the ballet deals with mortality, but its take on death and its inevitability is totally different. Its characters begin as innocents, knowing what war does, but in their blissful youth, refusing to believe any of it will touch them -- until it does. In their innocence, they laugh, love and flirt, play-act and have wild fun. Then bodies start dropping, creating a new reality for the revelers.

The ballet is American, the America of the Europeans who peopled its cities 75 years ago and whose sons were sent to fight for it. The jubilation begins in low light to the Yiddish "Bei Mir Bist du Schon". The entire cast of 13 make the stage sizzle with their energy. With choreography based on the swing dances of the 40s -- the lindy hop, jive, boogie-woogie -- we experience pure joy and the beauty and exuberance of the young. A spirited polka follows, a good ol' German polka. If there's anything I know something about, it's the polka, so I must say that, while very well executed by Ricetto and Eason, I can tell that neither has had extensive experience with it. Still, it was very nicely done.

"Tico-Tico", a solo for a male dancer, was performed this night by Arron Scott. An ingenious piece of choreography, the dancer isolates his upper body parts into small bits that jiggle and undulate, pop and quiver as if he were in the throes of St. Vitus Dance -- or, to be current, maybe post-traumatic stress syndrome. Scott was so good that I've got to name him as my second most memorable dancer of the evening. The second part of the solo had him doing more traditional ballet steps like jetes, but I hardly remember any of that. Daniil Simkin and, from the cast list it looks like Mikhail Ilyin, alternate the part with him at City Center.

Bespectacled Craig Salstein was such a hoot in "Oh Johnny....", so much so that I watched him instead of the girls, so cannot comment on any individual female dancer. The story line: a bunch of girls hopes the nerdy boy (who didn't have to go to war) chooses one of them, but he outruns, outjumps, and outsmarts them. Nicola Curry, a lovely adagio dancer, gives the heartache of "I Can Dream, Can't I" an aesthetic, wistfully sensuous interpretation. Just beautiful!

Joseph Phillips, replacing Herman Cornejo, tackled "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", a grueling athletic endeavor. Phillips is certainly up to the choreography and physical requirements, but he needs more time with the role to work on nuance and surprise. I wanted to see something special, at least once, but, aside from the whole dance making special demands on the dancer, Joseph was not able (yet) to give it a little more oomph here and there.

And then came Misty. If ever a role was made for a dancer, "Rum and Coca-Cola" was made for Misty Copeland. Exuding sass, magnetism, and intrigue with a calypso beat, she led her admiring soldier boys into a lustful frenzy. It helps that she, of all the women, looks best in the "Company B" costume, so sexy and fresh. Misty has a springy, high jump, an expansive way of moving, and sharp, precise technique. She performed this so utterly perfectly, that I wonder whether there is anyone at ABT who can touch her or even come close.

Simone Messmer and Grant DeLong were given the tail-end duet "There Will Never Be Another You". The story behind the dance is that of a couple who must part because of the call of war, ending with the soldier joining his unit and leaving his girlfriend in an emotional heap to suffer the torment of (perhaps permanent) separation. It was extremely well danced. The maturity that Messner gives us everytime she takes the stage graced this duet in smooth synchrony with DeLong's expressive partnering. Bravo! Poignantly danced and well-acted.

The return of "Bei Mir Bist du Schon" provides a summarizing coda for the piece and returns us to the festive atmosphere which took us into the ballet. The dancers all return with their vigorous energy and we are again allowed to forget.

The whole cast wore white jazz shoes for the ballet and the women wore either long skirts or trousers. The unifying accessory was a thin red belt for everyone, males and females. It is completely possible that this is a symbol of more than the blood of war. The ballet came out during the years when the AIDS crisis was on the front burner of the news constantly. Paul Taylor was deeply affected by the loss of friends and dancers and used that raw emotion as inspiration for some of his choreography. "Company B" could well be one of those works that reflected the senseless destruction wrought by the disease. There are more layers to this prickly rose of a dance than meet the eye.

Overgrown Path -- ABT at Bard College, Friday October 17, 2008

Overgrown Path

We arrived at Bard two hours before curtain. It was a gorgeous fall day, the colors of the Hudson Valley in full array as we approached our destination, the Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center. Winding around the well-groomed lawns toward the theater, we saw two deer grazing by the roadside. The road dipped down and around to the parking lots, and, since we were early, we got a choice spot. The bigger lot further downhill requires an uphill trek from its users and Bard thoughtfully provides chauffered golf carts as taxis for its health-compromised theatergoers.

The campus's bucolic autumn atmosphere lent itself to the first ballet after intermission, Jiří Kylián's Overgrown Path.It is in this 10-part non-storied story ballet that the ABT principals and soloists are found mingling as one entity, separated abstractly into solos and duos and more. Five principals, five soloists, two corps members, dressed in fall colors -- red, orange, yellow -- and black, all in ballet slippers, and often in a simultaneously moving mass like leaves blown in the wind, convey an atmosphere of foreboding as they seem to be inexorably rushing toward something against their wills.This can be viewed as a "story" ballet if one is aware of its reason for being.

From ABT's site we read:

"The ballet is inspired by Leoš Janáček's autobiographical piano pieces, the path is the composer's life, imbued with rich memories of his small Czech village to the untimely demise of his beloved daughter." (from the program notes)
Seen without any background info, it's a ballet of movement, shapes, modern-dance angst and turmoil, and the experimental choreography of the next generation of modern dancemakers after Graham, Cunningham, and Taylor. Kylián dedicated the ballet to Antony Tudor and based it on Leoš Janáček's "intimate piano cycle, which gradually evolved over a number of years spanning the time before and after 1902, in the saddest period of Janáček's life.

It is the sequential deaths of his two children that informed Leoš Janáček's composing ever after. The overgrown path symbolizes the memories we all have, which become a jumble of events losing or gaining impact, depending on how our experiences through the years reorder our lives. What was once monumentally important may fade alongside other, more trivial at the time, incidents which now carry greater emotional influence for us. And so, to the performance.

David LaMarche strode to his piano in the orchestra pit, with a round of applause accompanying him. His giftedness with the 88s was apparent at the first musical passage. This is ABT's master pianist and we were so privileged to hear him. I felt a confidence with LaMarche that I did not feel with Barbara Bilach's opening notes for "Baker's Dozen", although she had to play twice as many notes, twice as fast (why does that sound like a familiar cliche in the context of her being a woman.....hmmm ).

LaMarche's overture led us into an ensemble dance where, first off, the costumes were noticed. Shapeless long dresses for the ladies, covering their balletic assets, reducing them to vehicles for molding, assembly and disassembly. The men fared no better with indistinct drab garb, homogenizing them all into, what? ... tree trunks? gnarly old branches? dried-up, blackened leaves? "Overgrown Path" doesn't allow identity by personality or technique to anyone. All are the same, the same but different. While there are some solo parts, some small groups, some couples, the roles could be danced interchangeably by anyone on stage, even given the natural physical and stylistic differences from one dancer to another.

The star of the ballet is the music, expressionistic in that it lets you imagine your own running scenario for it, even while you are being offered a visual framework by the ballet, much like seeing the movie version of a beloved book where they've portrayed it so differently than what was pictured in your mind's eye as you read it. At first, it suggests hope and promise, with only a hint of the tragedy to come. Extremely beautiful, and perfectly fitting the season, it pulls on your soul, when it's lilting as well as when it's surreal. As it progresses from part to part, the music starts to chill as it grabs you. As listener, you are whorled in with the same insistence as it captures the dancers onstage.

By the time we arrive at "The barn owl has not flown away", after "Unutterable anguish" and being "In tears" (the sections with the death, symbolized by the removal of the black-clad Gillian Murphy (playing the daughter who died) by Marcelo Gomes-- playing the role of death? -- from the midst of the other dancers) into an upstage abyss, the music is bold, urgent, unrelenting. In the stages of grief, this is somewhere in the anger, bargaining, depression and loneliness area. It is danced by Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes, who, though known as ballet stars, deliver understated fluidity and supremely gifted movement in servitude to the music.

The eleventh, unnamed, part was danced to silence. Well, not really. It was taught to music in order to establish the phrasing and counts for the dancers, who then had the music pulled out from under them to be performed without it. But it wasn't done in silence. Finally, the dance was the star and the dancers, en masse, the star vehicles (like well-rehearsed corps members who must align themselves to each other by rote, using only the mobility of the eyes to check distances and positions). The piano stilled. What we heard, especially those who had close-to-the-stage perches, was the shuffling of a stageful of feet, vividly emphasizing the undercurrent of lives that continue for others even when life has ended for some.

The rustle also reminded us of the falling leaves outside, which reminded me of the curious deer who watched the cars arriving for the ballet. There is always life. The dancers continued agitatedly soft-shoeing it -- making me think also of the frenzied action of baby birds stretching their little heads up, mouths agape, for the worm brought by the mother bird -- or, more to the point, like this was the only thing that mattered to do in life, until the curtain softly fell.

Veronika Part and David Hallberg in Overgrown Path, NYT photo
Veronika Part -- how wonderful to see her! had some phrases to dance which allowed her beautiful penche to be admired. She partnered with David Hallberg for a pas de deux before blending back into the group. Julie Kent, in vivid red, did mostly ensemble work. She and Misty Copeland, also in red, were the female halves of "A blown-away leaf" with Jared Matthews and Gennadi Saveliev their male counterparts. It was pretty much a group dance which linked into a trio of staunchly stepping males. More group work, in various combinations of dancers, and then Alexandre Hammoudi was introduced to the piece as partner to Kristi Boone in "Good night". As they melted into the group, ensemble work returned, with smaller groups falling away to form new coalitions of movement.

There was forward marching, withdrawal, zombie-like, molasses-slow exiting steps, fluttering, and quiet. There was lifting, turning of dancers into sideways positions, picking up and moving of unmoving dancers, lunges, and retreats. The fact that the choreography was performed by some of the best dancers in the world did not escape my notice, but it was such a piece that would have looked good on any fine company anywhere, major or regional. Perhaps the high level of competence at ABT permitted the dancers to suppress their personas to serve the music and choreography better than dancers of less accomplishment could manage, I don't know.

Are ABT dancers so good that they can belie their training and experience while letting it intrinsically do the talking for them? Maybe they are. And it was fun to see Marcelo in the last line of the group -- in the shadows -- for a change! Or maybe I've thought too much about this ballet and what it means. When I asked my friend who saw it with me what she remembered from it, her reply was "I remember that it was my least favorite." And that remark came from a veteran balletgoer!

Second intermission

Sinatra Suite -- ABT at Bard College, Friday October 17, 2008

Sinatra Suite gives the viewer pleasure on several levels. If you are a fan of Ol' Blue Eyes, as I am, the sexy tones of the singer of the songs sends ripples up and down your spine. You could close your eyes and enjoy the five songs on their own. Ah, but then you'd miss the sexy dancing! And the sexy Jose Manuel Carreño. And the luscious Luciana Paris tangoing and slow-dancing so senuously with him. Oh, and if fashion is your thang, then knowing that Oscar de la Renta designed the little black dress and fitted three piece suit might turn you on.

For those used to a bare-chested Carreño or a Carreño in bold-colored tights which show off his leg musculature, or those hoping for a glimpse of his beautiful strong neck, well.....too bad. You're getting instead the suave, self-assured, 40 year old Carreño who knows his way around a (ballroom-)dance floor and around a beautiful lady. In glossy black dress shoes and sleeves down to his wrists, Jose gives us a Frank Sinatra-styled terpsichorean smoothie with just a hint of Hispanic flair. No Fred Astaire here. This is a Carreño original! By the time he gets to his closing solo ("One for My Baby ....and One More for the Road)", his tie is undone and he's lost a cufflink on the stage, but he hardly looks disheveled.

A classical Jose Carreño in a Roy Round photo
A classical Jose Carreño in a Roy Round photo
No, not our "Frank". His shirt is still neatly tucked into his trousers, his hair is still neatly coiffed, his shoes are still shiny, and his vest still buttoned up. A class act into the wee hours of the morning is our guy. Alone and wistful, but his own man, lady or no. But what about the dancing? Oh baby, there was dancing, exquisite and intimate, transporting the onlooker to her own memories of dances danced. Accomplished and sometimes balletic, with multiple dress-shoe pirouettes spun out by Carreño during his solo. When things got hot, the jacket came off, the first time with Luciana Paris's help in tossing it into the wings (it reappeared later, airborne, from the opposite wing, thrown in to be donned for the next song).


Mikhail Baryshnikov and Elaine Kudo in Sinatra Suite
So, let me tell you about Luciana Paris. I'll start by talking a little about Elaine Kudo. I don't think there are many dancers today who can do what Kudo did in and for Sinatra Suite. She had the right combination of slightly dangerous, untouchable woman, forbidding yet striking in appearance, a woman who was in control, not only of herself but of her partner (even when it was Baryshnikov), and her partner knew it. Elaine Kudo instinctively knew how to make you like her because you could identify with her sense of jaded longing, despite being in awe and a little fear of her! This characterization worked so well in Sinatra Suite, where the dancing goes from glamourous tenderness to eristic scrappiness to been-there-done-that-but-I'll-do-it-again-if-only-for-the-memories arousal and momentary euphoria.

So that's what Luciana Paris had to live up to! She didn't make it, of course, but what she did make, was wonderful, taken for itself. Paris's seductive, submissive response to "Strangers in the Night" and "All the Way" was haunting in its beauty. She had the opportunity to use her ballet-perfected technique to great advantage in the pas de deux filled with lifts, supported arabesques and penches, turning attitudes and pirouettes. In character pumps (with the pink elastic which blends into the tights holding the shoe on), Paris has a beautiful foot, and her draped black dress floats enticingly in harmony with her leg extensions.

Paris' "That's Life" was a quirky, almost quaint, response to Carreño's harsh treatment. Harsh is almost too strong a word, for I never felt threatened by Carreño. This strange pas de deux, in the hands of these two dancers is more zany than abusive, but carefully so. There was little letting loose, more a controlled couple's quarrel. It made the head bobbing and yanking movements comical instead of hateful, the pushing and pulling playful rather than menacing. I would have liked to have seen more sharpness in angles and head throws, more sustenance and holding back until a last minute-release in those push-pull sequences.

Instead of cynical indifference during "My Way", Paris presented an unused soul to her partner and was left a bit bewildered in the lurch, as if this was a first-time emotional hardening.
Luciana Paris and Marcelo Gomes in Sinatra Suite
Luciana Paris and Marcelo Gomes in Sinatra Suite
Gene Schiavone  photo
I give her kudos :) for undertaking this difficult pentathlon of dances (she doesn't appear at all in the fifth one, Carreño's solo, but is definitely a part of it in retrospect). I'd love to see her dance it again. I'd also like to see it attempted by a number of other ABT women from all echelons of the company.

The Suite ends with the solo "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)", a real chance for Jose Manuel Carreño to step out of the box of classical ballet and show us a completely new side of himself. He did not come through. While the dancing is extraordinary in its seeming simplicity, which Carreño can easily pull off because of his body of work in ballet, there was more opportunity to show us something unexpected and memorable. I, at least, did not get that. Maybe others did. It was utterly fabulous, from the sheer dancing aspect, and the nuances were there, but, I have to say, when I saw Carreño's name in the program, I was very excited.

Angel Corella and Sarah Lane in Sinatra Suite
Gene Schiavone photo
Maybe I shouldn't have had any preconceived expectations. But I did. I wanted an unbelievable, amazing, transformative rendition of these pieces. I wanted people who didn't know Carreño from Adam to sit up and take notice and walk away with "I just saw the best thing since Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly". I suppose we will still be in wait for someone to take up that mantle. I don't think Marcelo Gomes can uproot their hold, either, but I would like to see him try! I hear he and Misty Copeland are the bomb! I never did get a chance to see them together. Lucky are those that did.

Herman Cornejo in Sinatra Suite
Marty Sohl photos




Herman Cornejo and Sarah Lane in Sinatra Suite
Marty Sohl photos
Herman Cornejo and Sarah Lane in Sinatra Suite
Marty Sohl photos

Baker's Dozen -- ABT at Bard College, Friday October 17, 2008

Overheard in the washroom at intermission after Baker's Dozen:
"There weren't any principal dancers in that piece, but they were all really good!"

LOL! I'll say! Understatement of the evening.
Divided into five pieces, Baker's Dozen (with its non-baker's, but actual dozen of loosely mated dancers), its sections titled "Relaxin'", "Echoes of Spring", "Tango à la Caprice" and "Relaxin", received its world premiere on February 15, 1979 and its ABT premiere last year during the City Center Season.The ballet begins with a lengthy piano overture to set the mood. The dancers are dressed in white and beige from head to toe, evoking the ambiance of elegant Long Island parties in the early part of the last century, at least as we have been encouraged to imagine them in novels such as "The Great Gatsby". With jazzy music as smooth as the dresses for their setting, a dozen dancers assemble and disassemble in various pairings, often with comical results.

Cincinnati Ballet dancers in Baker's Dozen

This is a nostalgic romp, riddled with youthful antics, for a social group of friends who are having romantic fun and are trying to outdo each other in their solo turns. Dancers get thrown around from one to another, get flipped upside down, fall unexpectedly from the wings into the arms of whoever's onstage at the moment, dance out of the wings only to be pulled back in again by the leg, slide or get propelled across the floor, and generally ham it up.
I was sitting so close to the stage that I could see the facial expressions clearly, a necessity to get the most enjoyment out of this ballet. The intimate relationship of my seat to the performance floor gave me a vantage point that was almost like an in-studio view. The choice of contemporary works for the Bard program is perfect for closeup viewing. Classical ballet with its elaborate costuming, props, and stage scenery requires an audience to be seated further back in order to support the illusion. But I just love being close! One can really identify every dancer and see their strengths and abilities.
I saw incredibly arched feet on all the women (the entire cast wore white jazz shoes) which just dazzled! Speedy yet very precise movements displayed stellar technique. Gestures which might not be seen by those seated further away helped make the ballet as they showcased the acting ability of the dancers. And the energy! It came pouring out of each dancer with gushes of frenetic choreography, seamlessly sequeing into generous swaths of exquisite perfect-lined pas de deux (or trois) highlighting the gorgeous technique of each dancer. Oh the legs! The turnout! The comedy!
Standouts of this performance of Baker's Dozen: Devon Teuscher (loveliness and beauty dreamily personified), Kristi Boone (crisp, sassy, athletic), Thomas Forster (ebullient stage presence), Eric Tamm (super charisma), and number one standout: TOBIN EASON! (a smile that embraced the whole auditorium, a honed technical display of dancing, impetuous maneuvers, playful and mischievous facial expressions). Tobin was my fave of the first act, and Eric Tamm's shining performance also stayed with me.
Blaine Hoven and Maria Ricetto in Baker's Dozen