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Triangle ballet lovers had a wonderful opportunity in Page Auditorium on October 14. Duke Performances' presentation of the Miami City Ballet gave us a fine evening of dance and the chance to see what our own Carolina Ballet could become with sufficient support. The parallels between the companies are remarkable, as are the differences: both were founded in areas where ballet had never before particularly flourished, and both have as their artistic directors men who formerly danced for George Balanchine and the New York City Ballet - but the Miami troupe, now in its 19th season, has the advantage in age, resources, and potential audience size.
These advantages are reflected in the company size. Edward Villella's Miami City Ballet company is about one-third larger than Carolina Ballet's, and MCB also has four times as many apprentices. Thus it is possible for them to perform dances that remain out of reach for the Carolina Ballet, such as Balanchine's "Ballo della Regina," danced to music from Verdi's Don Carlos , which opened Thursday night's program. Balanchine made this sparkling "classical" ballet for the great ballerina Merrill Ashley in 1978. It requires a corps of twelve women plus four female soloists in addition to the principal ballerina and her male virtuoso companion. In 1978, that male role was originated by Robert Weiss, founder and artistic director of the Carolina Ballet. (Ballet is a very small world.)
The MCB's performance of this lovely work was highly creditable, if not swoon-causing. The dance is filled with watery motions - lapping, surging, flowing movements and patterns by the corps and the soloists, all with beautiful free-floating arms. The soloists, especially, were light and precise, with very crisp footwork. Principal dancer Mary Carmen Catoya was perhaps a little more pert than precious in her interpretation, but her "fisherman" Mikhail Ilyin was beautiful in his treatment of her as the precious pearl he had sought.
The program's fun middle work was "Nine Sinatra Songs" - songs from the 1950s, choreographed by Twyla Tharp in the 1980s, and thus doubly nostalgic, a feeling deepened by the Oscar de la Renta-designed dresses and the fabulous lighting by Jennifer Tipton. Although the structure was rather like Balanchine's "Who Cares?" (danced recently by Carolina Ballet) to George Gershwin songs, the effect was very different, as here the women wore pumps, not toe shoes. And of course Sinatra has rather a darker tone than Gershwin. From the program, I expected a pleasant surprise. Here was Mikhail Nikitine, who had (to the sorrow of many) disappeared from the Carolina Ballet roster! Now a soloist with the MCB, he was half the couple, along with Deanna Seay, in "All the Way." Sadly, this was the least interesting dance of the nine and didn't offer the talented Nikitine much to work with. By far the best in dance and design was "One for my baby (and one more for the road)," with Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra.
Kronenberg, Guerra, and Seay reappeared as principal dancers, along with Isanusi Garcia-Rodriguez, in the night's final work, the powerful "Stravinsky Violin Concerto" (in D). Garcia-Rodriguez, now a MCB principal soloist, is another former Carolina Ballet member, last seen here in the 2002 season. (Readers may remember his stunning turn as the Toreador in Carmen .) This "modern" ballet shows another side of Balanchine, perhaps the strongest side. The work premiered at the 1972 Stravinsky Festival that Balanchine helped organize in honor of his friend, and the feeling produced by the dance is so precisely like that generated by the music that it must be taken as the homage of one great artist to another.
There is no set, no fancy lighting. The dancers wear practice clothes, all black and white. The two central pas de deux movements, full of comings together and breakings apart, are bookended by complex patterning by another dozen dancers. The whole work is packed with angular attitudes and sharp movements, set into great sweeping motions across the stage. It is a stunning dance, and it was magnificently performed for a most satisfactory close to a diverse program. If we are lucky, the Carolina Ballet will add this dance to its repertoire. It would be an ideal showcase for Melissa Podcasy and Margaret Severin-Hansen. And if we are really, really lucky, they will perform to live accompaniment, the only thing that was missing from the MCB performance.