Some quick notes on Ballet Florida's latest program, which received 3 performances last weekend at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.
The opening piece was Vicente Nebrada's Percussion for Six Men, choreographed in the 60s for the Harkness Ballet and revived periodically by this company, which has a great deal of Nebrada in its repertory. Conceived as a kind of competitive circus (or vaudeville) act, the ballet has its six performers in white strutting, soliciting applause, and performing macho choreography which -- if you look closely -- mostly involves fairly rudimentary and quite repetitive pirouette combinations combined with leaps and turns in the air. Like other Nebrada works, it is dancing which cleverly disguises the fact that there isn't much real dancing going on.
To pull off choreography like this, every dancer should be a virtuoso -- or at least able to execute the steps perfectly. In practice, however, the "we're just guys showing off" aspect just seemed a way of covering up inconsistencies in the way these step combinations were actually performed. There was more arm waving (to get lift) than there should have been; doubles appeared to be as challenging to certain of the dancers as quadrduples to others; no attention was paid to head positioning or arms; and unflattering white foot-warmers disguised some of the footwork (particularly notable in a series of entrechat combinations). The 3-man percussion band which played from the back of the stage did a fine job with a fairly conventional piece of music by Lee Gurst.
Two dancers were elegant, fleet, and accurate to the point that they seeme to be appearing in a different ballet; Fernando Moraga and Shannon Smith. Moraga's strong apparently effortless turns and Smith's extraordinary vertical jumps were thrilling and satisfying. Good for them!
The Trey McIntyre piece -- called Pluck -- is a world premiere, set to Ravel's Sonata for Violin and Cello. The title is deceptive. It's not particularly "plucky" in its approach, nor is the accasional appearance of pizzicato (string-plucking) in one of the movements really reflective of the music as a whole. Ballet Florida already has McIntyre's Second Before the Ground in its rep, but this new ballet --danced on point and created on the company only in the past few months -- is significantly more neo-classical in feeling and movement.
Some of it is very lovely, with Robbins-like combinations and flow, as couples come and go, form and re-form, resolve into pas de trois or full corps de ballet. On the other hand, some of the ballet looked under-rehearsed and was danced inconsistently from one performance to the next: especially a recurring motif in which the ballereina was lifted with her legs in deep plie position (think of a wide, narrow diamond shape). Another recurring movement -- the ballerina, supported by her partner, sliding along the on flat feet -- was done awkwardly in one performance, smoothly in the next.
I liked the piece, and would have enjoyed seeing it several more times. Best of all were some of the performances, esepcially by Yumelia Garcia and Tina Martin. Garcia always dances with complete commitment to the underlying feeling of the piece. She creates a character even in plotless ballets, using expression, eyes, and the way she carries herself even in repose. Tina Martin has commitment of a different sort, executing every movement as perfectly as she can. When these movements become woven together and flow into one another, as they did here, Martin is riveting. These 2 dancers also seem to bring out the best in those who dance around them. Partnering is better, and the other women are more committed to what they do, when Garcia and Martin are on stage or waiting in the wings.
Lar Lubovitch's Elemental Brubeck was clearly the popular favorite on this program. It's light, elegant, jazzy, carefree, and cleverlyy seductive melange of dnaces originally created for Lubovitch's own company and San Francisco Ballet. And it's Brubeck in a very easy-listening mode.
There are 4 couples (one of which gets significantly more dancing than the others), and a single man in red who acts as a kind of master of cermony, Lord of the Dance, and combination Puck and Prospero. (Rasta Thomas danced this bravura part with the Lubovitch company in 2005.) The man in red opens and closes the ballet. He seems to come from a different world from the couples, yet he can control them. It's a part made for solo bravura dancers. In one of the two casts I saw, Gary Lennington was exceptional. Lenington has a solid, even chunky body, but he can jump -- and remain frozen in mid-air -- with unexpected grace, lightness and speed. I've watched him dance for 6 years and this is the first part of which I would say: he owns it.
EB is a dance about love of dancing, not really about love of your partner. I couldn't take my eyes away from the lead couple, Tina Martin and Douglas Gawriljuk. She's the woman in orange (and looking great in a long pony tail); he wears a Gene Kelly sweater and slacks. She's joyful and daring; he's super-attentive and delighted to be of service. Together they make a kind of couple chemistry not often seen in this company. And it's a treat to see Martin -- often cast as the super-serious technician or as a victim -- clearly having so much fun.
In some ways, the ballet is too similar to McIntyre's for optimum programming. Couples merge into larger groups, flow on and off the stage. I think that Lubovitch handles this kind of thing better, on the whole. The lifts are imaginative. For example, in one sequence Gawriljuk turns while Martin (head close to his, hands on his hips) rotates around him. Then, reversing the image, she faces outward and he supports her in a similar rotation. The use of sequencing -- one couple does something, followed a beat later by the next couple, and then by the next, etc. -- is lovely. The connection to the Brubeck score ("Iberia," "Theme from Elementals," and "Elementals") is seamless.
Ballet Florida has stronger dancers than ever. Several of them can do much more than what they are asked to do in some of the company's older rep. I also wonder whether the ballet masters are aiming high enough when it comes to setting performance standards and, especially, consistency. There's no excuse for a line of dancers each appearing to invent his own arm positions and leg elevations on the spot, as was the case in Percussion for Six Men. It is not difficult to get good reviews in the local newspaper. The best of Ballet Florida's dancers deserve the chance to match themselves against higher standards.
Ballet Florida has attracted the collaboration of some pretty interesting and high-profile choreographers recently. That's really worth something. To match it, the company needs to work on expanding its public performance schedule so they can do these works better justice. 3 performances on a challenging program like this were not enough to work out the kinks. And it's a shame to see ballets return to quickly to cold storage. The company remains a local one in terms of visibility, standards, and goals. It has the potential to be a regional company in the sense that Florida, -- with its large winter population, its many theaters and universities, and its fairly sophisticated arts audiences from all over the world -- is a major "region" all on its own.
Program II: McIntyre premiere, new Lubovitchand elderly Nebrada
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