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First Program, works by Opendaker, Tharp,

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After a few uneven seasons for the company, the opening of Ballet Florida's 20th anniversary season was, for me, something of a stunner. And a very pleasant suprise. Some new dancers, especially Yumelia Garcia (formerly a principal with Milwaukee Ballet) , and the choice of program that fits the company llike a glove, had a lot to do with the change.

Last spring, the company announced one of those overly familiar programs that tries to do it all: something to show wecan do the classics, a serious (heavy) piece to show that we do not avoid important issues, a lighter piece to make you leave the theater smiling. The goal seemed to be: see how versatile we are; there's something for everyone.

Fourtunately, over the summer someone had the the better idea of combining a number of modern works (all of which employ the classical vocabulary to one extent or other) under the generic title "Light-Hearted and Lyrical". And it worked.

I'm posting two reviews of the program from Links because they describe it better than I can. This is one of my local companies, and I'm glad that they seem to be rebuilding the form that got them invited to perform at the Joyce in NYC a few years ago and led someone to set a full-length ballet on them in Biarritz.

One of the things that interested me was the chance to see local dancers performing work that has fairly recently been performed by ABT, San Francisco, Hubbard Street, and (surprise!) the Moscow Dance Theater. Some quick impressions:

COEUR DE BASQUE: BF dancer Jerry Opendaker's ballet for 7 dancers, using world fusion / new age music by Chris Spheeris, is the crowd-pleaser and deservedly so. In the opening section -- danced to music that is "flamenco" in the sense of arabic/ cante jondo/ very "deep south" Spain -- a single dancer, Stephanie Rapp, seems to invite 6 others to dance. There's circling, changing couples, and non-stop movement. A rather silly, repeated wavy movement of the arms (hula-like) is the only lapse as far as I could see). The lead couple Fridays was Tina Martin (alway exceptional in any style) and Jean-Hugue Feray; on Saturday it was Lorena Jimenez and Tracy Mozingo. One of the delights was to see the way the dance, music, and strong sense of ensemble brought out new qualities in Jimenez and Feray, excellent classically-based dancers who have sometimes appeared to be rather uncomfortable, or at least restrained, in modern choreography. This was a break-through performance for them.

BAKER'S DOZEN (Tharp). A real delight. BF uses the version (and Santo Loquasto costumes) that was set on Hubbard Street in the early 90s. The 12 dancers come and go, skipping, sliding, generally moving like goofy kids one minute and like inhabitants of an Astaire-Rogers film the next. The lighting and the pale ecru costumes give the effect of a silent movie. There's no beginning and no true end. There are lots of short solos, dances for couples, most of whom switch partners, and trios for every odd combinations of characters indeed. You have the sense Tharp could was on a roll and could have gone on and on. But it's concise and short, leaving you wanting more. Tharp's inventiveness and humor are astonishing. There are small solo riffs for everyone, and some of the dancers -- notably Leah Elzner as a clinging and comically manipulative young woman -- have the chance to develop clear and charming characters.

...SMILE WITH MY HEART. Created by Lubavitch for ABT and some of his own dancers in 2002, this is also in the rep of San Francisco Ballet. The music is early Richard Rogers (from his collaboration with Lorenz Hart), but it's heavily rearranged (and, in some cases, distored emotionally) in the form of a "Fantasie on Themes by Richard Rogers" by Marvin Laird. (Someone in the row behind me said: "Marvin Laird? Wasn't he Nixon's Secretary of Defense.") Like the other ballets of the evening, this piece brought out qualities and confidence in the dancers I hadn't seen before. Mauricio Canete (formerly Houston Ballet) did the Angel Corella part with Stephanie Rapp . This was the young couple flirtatiously and light-heartedly experimenting with love. Rapp's a long-haired blond beauty, and she was great in this, as in Coeur de Basque. Gary Lenington (the Ethan Stiefel part) and Lorena Jimenez had a rather more troubled relationship. And Tina Martin and Tracy Mozingo (the Marcelo Gomes part) were the most experienced couple, deeply attracted, emotionally conflicted, finally resolving their conflicts in a deep and restful coming together. This ballet -- despite its emotional manipulations and rather pompous score -- grew on me the second night, and I'd like to see it again.

SECOND BEFORE THE GROUND. This was the most exciting, upllifting and impressive of the dances for me, and the only one with the women on pointe. Set to music by the Kronos Quartet, it begins with a single male dancer (Mauricio Canete, one of nature's true Blue Birds), jumping vertically in multiple entrechats. He's like Feste in 12th Night, a kind of master of ceremonies who who introduces the dance and also prepares the way for it. I found this performance to be darker than a year or so ago, just as I found the ballet to be emotionally more complex than it seems at first viewing. Three couples and an ensemble. As in the other dances of the evening, the women seemed to help their male partners break some of the emotional reserve and awkwardness that has limited them in previous seasons. Yumelia Garcia turned Markkus Schaffer into a passionate and charming risk-taker. Tina Martin did the same for Gary Lennington. A more serious and dramatic dancer, Maria-Angeles Llamas, was smooth and effective with Jean Hugues Feray. They are two people who are entirely new to romance and sex (and I mean, on the level of the love scenes in Bride of Frankenstein) and have to be manipulated to two male dancers. Eventually they get the knack of it. This is an extraordinarily enjoyble ballet -- and my companion's and my favorite of the evening.


Charles Passy reviews the first program of Ballet Florida's 20th Anniversary Season, in the Palm Beach Post.

Ballet Florida: works by Opendaker, tharp, Lubavitch, and McIntyre

Kate Mattingly reviews the same performance in the Palm Beach Daily News (the "shiny sheet").

Ballet Florida dancers add subtle cues, energy to modern program

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