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Ballet Florida's Step Ahead


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This weekend Ballet Florida (West Palm Beach) produced its 10th annual program featuring the work of local choreographers, dancers, and lighting/tech designers. I saw the second of two performances at the Eissey Theater.

Step Ahead selects aspirant choreographers from the local dance community (several of them dancers with Ballet Florida) and provides them with a troupe of professional dancers, a month of and rehearsal time (and space), and a full week of production preparation on the Eissey stage. Current director of the program is Ballet Florida dancer and choreographer Jerry Opdenaker. One of the most interesting features of the program is the chance it gives to local theater tech students (college and community college, though one young lady from high school was back for her second year) to do lighting design for the ballets. It's a big event for the entire dance community around here.

In the past, this has been very much a Ballet Florida performance. This year, however, the program was later in the year and many Ballet Florida dancers were not available. 4 dancers from Maximum Dance Company in Miami made the trip north, providing a very strong, refreshing modern energy beautifully based in classic technique.

Here are two links:

Ballet Florida (West Palm Beach)

Maximum Dance Company (Miami)


Higher Love. Choreography by Jesse Hammel to music by Depeche Mode. 3 men, 3 women doing fast, difficult highly balletic, highly athletic and acrobataic movements. A crowd pleaser and fun to watch. Hammel took the lead (back flips and great arabesques -- a winning combination). Tina Martin, the closest thing that Ballet Florida has to a prima ballerina, had the first of three knock-out performances of the evening. Paul Thrussell, former principal of London City Ballet and Boston Ballet, was strong, athletic, and graceful.

Sitting on a Shelf. Choreography by Stacey White to music by Oystein Sevag & Lakki Patey, Oi Va Voi, Jack Johnson, and Rob Dougan. Three women. Movements extending outward were invariably (predictably, after a while) cut short and contradicted by contractions inward.

Art's Alive. Choreography by Mary Kay Lee to music by Pink Floyd/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. A slight but very agreeable satire on what happens when different dance styles and dancer personalities meet in a dance studio and the larger "arts" world outside.

Son of Dust. Choreography by Andrea Dawn Shelley to music by Clint Mansell/Kronos Quartet. Story of a fallen angel from the book of Ezekiel. Tina Martin (as a dark spirit, Diabolos, in a black, strapless Rita Haywood gown) seduces, traps, and enslaves The Anointed Angel (Thrussell). Wonderful dramatic chemistry between Martin and Thrussel.

Deep End. Choreography by Tara Mitton Catao to music by Peter Gabriel. A pas de deux with lots of movement based on encircled arms. Imaginative lifts. The choreographer teaches at Harid Conservatory.

Merci Mon Amie. Choreography by Ballet Florida dancer Jennifer Cole to pianco music by Beethoven. A light, classical chamber piece, quite lovely and well danced by Cole and partner Gary Lennington (anaother Ballet Florida dancer, trained at Youth Ballet of Central Pennsylvania).

Union. Choreography by Jerry Opdenaker to music by Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. Opendaker has several works in the repertories of ballet companies, so it was not suprising that this was the most skillful, moving and "finished" work of the evening. Opening shot: film projection of the sun rising over ocean waves rolling onto a beach. Three silhouettes (man and woman together , with another woman slightly apart) rise from the floor, stand mesmerized by the sunrise, then gradually walk toward it. Movie screen flies up -- opening the stage. 11 dancers (lead couple, Martin and Thrussell, who by now fit each other beautifully). Sort of a Caribbean village festival, but with an unworldly, deamlike, and rather complex feel to it. Opdenaker, more than the other less experience choreographers, knows how to keep the flow of solo, pas de deux, and corps going. there's plenty of movement, but nothing to distract from what he wants the eye to focus on. Another Maximum dancer, Cristian Laverde Koenig (trained in Colombia and Cuba, and who's danced with Ballet International in Indianapolis and the National Ballet of Cuba), was impressive: fine classical techique, bravura jumps, and lots of grace.

Lots of talent and creativity with lots of enthusiasm from the audience. Opdenaker's piece, and Martin's, Thrusssell's, and Koenig's dancing (each in three ballets) were downright thrilling.

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