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"Dazzling Dramatic" program


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I saw two performances of the first Ballet Florida program of the year -- three quite distinct one-act ballets gathered under the title "Dazzlingly Dramatic". I had a great time, especially with the first piece, Ben Stevenson's Bartok Concerto, and I was impressed by the continuing improvement of the company's dancing and with the 4 new dancers Marie Hale has hired for the new season. (There are now 24.) Ballet Florida is quite a sophisticated and ambitious company for such a small city -- something partly brought about by large number of New Yorkers and other northeasterners who live here for part of the year down here.

I hoped to see both casts of principals, but instead got to see the "B" cast twice. This had its own advantages, since it's fun to see the same dancer do the same ballet on two different days. The over-all consistency -- inevitably mixed with minor variations -- always amaze me.

Bartok Concerto. Ben Stevenson. This is my favorite of the Stevenson works I've seen. It starts with a beautiful and surprisingly danceable score, the Third Piano Concerto. The varied, fast-moving, and joyful classical choreography moves all 16 dancers (with lead couple and two solo couples) beautifully, reflecting closely the shifts in tempo and feeling expressed in the music.

It would be fascinating to see this side by side with Christopher Wheeldon's Evenfall, which uses the same music.

The lead couple were Yumelia Garcia and Douglas Gawriljuk. Garcia came to the company last year after a stint in Milwaukee dancing the leads in full-length classical productions, and this was Gawriljuk's BF debut; after having danced as a principal with Miami, Pittsburgh, and Maximum Dance. Both are wonderful additions. Garcia brings an incandescent stage presence, which -- or is it my imagination? -- has had the affect of stimulating some of the other women to show more personality and emotion on stage. Garcia is most effective in adagio -- as in the middle section with its suggestion of moving through water -- but also produced fast, accurate turns and jumps that surprised me.

Gawriljuk is a fine mover, especially in contemporary work, but (even more important for BF) he brings partnering skills -- complete attention to presenting the woman, combined with the ability to support and lift with apparent effortlessness -- that are sometimes neglected by other males in the company.

Performance standards generally were up, especially for the men. When I last saw BF do this a few years ago, I don't think the men (8 on stage in this ballet) even attempted the double tours en l'air with one leg in retire that they did quite well this year. There's a section of bravura dancing for the men that actually got interrupted for a big hand from the audience at both peformances, something that I also don't think would have happened a few years ago.

Fernando Moraga (who joined last year) and Alfredo Lescaille (new this year) are maravellous jumpers. Among the others who consistently held my eye: the foursome made up of Marcus Schaffer, Leah Elzner, Stephanie Rapp and Rogelio Corrales, all of whom darted and lept across the floor lightly, gracefully and happily.

Bello. Dominic Walsh. A repeat from last year, performed to Handel arias played by a string ensemble with wonderful countertenor on stage. The conceit is that the singer is remembering his relationships with the women in his life. 3 couples and a solo male emerge from the blackness at the back of the stage and do their thing. A lot of interesting ideas, but no real development. Those who did not understand the Italian libretto may have been slightly at a loss. I picked up "sposa," "morte" and a few other key words, so I got the general idea of what was being illustrated. It's just that I didn't much care. Gawriljuk, with Stephanie Rapp, and Jean-Hugues Feray with newcomer Yuan Xi, were the dancers who held my eye the most.

Idyllic Realm. This was the premiere of a new work by choreographer Jerry Opdenaker, who retired last year as a company dancer. Set to music from the "Silk Road" score, the ballet is said to present images from an idealized community in which all is in harmony. Sections are called "Origins," "New Beginnings" and "Enchantment".

Opdenaker is a local product whose first work, Coeur de Basque, was quite impressive promising, combining classical and contemporary in a way that seemed to build to something. In this work, however, the music, though quite pleasant, flows on and on without much in the way of contrast. What was probably intended to be convey spirituality and serenity ends up projecting not very much. My companion commented that it's as if someone snipped out 20 minutes from the middle of a VERY long piece and put it on the stage. The music was a kind of mattress on which the steps were performed and the various couples moved. The steps accumulate; they don't develop. Tina Martin and Markus Schaffer brought great delicacy and class to thei pas de deux near the end.

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Thank you so much for the review, bart!

Am I wrong in assuming you saw Douglas Gawriljuk when he danced with Miami City Ballet? If you did, has it changed a lot in the interim?

From your description, I hope that I can see Yumelia Garcia dance one day.

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Am I wrong in assuming you saw Douglas Gawriljuk when he danced with Miami City Ballet?

He left MCB before we moved here, transferring to Maximum Dance, a contemporary company set up in Miami in 1996 by two former MCB principals, Yannis Pikieris and David Palmer. (Jimmy de Gamonet took over their company a year or so ago, so Pikieris and Palmer are back with MCB in charge of creating a contemporary series.)

Gawriljuk is 34, an age when certain dancers seem able to spin out, smoothly and with apparent effortlessness, so much of what they've learned and processed during their careers. "Bartok Concerto" is Stevenson working like a neo-classicist, which is right up a Miami dancer's alley. The Walsh and Opdenaker pieces call on what he must have learned and practiced at Maximum Dance. This combination is what makes him such a good hire for Marie Hale's company.

Incidentally, I did not mention Marife Gimenez, Gawriljuk's wife, who was also a MCB principal and a Maximum dancer. (She's originally from the National Ballet in Caracas.) Gimenez was in one of the pas de deux in "Idyllic Realm." There wasn't much to the part, so it's hard to know what she can and will do with something more substantial later on.

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