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Ballet Florida Mixed Program


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I saw two of the 4 performances of Ballet Florida's mixed Program I this weekend. All three pieces are repeats from last season and were reviewed then, so I'll only post a few thoughts about how the works seem to have fared, and how the company looks after a summer off.

Please excuse my grumpy tone.. Based on strong performances last year, as well as several exiting new commisions and and a confident new company look, I was expecting more for the new season opener.

Trey McIntyre, Pluck (Ballet Florida commission, 2006-07 season): Set to the wonderful Ravel String Quartet in F Major (with its "plucking" pizzicato second movement), this ballet impressed me last season and seems even better now. There's a strange and dreamy adagio pas de deux (Tina Martin and Darian Aguila), a witty, slightly syncopated allegro (Yumelia Garcia and Gary Lennington), a sharp and sophisticated pas (Stephanie Rapp and Douglas Gawriljuk) and something approximating a grand pas (Garcia again, this time with Markus Shaffer) . From time to timer dancers sweep across the stage in threesomes and foursomes, staying for a while to dance, and then sweeping out. But the emotional and visceral heart of the piece is the pas de deux.

The performance Saturday night got off to a rocky start. All 4 couples have to enter and begin dancing. There aooeared to be some sort of problem with counting (or something) at the start, leading to a certain awkwardness with placement and partnering. Things were better Sunday matinee, but -- on the whole -- the emsemble work at the beginning was the weakest part of the performance. One dancer, usually the finest in the company, seemed to be having a particularly difficult time, perhaps with her partner.

As is often the case with Ballet Florida, the dancing was on several levels of commitment and quality. For some, as I've said, the ballet appeared underrehearsed and even effortful. Ballet Florida's ballet masters are too tolerant of the idea that "doing the steps" is enough, and there was a certain amount of "oh, now I have to smile," "here comes the turn," "I switch partners here," and "I should look at him/her at this point." In a piece like this, unless each dancer is doing everything seamlessly and with confidence, every other dancer is affected. Dancers sometimes need coaching and practice in linking steps and remaining in the dance every moment they are on stage.

For other dancers, however, Pluck provides a marvellous opportunity to move beyond the level of step-making into a kind of artistry. Yumelia Garcia (beautifully in sync with a passionate and attentive Markus Shaffer) and Stephanie Rapp (teasing and capitvating her partner Douglas Gawriljuk) entered into the choreography and drew the eye when they were on stage. Each of these four created a kind of character -- a real person dancing with another real person -- by integrating arms, epaulement, eyes, back.

Pluck deserves exposure to a wide audience. It would be perfect for companies like Houston and San Francisco which do a lot of contemporary work. I'd love to see Aspen-Santa Fe give it a crack. And even NYCB could do -- and has done -- worse.

Val Caniparoli, Lady of the Camellias, Act II This is a nice story ballet -- Caniparoli's first full-length work. Act II consists of a pas de deux for Marguerie and Armand, and a garden party attended by their friends and rivals. Some of those party-goers gave performances that made this an enjoyable, if occasionally flimsy, middle act for the mixed bill.

Leah Elzner and new company member Mifa Ko conveyed delight and charm while dancing as part of the ensemble. Yumelia Garcia and Marife Gimenez created real characters (including a certain amount of bitchy rivalry) and remained in character throughout the act. Along with Shannon Smith, a young man with long legs, romantic floppy hair, and a huge jump, they provided the most interesting and affecting dancing of the piece. Garcia and Shaffer, dancing to a super-fast piano Chopin piano variation, went beyond that. As they cut the air with precisely etched arms, jumps, and footwork, they were actually thrilling.

Vicente Nebrada, Percussion for Six Men. Nebrada's ballet tries to creaate the impression of bravura male dancing by making a great deal out of a rather narrow range of turns, low jumps, and macho posturing. This might have been necessary long ago, when Ballet Florida was a young and not entirely professional company. Since then, standards of male athleticism in ballet have risen, but this piece keeps churning on.

For some reason, last year's light-colored costumes (with thick leg warmers) have been replaced by blue jeans and jersey shirts. (As we were leaving the theater, someone commented about the costumes: "They looked like they were borrowed from a community theater production of Oklahoma.") Douglas Gawriljuk (cymbals), Markus Shaffer (xylophone) and Shannon Smith (bongo) did what they could to add some style and genuine excitement to their solos. But this is a ballet which has passed its "sell by" date.

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