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Diablo Ballet

'Le Corsaire' Suite
Excerpt from 'The Petites'
'Tarantella' Pas de Deux
'Lady of the Camellias' Pas de Deux

A Meaty Marathon

by Mary Ellen Hunt

March 20, 2004 -- Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, California

A refreshing program of small bites and meatier fare showed off Diablo Ballet's stalwart core group of dancers last weekend at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.

The company, which is in the midst of celebrating its 10th anniversary season this year, has a habit of setting up high expectations and then meeting them, and this mixed bill of five works had perhaps the best flow and energy of any of their programs yet this season.

With five active dancers anchoring the show along with appearances by the company's Artistic and co-Artistic Directors (Lauren Jonas and Nikolai Kabaniaev) in a couple of key roles, every performance is like a marathon in which they all must present themselves as conversant in a dizzying variety of styles.

Take the central act of this last show, for instance, which was comprised of three shorter pieces. Erika Johnson and Kabaniaev floated gloriously through KT Nelson's dreamy modernistic duet to the music of Thomas Ade. They were not dead-on precise, perhaps, but they gave heft and quality to those skimming changes of weight.

In a more romantic, period mood, Tina Kay Bohnstedt and Jekyns Pelaez were as elegantly and delicately etched as Bohnstedt's beautiful lace wrap in a duet from Val Caniparoli's "Lady of the Camellias." Set to the music of Frederic Chopin, it cannot help but recall John Neumeier's ballet on the same subject and to the same music. But in both, the expressiveness of the dancing is what is of paramount importance, and at that, Bohnstedt and Pelaez melded together seamlessly.

Edward Stegge and Lauren Main reprised their turn in George Balanchine's "Tarantella," which they performed a few months back at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. This time, however, both seemed far more relaxed and brighter, particularly in their faces. The demands of the non-stop technique no longer appeared to weigh down their dancing, and although elements probably could have been cleaner, the audience came away refreshed and jubilant.

Two works staged by Kabaniaev bookended the show: one, an old classical chestnut -- the "Jardin Anime" from "Le Corsaire"-- and the other, his own amusing contemporary gambol through the music of Steve Martland's "Horses of Instruction."

The latter -- entitled "Olbaid" or "Diablo" spelled backwards -- tapped into Kabaniaev's innate sense of the absurd, launching at breakneck speed with an account of one man's struggle against his own capricious limbs. Although there wasn't a bit of "horror-flick" about it, I couldn't help but chuckle at the evocation of the camp slasher film "Evil Dead 2" in which the hero must fight off his own possessed hand. Maybe it was the tinge of 70's to Martland's wocka-wocka theme.

Set against Richard Walston's watery projections on the cyc, the five dancers (Bohnstedt, Johnson, Main, Pelaez, and Stegge) zip athletically in and out of encounters and duets. In one particularly cute episode, a pert Johnson taps for attention at Stegge's shoulder, and the back and forth tit-for-tat that ensues was inexplicably hilarious.

The entire program opened with the "Le Corsaire" excerpt, which brought twenty-four dancers from the young Contra Costa Ballet onto the stage as a corps de ballet framework for Bohnstedt in the ballerina role as Medora, and Main, Johnson, and Jonas dancing an interpolated scene as the Odalisques.

Kabaniaev has an eye to coaching the style for the great classical ballets, and given his Kirov roots, it's no surprise. The corps, composed of teenagers from about 11 to 17 years old, gave this abstracted and decorative extract a freshness which served as a lovely frame to the solid technique of the soloists.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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