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Diablo Ballet

'Who Cares?', '3 A.M. Suite', 'Pas de Quatre et Pas de Six'

by Mary Ellen Hunt

March 24, 2006 -- Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, California

Dancers kick in their sleep.

Like catnapping felines, they twitch and jitter as they dream about arabesques and passes, and sometimes they deliver a good swift battement that sends the covers flying.

“3 A.M. Suite,” Viktor Kabaniaev’s restive new ballet sends the ever-intriguing Tina Kay Bohnstedt on a journey through vaguely dreamlike terrain, populated by bodies moving with an ominous undercurrent. Kabaniaev doesn’t sketch out the details of these characters, and there is no need to. Are these people, dream-ideas, the embodiment of worries preying on her inner mind? We may never know, but, in fact the piece seems all the more intriguing for not knowing.

As “3 A.M. Suite” begins, to an insistent, thrumming score created by Sam Chittenden, Bohnstedt is a diminutive figure in space, apparently tossing in her sleep with legs dangling over the orchestra pit and arms writhing in a slow semaphore. Against the expanse of the Lesher Center stage – looking wider than usual with the bare walls, backstage emergency exits and light trees exposed – Mayo Sugano slips by looking fearless and precise, as does Edward Stegge, who looks exceptional in this clean, modern-ballet style of choreography. Cynthia Sheppard, Matthew Linzer and David Fonnegra lurk in the shadows of the stage, asserting themselves briefly only to vanish.

Kabaniaev’s work looks like it takes cues from the William Forsythe philosophy of pulling the impulse of a step from different areas of the body and creating oppositional lines of movement. Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet delivers a similar effect, but where King’s choreography can often look too introverted and self-absorbed, Diablo’s dancers have turned the focus outward in “3 A.M. Suite,” bringing a layer of added dramatic intensity that is, quite frankly, a little chilling. It lends the perfect feeling of unease to the dreamy theme.

Linzer, who was brightly gallant in “Who Cares?” – which opened the program – was dark and mysterious here. And Fonnegra – dancing with Fred Astaire grace in the “Liza” segment of “Who Cares?” – made a understated partner for Bohnstedt in a duet in which every move, every lift, every balance, looked both calculated and inscrutable.

Linzer and Fonnegra, along with Jekyns Pelaez, made handsome partners to Lauren Main de Lucia, Amy Foster and Sheppard, respectively, in “Who Cares?” Diablo Ballet performs a concert version of this George Balanchine crowd-pleaser, which includes the duets and solos for three couples, and it makes for a pleasant enough diversion, although it does lack a bit of context.

For all its lightheartedness, “Who Cares?” is not fluff. It demands a certain technical brilliance along with an offhanded delivery and among the women, only Main really served this up in her solo of hair-raising turns to “My One and Only.” Foster needed a bit more lightness in the jumps and beats to match her engaging smile in “Stairway to Paradise,” while the intricacy and speed simply seemed to elude Sheppard, whose footwork was blurry and not well-syncopated in “Fascinating Rhythm.” Still she and Pelaez made a relaxed and likeable couple in the opening “The Man I Love” number. Fonnegra also brought a jazzy elegance to his duet with Foster danced to the title song.

Jazziness is the watchword for Nikolai Kabaniaev’s saucy “Pas de Quatre et Pas de Six,” which closed the evening. After dancing all night, the company gave this signature ballet – a deconstruction of the classical idiom to modern backbeats – a thoroughly energetic push, to the delight of the crowd, who responded warmly to every solo.

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