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Miami City Ballet

'Nine Sinatra Songs', 'Agon', 'In the Upper Room'

by Toba Singer

October 26, 2007 -- Zellerbach Auditorium, Berkeley, CA

San Francisco Ballet trains them, sends them out into the world, and they come back to the Bay Area:  take for example  Tricia Albertson with Miami City Ballet – subtly comic in the missed connections that are sketched into “Somethin’ Stupid” in Twyla Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs” in Friday’s performance at Zellerbach Auditorium in Berkeley.  Along with Albertson, standouts were Haiyan Wu in “Softly as I Leave You,” whose supple gentility in Tharp’s sweeping lifts issued from an exquisite line, and Patricia Delgado in “Forget Domani,” herself unforgettable in the ruffled fuchsia dress she was born to wear.  Delgado is the exclamation point that adds a big dollop of personality and artistry to a company that offers some great moments but lags slightly behind audience expectations.

“Agon” is an ambitious piece to include in the program.  Its quintessential George Balanchine choreography to 12-tone music by Igor Stravinsky wryly dials in the number 12 again and again in 12-sided patterns that bump the classical into the neo-classical in the context of a Greek-styled athletic competition. It can go both stilted and mimetic if the dancers aren’t at the top of their game.  Most of the men were too macho in their shoulders to show the proper deference demanded by Balanchine in his famous “Ballet is Woman” aesthetic rallying cry.  Deanna Seay rose to the challenge with spot-on precision and an energy that trumped the dead-eyed insouciance of the other dancers.

Tharp’s “In the Upper Room” brought the fog that is so familiar to San Franciscans across the Bay to the Berkeley stage. Dancers in railroad blue and white striped tops and pants danced in red pointe shoes or sneakers.  They gave us a fogged-up and souped-up mirror-image reflection of “Agon” in Tharp’s zany vocabulary to Philip Glass cadences limned by a flute that could fool you into thinking it was a clarinet.  The smoke and mirrors ambience and undulations that go to splits on the floor – flanked by ensemble lifts that fold six dancers into a love knot – brought the evening’s uneven program to a resolutely brilliant close.

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