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Festival Ballet Theatre

20th Anniversary Gala

by Kathy Lee Scott

March 30, 2008 -- Irvine Barclay Theatre, Irvine, California

Festival Ballet Theatre's Artistic Director Salwa Rizkalla is a master at arranging a program. At the 20th Anniversary Gala held March 30 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre in Irvine, Calif., she saved the best for last.

Invited guest artists Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky, both principals from American Ballet Theatre, premiered a pas de deux by Jessica Lang, "Splendid Isolation III," to standing ovations. Their dance left the audience with a high after sitting through almost three hours of ballet and modern dancing.

The bare stage opened with Dvorovenko standing center stage, facing away from the audience, surrounded by a sea of white fabric. To get it right, Marica Pendjer, marketing consultant, said it took six stagehands to lay it just so. The predominantly female audience greeted the tableaux with satisfied "ahhs," even before Gustav Mahler's recorded music began.

Beloserkovsky, who is married to Dvorovenko, danced in a white dance brief. He moved around his wife while she swayed her upper body. Then she twisted the skirt until it wrapped around her so she appeared like a mermaid on land. Dvorovenko slid her feet along the stage to move. She sat on the train and Beloserkovsky pulled her upstage using the skirt as leverage.

The skirt seemed to both imprison Dvorovenko and prevent Beloserkovsky from getting close to her.

She picked up the fabric to dance en pointe. Beloserkovsky lifted her up onto his shoulder and dragged the skirt behind them. They both alternately tossed the skirt into the air. Then Dvorovenko shed the skirt and the two finished the pas de deux in an emotional coupling. They ended lying on the skirt, covered with the material.

To explain the motivation behind the dance, Dvorovenko said the composer married a fellow musician and composer, Alma Schindler, then forbade her from creating any music. According to the dancer, the skirt was a metaphor for Schindler's attempt to let go of her creative art.

Rizkalla began the evening with a Balanchine piece, "Concerto Barocco," that featured members of Festival Ballet Theatre. Soloists Bridgette McNulty, Meghan Van Winkle and Evan Strand gamely performed the fast choreography, flanked by eight corps de ballet ladies.

While competent, Van Winkle seemed too soft for the brisk movements. Strand partnered McNulty ably but had difficulty turning under her arm because she was so much shorter than him. The pair used the corps as an obstacle course, stepping over extended legs and around lines.

Balanchine's difficult hops en pointe en plié in the last part didn't faze any of the dancers. Kudos to them for making it through without appearing exhausted.

In its first appearance in Southern California, the Royal Ballet School presented two of its students, who danced Kenneth MacMillan's "Concerto Pas de Deux" in bright orange costumes. Leticia Stock and Dylan Gutierrez entered from opposite sides of the wings, then joined each other. The classic piece to Shostakovich's "Second Piano Concerto" seemed a study in what to do with the lady in fourth position en pointe, one of the more steady positions and most striking.

Gutierrez towered over Stock, so he appeared awkward when he pliéd to lift her. Several of the lifts didn't allow her to give him any help, going from straight leg into the air. Once up, it seemed Stock lost the energy in her arms and dangled them when she laid back in her partner's hands. Other than that, she danced beautifully.

For the modern dance lovers, Rizkalla included Edwaard Liang's "In the Line Between," a soft-shoe ensemble piece to music by John Zorn. The choreography included common modern moves as flat backs, pulses and roll-ups. While the dancers executed the steps nicely, much of the choreography, which included slapping hips with hands, was repetitive throughout the three sections.

Students from Rizkalla's Southland Ballet Academy had fun dancing the pre-intermission piece, "Oops!" Choreographed by Viktor Plotnikov to Ponichielli's famous Dance of the Hours, the girls in black leotards and red pull-on skirts satirized ballet and modern dance. When lining up, the back girls bumped into the forward ones, causing a cascade among them all. A couple would clasp hands and undulate their torsos like waves while walking into the wings. Slipping a leg through the skirts, they can-canned and teased the audience.

Both the dancers and audience enjoyed the silliness of the dance.

FBT soloists Elizabeth Chasteler and Seth Belliston danced the lead couple in Balanchine's "Valse-Fantasie," staged by Shawn Stevens. To Glinka's music, they and four other company members (Marci Goedi, Ginger Johnson, McNulty and Van Winkle) performed nicely. Belliston's variation was clean just not spectacular. Being about the same height as his ballerina, he tended to pull Chasteler down in underarm turns.

In the "Paquita" selection, the corps outshone the guest artists. Scottish Ballet's Quenby Hersh, a Southland Ballet Academy alum, danced the lead role, partnered by ABT's soloist Gennadi Saveliev. The latter had no variation so he just supported Hersh through her moves.

Hersh's performance was disappointing as she seemed to walk through the steps. Perhaps she was tired or ill, but her energy was minimal. Additionally, with the rest of the dancers wearing pink and maroon outfits, her pale skin and white tutu seemed too ethereal for the role.

Outstanding in the Petipa choreography were Jamie Kopit, whose developés were marvelous; Bryn Gilbert*, who nailed the developé to attitude fouetté sequence; and Megan Yamashita, whose attack was precise. Yamashita also played with the audience during her brief solo. 

Jodie Gates' "Tango Fuego," a three-part modern ballet to Astor Piazzolla's music, featured FBT company dancers. Strand and Cameron Schwanz partnered McNulty while Van Winkle danced by herself. Most of the dancers needed to widen their fourth positions to give their moves more power, as required for a Spanish-inspired piece. 

Gates failed to use the men to her advantage, confining them to just partnering the ladies or dancing unison with them. 

The delightful Royal Ballet School students returned for "Suite Classique," choreographed by Petal Miller-Ashmole to Burmüller's music. Stock and Gutierrez joined two other couples (Shiori Kase, Ichigo Oguro, Benjamin Ella and Vadim Mutagirov). Stock and Gutierrez interacted better in this piece than in their earlier one. 

Both Ella and Mutagirov showed off their techniques, with the former spinning  spectacularly in grand assemblé en tournant and the latter performing multiple pirouettes. Even Gutierrez joined with double tours en l'air. 

The young ladies bravely danced through softened pointe shoes without faltering. 

It was an evening for the classical ballet devotee, and one not easily forgotten. 

*Note: Bryn Gilbert, 15, was named a top contender in the Young America Grand Prix, Long Beach regional competition, held in March 2008.

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