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Tulsa Ballet Opens Studio K/Kivisto Hall at Tulsa Studio

Night of Creations: About Tango

by Gretchen Collins

April 24, 2008 -- Studio K /Kivisto Hall, Tulsa Ballet Studios

When first reported on Tulsa Ballet’s Exceeding Expectations campaign in November 2006, the company had raised $12.5 million. Thanks to the generous donation by Julie and Tom Kivisto (CEO of SemGroup) and the Kivisto Family Foundation, the total reached $17.3 million.

Simply called Studio K, the 300-seat theatre is the only one of its kind in North America. The culmination of the fund-raising campaign came on April 24, 2008. As Tulsa Ballet christened their new performance hall with spotlights and champagne, it raised the curtain on a new era in Tulsa arts.

“About Tango,” a collection of three heart-pounding world premieres, opened the new facility with a bang.

Marcello Angelini, the company’s artistic director, expressed his gratitude to the Kivisto family. “I doubt very much we would have Kivisto Hall without the two of them,” he said. “We might have had a black box with stadium seating, but certainly we could not have built a proper theatre in which to host our new Creations Series. Their investment in Tulsa will impact generations to come and will help project this wonderful city into the 21st century.”

Initially, the goal was a 100-seat hall, but Tulsa Ballet’s Founders Society grew to 220 and no longer fit the plan. Wanting to allow for growth, the decision was made for a 300-seat capacity. “We realized  by adding a good lighting package and a few other amenities, we could build a (real) theatre,” Angelini said. “(Kivisto) agreed to significantly increase his financial support in order to make the new theatre the home of this series.

“And here we are, with a unique facility and a unique purpose: to further the growth of the art form and to create works of great artistic value that will be shared with other companies, taken on tour worldwide to showcase the culture and sophistication of our community.”

There’s an old saying: “Can’t died in the cornfield.” It fits Angelini, even though his world is far from a farm. The word “can’t” just doesn’t apply to him.

After Angelini attended San Carlo Opera House ballet school in Naples for three years, the director of the school spoke to Angelini’s father (also a dancer and school director) and told him there was no way his son could ever become a professional dancer, and to please take him home voluntarily to avoid the embarrassment of being kicked out.

“I think at that point I realized some people couldn’t see very far from their noses,” Angelini said. “I went back to the same opera house to dance as guest principal many times, later in my career, even dancing opposite Rudolf Nureyev in his version of ‘Cinderella.’ I made sure to charge them a premium fee.”

Angelini lives and works super-sized. “I have always thought big,” he acknowledged. “My mom used to tease me when I was a kid, saying that my mouth was too small to spit out all the big plans going through my overactive mind. Not pushing the envelope, just passing by in this life, not leaving a legacy and not making a significant contribution doesn’t set well with me.” His father set an example when Angelini was only 5 years old, by striking for seven months without pay, along with all other Italian dancers, to achieve the life-contract status so crucial to the development of dance in Italy. Nothing comes without a price.

“I am the luckiest person on earth to have had the opportunity to find a place where dreams can come true.” And there are more dreams on the horizon. Tulsa Ballet will be featured at the Ballet Expo Seoul 2008 in August.

Kivisto Hall, built by Manhattan Construction of Tulsa, was finished on time. Angelini laughed at the opening as he cautioned the audience about paint drying on the walls. The fire alarms had been tested repeatedly that day to the distraction of all. During the dedication the air conditioning was not yet working, but by the time the dancers stepped on stage, it was cooling off fast–everywhere, except on stage.

Four choreographers were showcased in “About Tango:” Fernanda Ghi and Guillermo Merlo, Young Soon Hue, and Tulsa Ballet’s principal dancer Ma Cong. Cong recently won first place in the 21st Century Choreographer Competition and the Audience Favorite Award for his work, “Inner Voices,” sponsored by Ballet Nouveau Colorado.

Cong’s creation, “Blood Rush,” was a combo of tutus, tango, and toe shoes. The women wore delicate black bustiers (actually leotards of flesh spandex in black lace and grey mesh, with strips of shiny spandex contouring the body lines) with red and black tutus. Jo Wimer, Tulsa Ballet’s resident designer, explained how the tutus were made: “It was interesting to work on something different and the first time I had made this type of tutu,” she said. “(They) are condensed versions of regular tutus inside and an outer layer of color spandex.” Although there are not as many layers of netting, they are constructed with an inner and outer ring of hoop wire. The construction allowed the tutus to bounce in a playful way. The men sported black fishnet tops and knee-length pants also designed by Wimer.

Ástor Piazzolla’s nuevo tango music was perfect for Cong’s “Blood Rush.” This succulent feast for the eyes was danced en pointe. Cong is a painter of minimalist dance, rich in mood and movement. Les Dickert’s lighting cast dappled magic across the stage.

Choreography consisted of slow-motion tango to pounding rhythms that took the breath away. In one scene with principal dancer Alfonso Martín and soloist Karina Gonzalez, Martín lifts Gonzalez to shoulder height in a sensual -- almost naughty -- movement, and flutters her open legs. It was daring–and raised an eyebrow or two.

Daniela Buson, ballet mistress and former principal, and soloist Wang Yi performed a pas de deux as a troubled couple who sometimes talk, then refuse to talk, but always tango. Buson once again proves that 40 isn’t fatal. Yi joined Tulsa Ballet last season and has proven to a fine technical dancer with a patrician panache.

In “This is Your Life,” choreographed by Young Soon Hue, corps dancer Joshua Trader, who has a flair for comedic roles, portrays the host of the show. He has a remarkable knowledge of languages as each contestant tells him their story in Chinese, Spanish, Dutch, and, oh yeah, English. He translates each narrative for the audience.

Each contestant then continued their story in dance form. Ricardo Graziano, demi-soloist, played a happy hairdresser, Sunshine, in the most flamboyant style while trying not to break a nail! Corps de ballet dancer Mugen Kazama shakes his booty and then latches onto Marit van der Wolde’s. Kazama and van de Wolde were enticingly funny. Martín and Gonzalez did a soulful and passionate love pas de deux which drew applause. “This is Your Life,” danced to the music of Gabe and Piazzolla, contained pirouettes, leaps, swaggers, kicks and tango all over.

“Tango Is...” was the mostly purely tango of the offerings in Tulsa Ballet’s Creation Series. Danced to the music of Gardel, Piazzolla, Bardi, Ross and Adler, Brunelli and Mores, it focused on three people, portrayed by demi-soloist Rupert Edwards, III, Gonzalez, and Martín. Edwards is an up-and-comer. He is a strong dancer, at once masculine and approachable. His character is constantly testing the couple played by Gonzalez and Martín. No one disappoints in this hot, hot three-way chili tango.

The intensity lifts some during a humorous scene with the men wigging out in really bad wigs and the women in fat suits, colorful costumes and outlandish hats. I’m always a little uncomfortable during this kind of scene, in any art form, because being overweight is a very real problem for so many, but it was nicely done.

This was followed by a lovely duet with Gonzalez and Martín. Gonzalez did a series of revolutions, apparently gliding across the stage instead of walking like the rest of us mortals. I’m beginning to think there is nothing she doesn’t dance well.

The new Creations Series is off to a great start, in this state-of-the-art facility.

Since Angelini began living on Tulsa time in 1995, he has added 25 Oklahoma premieres, five American premieres, and two world premieres to the company repertoire. He created and introduced his version of “The Nutcracker” to critical acclaim. During his tenure the Center for Dance Education opened, the company received critical success in Sentra, Portugal, and Studio K/Kivisto Hall opened. That is life Exceeding Expectations.

Does Angelini have to pinch himself to be sure all this is really happening? “Opening Kivisto Hall, opening a new wing for the school, reaching (our) 360 students enrollment goal, and taking works created in this new theatre to the International Dance Expo in Seoul: Yes, I do have to pinch myself...that is if I can’t find anybody else to pinch me.”

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