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Media City Ballet

'Ballet Russe Remembered'

by Kathy Lee Scott

April 27, 2008 - Alex Theatre, Glendale, CA

Natasha Middleton, artistic director of Media City Ballet, should ask for part of her deposit back from the Alex Theatre. The lighting person made numerous mistakes during the evening of "Ballet Russe Remembered," held April 27, 2008, at the Glendale facility, confusing audience members and darkening dancers in early blackouts.

Despite technical difficulties, the company presented an enjoyable program of pieces from the Ballet Russe repertoire. Media City Ballet featured these dances as Middleton's father, Andrei Tremaine, danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. He, along with former Ballet Russe members Paul Maure, Patricia Peters, Roberta Laune and Dorothy Matsie, attended the evening.

Two notable Media City dancers, Arsen Serobian and Edgar Nikolyan, followed the melodramatic manner of Ballet Russe for their pieces, creating tension and excitement.

Exploding onto stage, Serobian flew across the floor in leaps and jumps during the pas de deux from "Scheherazade." Using Michel Fokine's choreography to the Rimsky-Korsakov music, Serobian portrayed the Golden Slave – demanding yet yielding to chief wife Zobiede's seduction. His strokes down her body showed an intensity of masculine passion for both his partner and the movements. 

Ellen Rosa, as Zobiede, looked beautiful in turquoise pantaloons and a sparkly royal blue top, but she failed to match Serobian's intensity. Instead of alluring, she portrayed the chief wife with stiff and restricted movements, especially her head. It seemed she feared her hairpiece would fall off so she shortened her head drops. The role required more from her – more backbends, more sensuality. Rosa danced the role in soft shoes, as Fokine originally choreographed it, but would pointe shoes add an extra enhancement to all her extensions and relevés? This is a dance that begs for such a version.

With similar passion and intensity, Nikolyan captured the masculine energy of the warrior chieftain in the final piece, the Polovtsian dances from "Prince Igor." Fokine's choreography to Borodin's music highlighted Nikolyan's moves as he whirled through the air and gestured strongly at the captive princess (Andee Tims). He clearly outshone his warriors (Eduardo Larios Cueto, Maco Doussias, Alex Fost and Stephen Nelson) in their group sections.

Nikolyan's earlier role as Jean de Brienne in "Raymonda" selections, which opened the evening, displayed his abilities as both a partner and soloist. He securely held Courtney Croitori, who danced Raymonda, and kept her on pointe, even when she leaned far from the vertical. In his variation, he beat his cabrioles cleanly and elevated high in the sautés. Only the attitude turn troubled him, his leg dropping from the back into the next step.

Raymonda presented an interesting mixture of costumes: Russian folk outfits, Spanish dresses and classical ballet tutus. Similarly, the choreography incorporated the various styles of dance. Tims and Cueto led the corps in a Hungarian czardas that included stomping of shoes and shuffles.

Youngsters from Media City Youth Ballet performed the Pas de Mariscos with energy and lightness. Megan Mendoza enjoyed dancing the Panderos variation, swishing her long, red and black Spanish-style dress. Her partner, Albertossy Espinoza, gave his role energy and enthusiasm despite his shaky technique (he fell out of his last kneeling pose).

Since the five couples danced unison during the grand adage, it prompted comparisons, even though Croitori and Nikolyan were featured. One pair fumbled a shoulder sit, and a couple of ladies didn't initiate their arm movements from their backs.

The short variations that followed showed off each soloist's skills, although Amara Baptist tended to relax her point when she hopped into the air, and Kristine Gregorian flung a relaxed foot out before her bourées. Gabrielle Palmatier attacked her moves confidently, while Felicia Guzman beat hers cleanly.

In the pas de trois, Doussias tended to forget his turnout in his enthusiasm to turn multiple times and leap high. Croitori performed her solo expertly, which required strong en pointe and allegro technique.

Impressive among the female soloists was April Lynn McLeod, who flowed her moves and with a sweet, natural smile, looked like she enjoyed herself. In her second piece as a featured dancer, the Girl in "Le Spectre de la Rose," McLeod epitomized a young girl smitten by a lover, who gave her a rose.

Dancing the demanding Rose role made famous by Nijinsky, Stephen Nelson entered dressed in a dark crimson unitard with petals covering his head and shoulders. The Fokine choreography had him jumping around the stage with exaggerated arm movements, which embodied both the masculine and feminine aspect of a rose. His double grand pas assemblés were spectacular, and he cleanly performed the beated steps.

Especially sweet was how Nelson partnered McLeod, using his wrists under hers, unlike other interpreters of the role. They moved smoothly and artistically together.

Guest artists from the Maple Youth Ballet performed Balanchine's "Valse Fantasie" to Glinka's pulsing composition of the same name. The four corps dancers (Kalena Fujii, Quinn Mason, Rebekah Miller and Natalie Nguyen) danced on even after a member slipped on stage. Steven Morse lifted his partner, Jordan Hammond, so high on the sauté arabesques she seemed to fly. He landed his leaps and jumps softly, although his beats on the pas assemblé looked incomplete. Morse ended every step precisely, giving his moves a finished look.

Middleton's staging of "Le Can-Can" from "Gaite Parisienne" seemed problematic although it upheld the wild mood of the period. The dance master, Alex Fost, upstaged and interfered with the main attraction, the can-can girls. Although energetic, his look-at-me presentation detracted from the frenzied surroundings.

The three waiters (Robson Taedu Freire, Philippe Leibzig and Nicholas Müller) interacted with the girls and supported them in cartwheel lifts, adding to the three-ring-circus atmosphere. Their clapping encouraged five of the girls to put their grand battement feet together and hop around on the other. In keeping with the period, one hoped the girls would keep their bright-colored skirts lower until the end of the scene, saving the scandalous reveal of undergarments for last.

The evening provided a delightful look at dances presented by the former Ballet Russe troupe, danced by technically adept performers.

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