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Los Angeles Ballet

by Kathy Lee Scott

May 17, 2008 -- Irvine Barclay Theatre, Irvine, California

Peter Snow was the “go-to” guy in this program from Los Angeles Ballet. At the May 17, 2008, show in the Irvine Barclay Theatre, he appeared in several pas de deux, as well as solo variations -- and he danced them masterfully.  It's a pity so few saw him. Performing before a half-filled auditorium, the company may question whether a return in the future is financially smart. Hopefully, the small turnout doesn't discourage them.

Artistic Directors Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary scheduled a varied program that began and ended with Balanchine. Neary, a stager for the George Balanchine Trust, has staged his ballets for other companies, as well as her own.  This evening included "Allegro Brillante" to Tchaikovsky's Third Piano Concerto and "Who Cares?" to a medley of George Gershwin songs. A former New York City Ballet soloist, Neary remembered the former as one of the pieces all NYCB dancers wanted to do because "it has as many steps as a full-length ballet in just 17 minutes."

Melissa Barak and Snow danced the lead couple in the opening piece, with Andrew Brader, Brent Cannons, Lara Clemens, Damien Johnson, Sergey Kheylik, Megan Pepin, Nancy Richer and Lucy Van Cleef as the supporting couples.  Barak and Snow interacted well with each other and seemed to enjoy their time on stage. All but one of the others kept big smiles on their faces as well, which transmitted their joy to the audience. A small annoyance was Barak's mannerism of broken-wrist arms.

True to Neary's description, the dance comprised lots of sauté and piqué steps that exuded happiness while requiring precision in the execution. Balanchine's choreography criss-crossed the dancers, gave them unison movement as well as movement in canon.  Of note was Brader's battu work. Compared to the other men, his beats looked effortless and precise.

Brader danced the second piece, "The Evangelist," with Kelly Ann Sloan admirably. Both dancers' intensity and energy were palpable throughout the piece. Lar Lubovitch originally choreographed it for Christensen and Neary when they danced at Pacific Northwest Ballet 16 years ago. It hasn't been performed since then until now.

To music by Charles Ives, Lubovitch based the piece on the 1920s evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. Lubovitch employed gestures reminiscent of those of Martha Graham with Sloan's arched backbends, cupped arms and demi-relevé feet to dsplay, according to Neary, the angst a troubled man experienced before the healer helped him.

Sloan's uplifted arms exuded energy and Brader's anguish looked gut-wrenching. He lifted her almost brutally with no finesse, flinging her around his waist. Yet she returned to wave her arms over and around him to allay his fears. She gently clasped his trembling hands and calmed them of their spasms.  Both dancers wore the costumes from the original 1992 production.

The second half began with a world premiere: "she said/he said," by Jennifer Backhaus, an award-winning choreographer. In a published interview, the Mission Viejo-based artist contemplated keeping the dancers in pointe shoes but decided to have them dance in ballet slippers.

She used almost the entire company for the piece, which began with 20 dancers facing upstage while Aubrey Morgan and Damien Johnson paired in front of them. The couple alternately came together, then pushed or pulled apart. Johnson picked Morgan up in ballet lifts, although most of the movement contained turned-in legs, angular arms and exaggerated postures.

Backhaus didn't take advantage of the dancers' training. Instead, she had them fling their arms around themselves like anyone off the street can do, straighten their arms stiffly and snap their heads to the side. The music she selected, "Speaks Volumes" by Nico Muhly, assaulted the ears with its harshness.

Changing lead couples, Backhaus engaged them in an attract/repel theme throughout. They would touch each other, then fling their hands away. The girl would push the guy, then run after him when he strode away. They criss-crossed the stage, then returned in the same trajectory.

Occasionally, her patterns of dancers proved interesting. When all the corps came onstage in staggered lines and walked back and forth, they looked like pedestrians on a crowded sidewalk. She had them enclose the lead couple in three-sided box-like formations, effectively confining the couple's space.

Overall, the piece went on too long with movements that seemed common and unprovocative.

The concluding Balanchine work allowed the dancers to tap dance in pointe shoes because the choreographer based the steps on Fred Astaire moves. To familiar Gershwin melodies, the dancers shuffle, ball, stomped in groups and by themselves.

Five men (Brader, Cannons, Kheylik, Johnson and Gareth Scott) showed off their tours to "Bidin' My Time." They seemed to enjoy themselves and oozed energy. Five women (Clemens, Morgan, Pepin, Erin Rivera-Brennand and Sloan) followed them in a joyful "Somebody Loves Me." A lot of hopping steps illustrated the bouncy melody.

Most enjoyable was the lyrical pas de deux between Corina Gill and Snow to "The Man I Love." Matched in height, the pair interacted as if involved. Gill displayed her excellent musicality and her coy, sweet personality. Snow kept his eyes on her, smiling warmly.

Snow partnered Richer to "Embraceable You," as well as Barak in "Who Cares?" After that, he still had enough energy to perform his solo to "Liza."

While not Balanchine's best work, it gave the audience some fun songs to carry home with them.

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