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Media City Ballet

Aram Khachaturian, The Composer and His Ballets

by Kathy Lee Scott

August 16, 2008 -- Alex Theatre, Glendale, California

By On Aug. 16, 2008, Burbank-based Media City Ballet showcased Aram Khachaturian's ballet music with selections from three of his more famous works. The 19th-century Armenian composer brought world attention to folk melodies after he incorporated them in his orchestral pieces, as well as influencing choreographers to integrate folk dancing into classical ballet.

Selections from "Masquerade" began in front of a scrim with Stephen Nelson as Prince Zvezditch, preparing to attend a masked ball. He joined couples dressed in colorful outfits as the music intensified. They swirled around to the pulsing waltz music, although long skirts hid most of the women's movements. Felicia Guzman danced the Baroness Schtral role in a striking red gown.

Natasha Middleton's choreography populated the stage with minor characters. Albertossy Espinoza and Philippe Leibzig, as entertainers with ribboned sticks à la rhythmic gymnastics, alternated with Jugglers Kevin Nazaryan and Robson Tadeu Freiere to entertain the guests. Dimitri Safa strode across the stage on stilts, and Alexander Fost performed acrobatic tricks.  Four pixies (Kristine Gregorian, Gretchen Irby, Emily Morrow and Tina Yedgarian) swarmed around the principals and ran on pointe.

According to the program notes, the baroness gives the prince a bracelet, but he doesn't know who she is because of her mask. He confides in his friend, Arbenin (Moses Navarro), who learns his wife, Nina (Ellen Rosa), has lost a bracelet earlier. Arbenin believes Nina has bestowed the bracelet on the prince and vows to punish her. After all but Arbenin learn the truth, the prince warns Nina about her husband's plot.

The pas de deux between the prince and Nina began with red spotlights from the side, making it difficult to watch. Under more normal lighting, the couple interacted believably with each other. Nelson kept trying to get Rosa to pay attention to him, but she managed to evade him. Rosa depicted a fearful lady well, miming her anguish through her gestures and body language. Nelson lifted her overhead twice in a row, demonstrating his strength. He showed his gentleness in how he lowered her to the floor. He controlled his tours, turns and leaps, as well as partnered Rosa with authority. Only once did he pull her off pointe briefly.

Middleton's choreography retained classical ballet language for the piece to nice effect.

Ballet Master Ruben Tonoyan staged two pas de deux from "Spartacus." The first with Spartacus (Arsen Serobian) and his wife, Phrygia (Aubrey Morgan) he based on Fernando Alanso's choreography.

On a bare stage, Spartacus celebrated his joy at escaping from a Roman captor and releasing his wife from the captor's harem. He knelt on the stage in a prone position until Phrygia lifted him up. The two alternately comforted each other. She lay against his leg, then over his shoulder. Serobian pressed her overhead, then made it a one-armed lift as she lay back on his hand.

When they danced the same steps, they were out of synch. One interesting pose had Morgan in a deep penché holding his thigh while he caressed hers. Wide-spread hands and angled arms constituted the only modern influence on the dance. Something offstage kept capturing their attention until they'd again entwine themselves.

While the two connected, they excluded the audience from that closeness. One trouble occurred when Morgan looked upstage at Serobian, the audience lost touch with her face. During the dramatic swell of music, their dancing remained at the same intensity. A nice job, but not the best it could have been.

For the second pas de deux, Tonoyan used Grigorovich's choreography in a seduction of Crassus (Jekyns Pelaez) by one of his concubine, Aegina (Gabrielle Palmatier). Palmatier slunk on stage to the single prop where she picked up a pike. She used it to balance herself while lifting her leg to the side or overarching her pointes in a wide second position. She carried it overhead during piqué attitude devant turns, then while lying on the floor, she wrapped a knee around it. She rolled over and away from the pike, only to return to pick it up again. Basically, she stroked the pole similar to a cat reacting to catnip. Except she seemed a bit nervous about the moves.

When Pelaez stepped on stage, Morgan replaced the pike, with him as her plaything. As with the pike, though, Palmatier seemed uneasy as a seductress. However, she gamely went through the motions, allowing her partner to stroke and manipulate her in lifts and turns. At one point, the pair moved in synch with each other, yet his extensions went higher than hers. While Pelaez danced well, his white underwear distracted from his movements whenever his Roman skirt split open.

For the final piece, Tonoyan staged selections from "Gayane" based on choreography by Galousdian. Featuring Edgar Nikoylan as Armen and Amara Baptist as Gayane, the first work included the entire ensemble for Armen and Gayane's wedding. Once all the dancers lined up on stage, the priest (Philippe Leibzig) blessed the couple.

They immediately began their pas de deux in which Nikoylan displayed his strength by gently lowering Baptist from lifts. However, he strained as it seemed Baptist failed to help him by lifting up. In fact, Baptist's pointe work seemed weak, leading to a question: why she was chosen for such a major role? During the pas de quatre of the Pink Girls Dance, she slipped and fell. It didn't seem to dismay her as she concluded the evening without further trouble.

During the pas de deux, eight young girls came on stage and stood in what resembled a line in front of the couple. They diverted all attention from the older dancers as the audience oohed and ahhed at the kids. Trotting out youngsters barely able to walk in a line at a paying performance is galling.  Even though many major companies follow the practice, it's still annoying to pay up to $100 for a seat at some programs to watch amateurs parade across the stage. The only ecstatic people are the children's relatives.

Joining the men in the Lezginka, Felicia Guzman shone with her strong pointe work and sure movements. Nikolyan led the corps men in barrel turns and other masculine tricks. Most impressive was his tour jeté with a double cabriole.

The evening ended with Khachaturian's most well-known piece, the Sabre Dance. The exuberant choreography had the men and ladies twirling, leaping and jumping while clapping and tapping on their tambourines. It was a colorful and satisfying tribute to the late composer and his ballets.

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