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Diablo Ballet

'A Tribute to Lena Horne', 'Valse Fantaisie' and 'Lady of the Camellias'

by Toba Singer

October 16, 1010 -- Dean Lesher Center for the Performing Arts, Walnut Creek, California

Diablo Ballet reached out to its audience with a three-piece program built around and culminating in “A Tribute to Lena Horne,” a jazz ballet by Tina Kay Bohnstedt, set to songs in the musical repertoire of the legendary 1950s-era singer.

Bohnstedt, who favors using simple furniture props and her dancers as the stage crew, chose chairs this time to puncture the smoky boîte ambience that so often characterizes the jazz scene.  At the top of the piece, the company’s five dancers and one guest artist, Rory Hohenstein, are seated on the chairs in casual poses. They rise to reconfigure the seating arrangements for each song. 

Hohenstein is a sexy beast of a jazz dancer, who uses held positions to lock and load for the powerful discharge that will ripple through each muscle and body part. Lightning strikes the charged atmosphere when he is paired with his frequent partner, the sensual and articulate Mayo Sugano in “Stormy Weather,” sung by Clairdee with fine-tuned quartet accompaniment directed by Greg Sudmeier.

Erika Johnson and Edward Stegge who partner in “Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me,” also represent an earnest commitment in style, tempo and sensibility.

“Valse Fantaisie,” which opened the program, is a lesser-known Balanchine work that featured Hohenstein and three women: Johnson, Sugano and Nikki Trerise White, giving the dancers a rare opportunity to show their facility with a classical, as opposed to neo-classical challenge from Balanchine.  Hohenstein partnered the three adeptly. Sugano shined brightly in her solo, Johnson’s turns detailed the piece, and Trerise’s feet drew the eye.

The most compelling work of the evening was Val Caniparoli’s spellbinding “Lady of the Camellias,” Act I Pas de Deux, originally set on Ballet Florida in 1995.  David Fonnegra partnered Bohnstedt, as Marguerite, in the role of her lover, Armand Duval. There is a kind of timelessness that renders Bohnstedt’s dancing spellbinding.  Though she is faultless technically, and as strong as she is facile, what makes her work so engaging is that she leads with a balanced, calculated artistry that never fails to capture the character she is dancing.  Caniparoli is the perfect choreographer for her: His propensity to reveal what lies under the surface gives her permission to release herself into those moments with complete abandon. 

Congratulations to Diablo Ballet for not only surviving the hard times, but utilizing them to regroup, refresh and infuse the company—and by extension—the audience with a welcome and enterprising sense of renewal.

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