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Alberta Ballet

'Divertimento No. 15', 'The Four Temperaments', 'In the Upper Room'

by Kate Snedeker

September 12, 2012 -- Northern Jubilee Theatre, Edmonton, AB

Edmontonians are loath to come inside on a warm, sunny September evening. The Alberta Ballet’s Great Masterpieces of the 20th Century program, however, was well worth the sunlight sacrifice. Tracing the threads of ballet from neoclassical to Tharp, the evening’s performance revealed both the growth and the promise of the Alberta Ballet. The trio of ballets – Balanchine’s ‘Divertimento No. 15’ and ‘The Four Temperaments’, and Twyla Tharp’s ‘In the Upper Room’ – could not have been better suited to the company’s strengths. These are ballets where the focus is on the group, and Alberta Ballet is at its best when the company is together on stage.

Though the program was presumably arranged to show the evolution of ballet, the evening opened with the younger of the two Balanchine pieces, ‘Divertimento No. 15’. With a lilting Mozart score and Karinska’s subtly glittering tutus, ‘Divertmento’ combined elegance with finely tuned musicality. As in many of Balanchine’s ballets, the steps seemed to flow a hair’s breadth ahead of the music, requiring a non-stop attack. The Alberta Ballet dancers, for the most part, are more quarter horse than thoroughbred, but they brought ample energy to Balanchine’s tricky steps. Akiko Ishi, Nicole Caron, Mariko Kondo and Alison Dubsky led a sparkling, well-rehearsed female corps. The men were solid partners, though less sure in terms of individual technique. Of note as well was the quietness of the womens’ shoes – not a pointe shoe thunk to be heard.

If any of the evenings’ ballets lived up to the title billing, it was ‘The Four Temperaments’. Loosely inspired by the four humors once thought to determine the human temperament, the ballet is one of Balanchine’s masterpieces. Ironically though good health was thought to be achieved by a keeping the humors in balance, Balanchine’s choreography explores being off-balance. It’s not so simple as a jutting hip or a flexed foot, but steps that give the impression that a body is being pulled or pushed by some unseen force. There are many breathtakingly unique moments – for instance, a supported pirouette en attitude with the women’s supporting leg deeply bent, a man slowly backing off stage with his back deeply arched, and a male soloist who lifts one leg up in a front attitude only to pause, foot in hand, while the female corps dances around him. It’s made all the more powerful by Paul Hindemith’s driving piano score; commissioned especially for Balanchine’s choreography.

The company danced ‘The Four Temperaments’ with an exhilarating intensity, though the female corps lacked the constant attention to detail the ballet demands. At times wrists needed more flexion and tension, steps a little more jut in the hip or abandon into momentary imbalance. However, there were a number of stand out performances. One of the highlights of the evening was Kelley McKinlay’s Melancholic solo in which he exploded across the stage in one long, exhilarating blaze of steps. He was one the very few dancers who seemed confident enough in his technique to push that extra bit so that the steps were full fleshed out. In addition, McKinlay performed with a maturity that gave his dancing both metaphoric and literal depth. In Phlegmatic, one could not help but to notice Mark Wax’s ability to balance his easy, sky-high extensions with exquisite control. It was an interesting contrast with Elier Bourzac, who while an impeccable partner and blessed with beautiful proportions, seemed to struggle with getting his body under control. There was a looseness in his epaulement, and feet that were beautifully pointed a terre were floppy in the air. Finally, Tara Williamson’s steeliness and power stood out in Choleric.

Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room” is clearly popular with audiences, but for this critic, placing it after ‘The Four Temperaments’ highlights the relative lack of choreographic depth. Yet, with a driving Philip Glass score, and brassy choreography, it is a upbeat end to an evening. The piece revolves around a sextet of sneaker clad ‘stompers’, three ‘ballet couples’ and a girl who crosses over. Clad in Norma Kamali’s varying red and prison-striped costumes, the dancers appear and disappear into a great swath of smoke that covers the back of the stage; it’s fun and a bit fantastical.
The mood is relentlessly upbeat, with a fascinating variety of steps from bounding to twitchy. The emphasis on power and group interaction suited the Alberta Ballet to a “T. No dancer seemed more at home than the Yukichi Hattori, who simply flew across the stage. Another dancer who stood out was the young Cuban Jaciel Gomez. Already bestowed with a solid foundation in technique and partnering, Gomez seems to be relishing the less classical challenges at Alberta Ballet. He’s clearly making the most of every opportunity, and has a combination of technique, presence and range that is a treat to see on the Northern Jubilee stage.

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