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Diablo Ballet

'Tears From Above', 'Spectre de la Rose', 'Fluctuating Hemlines'

by Toba Singer

November 19, 2011 -- Dean Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, CA

Diablo Ballet hits the ground running in their 18th season opener. While the company of eight retains a shank of veteran dancers: Edward Stegge, Erika Johnson, Mayo Sugano, and David Fonnegra, it has made some new and promising additions to its roster. They are Derek Sakakura, Robert Dekkers, Rosselyn Ramirez and Hiromi Yamazaki. It is impressive that the new dancers seem well integrated and on task, especially given the challenges of the three pieces on the evening’s program.

Val Caniparoli’s “Tears from Above” was simply, yet elegantly costumed by Robert G. de la Rose, with the women in mauve shoulder skimming long sleeved leotard dresses and the bare-chested men in blue jeans. Subtle lighting by Jack Carpenter offered the vista of an open landscape with endless possibilities. Set on two couples, without props or a set, the dancing was sufficiently resonant to convey a distinct sense of place, if not exactly geographical, then a frontier of movement that Caniparoli wanted to demarcate with steps he has used successfully in other pieces and places, but with an added bonhomie specific to these dancers and their territory. It warms up slowly as the dancers work their way into the weave with rocking horse movements or full-body responses to cues from the groaning cello music played by Daniel Reiter and Paul Rhodes. It is in many ways an ideal platform to show the talents of the company’s individual members as they enter new partnerships, and also its esprit de corps as an ensemble.

The evening’s opener was Dominic Walsh’s remake of Michel Fokine’s “Spectre de la Rose,” danced sweetly by Rosselyn Ramirez in her company debut. Her partner was Domenico Luciano, of Dominic Walsh Dance Theater. Ramirez was well cast as the innocent somnambulant girl, and Luciano was certainly a worthy candidate for the rose-studded specter who enters her dreams. The question that does not seem to have an answer is: What is the choreographer’s reason for remaking a classic? There has to be a clear intention. That puzzle was manifest in the steps. In the original version, the Specter has to wow the girl out of her sleepy complacency by wielding charm on the one hand, and bravura on the other. In Walsh’s version, the steps had Luciano more intent on intimidating her than winning her over. He danced stealthily and close to the ground, rather than making a bounding entrance, grabbing space (and with it, her imagination and yearnings) and then exiting through an open window, as we’d expect any self-respecting specter to do. The set and costumes seemed agnostic in terms of capturing the period, and so one wonders whether it is intended as a period piece or was Walsh’s raison d’être to modernize it? Ramirez’ costume was a simple shift, and in the case of Luciano, only half of his torso and one arm was rose-covered, bisecting his otherwise beautiful line, and rendering him more menacing than tantalizing. Her armchair was nondescript, and the oversized curtains that replaced the open-curtained window, while resplendent, taken together with the choreographic choices, did not create the Victorian sense of place so necessary to making the fantasy daring and the derrings-do of the Specter thrilling.

The program closed with Septime Webre’s “Fluctuating Hemlines.” The full-cast piece opens with a shock of studied ugliness found in the bright-hued satin empire costumes and garish wigs worn by the female dancers who strike limp-wristed cliché sexy poses. The men are dressed as dandies. All the dancers strip down to white leotards as the Tigger Benford score goes wild with drums, brass, and a louche downbeat. This company has some rather expert jazz dancers, and it was a special treat to see the very flexible, and bold-limbed Mayo Sugano dance with Domenico Luciano, who gave her every commanding inch of what she deserves in a partner, as well as to see veteran couple Erika Johnson and Edward Stegge strut their full-out virtuosic stuff. Not sure why the unsightly abandoned costumes were thrown on in the first place; the piece stands on its own without the benefit of hemlines!

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