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 Post subject: Oakland Ballet Paramount Theater, Oakland 9/25/99
PostPosted: Tue Oct 26, 1999 7:55 pm 

Joined: Fri Oct 22, 1999 11:01 pm
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Location: SF Bay Area
Oakland Ballet Paramount Theater, Oakland 9/25/99<P>By far the most interesting piece of this mixed bill program was Lew Christensen’s Jinx. This is an eerie and psychologically disturbing work. It tells of the story of a clown named Jinx who is blamed for the mishaps that befall a circus troupe. By merely being present at each accident, Jinx is accused of being the cause. Even his overture of help is shunned and repelled with hatred by the victims of the accidents. Finally, unable to bear the series of bad luck, the ringmaster, in his rage, whips Jinx to his death. Jinx however is a vengeful clown whose spirit returns to exact revenge.<P>The circus, especially, clowns are normally associated with happiness and frivolity. Here however, Christensen’s clever use of the music sets the proper mood for each event. The music by Benjamin Britten clearly defines the happy events and the tragedies. For example, without the proper music, the whiplashing of a smiley-faced clown by an equally clownish-looking ringmaster would have looked comical instead of macabre. The dim lighting also helped stress the sinister atmosphere, with even the spotlights on the performers during the circus acts having a supernatural, surrealistic quality.<P>Another factor that enhanced this piece, probably unintentionally, was the theater itself. The Paramount Theater in Oakland is a recently renovated art-deco theater with grand stairways, ornate balustrades, shimmering carpets and a majestic ceiling. However, the cavernous hall, which was far from being full, and its dim lighting gave the theater a gothic feel, mirroring almost the nightmarish mood being projected on stage. Watching Jinx in this theater, I felt as if I too were under the spell of some unnatural power.<P>Being a company who is known for its repertory of non-Balanchine, dramatic ballets (the company will be performing Nijinsky’s Les Biches and Eugene Loring’s Tender Land later this season), Oakland Ballet has built a corps of dancers who, according to some critics, are adept at tackling works from the 1920’s and the 1930’s. Not one with enough experience to agree or disagree with this statement, all I can say is that the dancers seemed to have relished performing this piece. Mario Alonzo, who is also credited for the costume construction, was convincing as both a luckless clown and a vengeful spirit while Andre Levitt was appropriately maniacal as the rampaging Ringmaster. I also liked both Lara Deans Lowe and Marcie Ryken who, as the Bareback Riders, seemed to capture best, through physical gestures and facial expressions, the swings in mood between circus fun and macabre undercurrents.<P>The opening piece of the program was by comparison a new work by Alonzo King, artistic director of Lines Contemporary Ballet. Danced to music by Gorecki and Giger, Hovering Slightly Above Ground is a piece that showcases the usual King trademarks of balance between push and pull, ground and air, and momentum and inertia among others. The balance he projects in this piece is dynamic and not of the at-rest quality. For example, a dancer propels himself forward in a leap but then almost immediately upon landing sweeps back and moves in the opposite direction. The most challenging dancing seemed reserved for Javier Ferla, a guest artist from King’s own Lines Contemporary Ballet. As in Jinx, with its dim lighting and somber music, this piece to me was dark and mysterious. Then again, King’s works are always a mystery to me.<P>The last piece of the night was Djangology, a work originally created by Val Caniporali for San Francisco Ballet, to express in dance the Parisian gypsy jazz music of Django Reinhardt. This piece, meant to be light-hearted with its country-style dancing replete with square dancing steps, had much of its energy sapped, surprisingly, by the gothic feel of the theater. While the piece was fun to watch, it felt empty to me as a work of ballet, quite different from Caniparoli’s Slow, which seemed to have more to say about contemporary ballet.<P>From what I’ve seen this evening, Oakland Ballet is a talented company, whose production of Les Biches is one that I am looking forward to.<BR>

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