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Ballet San Jose of Silicon Valley
Dennis Nahat's "Moments," Auguste Bournonville's "Napoli," and George Balanchine's "Theme and Variations"
San Jose Performing Arts Center, October 12, 2000

by Azlan Ezaddin

The staff of the Ballet San Jose of Silicon Valley deserves a huge round of applause for pulling off one of the most remarkable feats in the history of dance; creating a major ballet company within a matter of days. Even as the dancers were taking to the stage, issues relating to the running of the company were still being resolved, with audition notices for example being handed out to the media in the press kits. Thankfully, one glaring omission was quickly dealt with – ownership of the name of the new company!

However, for what was a historic moment in dance, namely the inaugural performance of this brand new ballet company, the atmosphere at the San Jose Performing Arts Center seemed surrealistic and awkwardly subdued. For one, the dancers aren’t really new to Bay Area dance fans. They are for the most part the same corps of dancers from the demised Cleveland San Jose Ballet (or San Jose Cleveland Ballet, depending on where they perform). Secondly, the promisingly majestic “Celebrations and Ode,” to be danced to a live performance of Beethoven’s revered “Ninth Symphony,” was preempted in advance due to the recent uprooting from Cleveland, for a mixed repertory program with works from three different periods.

The oldest of the three works on the program was the Third Act “divertissements” from “Napoli,” probably the most popular ballet by Auguste Bournonville. “Napoli,” as with most works by this 19th century Danish choreographer is known for its gaiety and lightness, executed through quick footwork and bouncy jumps. The dancers, in particular Raymond Rodriguez as Gennaro, Karen Gabay as Teresina and Ramon Moreno as the second male solo, captured much of the essence of the joy of “Napoli” with sprightliness in their steps and leaps, especially in the concluding tarantella.

Bournonville is also about neatness and precision however and this is where the dancers did not impress, with the female dancers surprisingly more so at fault than the male dancers. In more than a few instances, the soloists and corps were out of precision and exhibited a lack of polish, with a hand dead at the wrist or another with too much flair. Much of this perhaps may be attributed to a lack of rehearsal due to the forced changes in the season’s programming. The music by Edvard Helsted and HS Paulli was performed by a live orchestra conducted by Dwight Oltman. Incidentally, San Francisco Ballet Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson performed in the premiere of “Napoli” at New York City Ballet. One wonders if he will make the trek down the peninsula to catch this production.

The same problems the dancers had with “Napoli” plagued George Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations” as well. This courtly ballet, danced to “Tema con Variazioni” from Tchaikovsky’s “Suite No. 3 for Orchestra,” also requires neatness and precision that the Ballet San Jose corps of dancers seemed lacking on this night, especially in the grand polonaise towards the finale. Fortunately, what was lacking in precision was made up for by Maydee Pena’s elegance and allure. Her combinations of graceful turns and charming expressions in the principal role were a joy to watch.

The tendency for bright costumes in the Cleveland San Jose Ballet seems to have been carried over into Ballet San Jose. The male soloists’ costumes, although plebeian in design, were a garish purple in color, taking away from the regality of this work that is supposed to evoke Russian Imperialism. The women’s costumes however, especially the rich brown tutus of the female corps dancers, provided contrast with the right sense of Imperial courtliness.

The evening opened with the West Coast premiere of Artistic Director Dennis Nahat’s “Moments,” an ensemble work danced to Felix Mendelssohn’s “Piano Trio No. 1.” There were a few charming moments in this work, especially in the ensemble movements and in the romantic pas de deux between Gabay and Rodriguez. In a memorable series of backward leaps, Gabay brought her experience to bear by exerting the right degree of gestures to avoid a potentially clumsy-looking sequence. Influenced by a melancholic score, played superbly by the San Jose Chamber Players, the rest of the work felt somber; not exactly the type of dancing one expects for the very first piece in an inaugural show.

All in all, the program was entertaining, albeit with some flaws that will surely be fixed over time through additional rehearsals. More importantly, Ballet San Jose of Silicon Valley is a reality and a ballet company that Silicon Valley can be proud of. It also offers a good contrast to the dancing styles and programs offered by the other ballet companies in the Bay Area.

Please follow these related links:

- An interview with Karen Gabay

- A discussion on the demise of Cleveland San Jose Ballet

- A discussion on the creation of Ballet San Jose

- A discussion on the above season opening performance

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