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Diablo Ballet's 2000 Season Opener
-- "Apollo," "Touched" and "Pas de Quatre et Pas de Six"
Yerba Buena Center, San Francisco, September 17, 2000

by Karen Drozda

With these performances, Diablo Ballet debuted in San Francisco. And it's about time. Many of us San Franciscans have always thought that the prodigious talent and creativity of Diablo Ballet was wasted on Walnut Creek (although East Bay dance fans probably disagree). My only regret this time is that they had only two performances at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, which definitely does not allow enough time for word to get around about how great the show was.

It was an evening of firsts; the first Diablo performance of the season, the first Diablo Ballet performance in San Francisco, the West Coast premiere of Touched, and the first indoor performance of dancer Richard Marsden with Diablo Ballet who has just joined from New York City Ballet.

First on the program was Touched by innovative young choreographer Trey McIntyre, currently resident choreographer of Oregon Ballet Theatre and Houston Ballet. Starting with a completely dark stage, the dancers used flashlights switched in time to the music, to highlight first a face, then a moving body part, then an invisible spin. Dark movements alternated with lighted movements, which made the darkness richer as we saw flashes of things that we had seen entirely lit in a previous movement.

It sounds facile, but it worked for me. McIntyre opposed elements of dark and light, conservative and radical, controlled and exuberant, into a coherent whole. Opposing elements played an irreverent game of approach, retreat, conflict, and resolution that struck sympathetic chords with the audience. Christopher Young and Karyn Lee Connell led the opposing groups of dancers to a poignant resolution.

Balanchine's Apollo followed, and made us wonder whether McIntyre had been consciously using elements from the Apollo in his Touched. The juxtaposition of these two pieces made us see the classical elements of the more modern piece and the modern elements of the more classical.

The stage set for Apollo was stark and costuming severe, setting off the sculptural qualities of the dancers' bodies. Nikolai Kabaniaev was a majestic Apollo with complete command of the role. Those of us who are familiar with his dancing style might have missed the joy and exuberance that he normally brings to roles. Rumor has it that he was injured and barely able to dance, which would explain the lack of sparkle.

Given that the choreography was brilliant overall, one part seemed a little bit odd. There is a sequence where Apollo does a very strange stuttering duck-walk on his heels. It makes a shocking break in character, when all his other movements were majestic and masterful. It must be some oddity of Balanchine's that I simply don't understand.

Tina Kay Bohnstedt's Terpsichore in a final pas de deux with Nikolai Kabaniaev's Apollo was lyrical with uninterrupted classical grace and sculptural poses, fulfilling our desire for a beautiful climax and resolution.

Wrapping up the program was Nikolai Kabaniaev's Pas de Quatre et Pas de Six, first performed in Walnut Creek in 1997. It features a collaboration between the choreographer and composer Michael Bemesderfer, who designed the computer-enhanced sounds to accompany the dancers' movements. We see four ballerinas in classic white tutu and leotard dance to music that includes long percussive sequences, industrial machinery sounds, and whispered stuttering vocals. The movements of the dancers correspond to the music and contrast their pristine costumes.

We feel concern for the fragility and innocence of the ballerinas who dance seemingly unaware of the apocalyptic message within the music and the predatory approach of the male dancers. The dancers and the music form two accepted but unrelated artforms that inhabit the same performance with lyrical but disquieting strangeness.

Diablo Ballet once again satisfied my desire for enthusiastically-danced and innovative ballet that held my interest from start to finish.

 

Please join a discussion of this performance in our forum.

Also read a review of "Bound," Trey McIntyre's latest work.

Edited by Azlan Ezaddin.


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