This chamber sized ballet gave the final two performances of the 2001-2002 season Friday and Saturday, May 3 and 4 in Walnut Creek. A number of works were revived, along with a remarkable premiere and Christopher Stowell's sparkling arrangement of the George Balanchine choreography "Who Cares" to George Gershwin's
memorable music of the early 'Thirties.
Kelly Teo revived his Astor Piazolla-inspired "Incantations" which provided Christopher Young, Edward Stegge, Erika Johnson and Karen Lee Connell plenty of opportunity to thrust their hips
forward, open and close their legs in second position sitting on
chairs and to emphasize a sexy, steamy hot night club in the working class suburbs of Buenos Aires. Teo has such clever accents and moves, including a turkey gobbler type of neck movement to the decided beat of the Piazolla score of his Suite Punta del Este.
What it served to expose, unfortunately, is the stiff neck and upper shoulders of Connell. Johnson managed, as always, to be all of a piece playing against the macho assignments for Young and Stegge. Teo is much more theatrical than his exponents and somehow can perform brashness with a finish and finesse no one else can quite grasp.
Nikolai Kabaniaev's "Scriabin for Two" had wonderful musical support by Roy Bogas on stage at the piano.Kabaniaev partnering of Erika Johnson followed a curtain riser with all the technical support on stage performing their usual pre music checks. The back of the stage was later covered by the backdrop, but it was an interesting start with Johnson at stage center left,dressed in sleeveless tight red tunic and black tights. Kabaniaev leaned against the piano in a costume looking straight out of an early twentieth century ad for men's swim suits. For a short man it cut markedly his visual length. An additional prop was a folding chair in which Kabaniaev sat a fair portion of the time while Johnson played to and around him, being lifted, slid and hoisted around the chair and over Kobaniev's shoulders.
The Scriabin was a revival Kabaniaev premiered in 1995,and was not only an early choreographic essay but musical,capturing the lyric complexity and bombast of Scriabin very well. Johnson was both playful and flirtatious -
there was a passage where she walked her fingers up one of Kobaniev's arm gently but with intent. Kabaniaev contrasted this
periodic attempt to be engaged with a fairly impassive, but master-of-all demeanor in his partnering.
White Lights, a choreographic premiere by Viktor Kobaniaev, twin brother to Nikolai, was a combination of Arov Park Spiegel un Speigel and Richard Wagner's Libestsod from "Tristan and Isolde".
An odd combination, the premiere was dedicated to the memory of the late Kyong Ho Kim.
Lauren Jonas and Tina Kay Bohnstedt danced in floppy white tutus,
their knees wrapped for protection as they crawled and flopped on their knees Bohnstedt;s actions echoed by Jonas. Some movements were grotesque, some distorted and off center,but faithfully echoed. At two points Bohnstedt reached out to touch Jonas' face and body like any person curious about the image reflected
in a mirror. The over all effect was eerie, emphasizing the strange soloiquy qualities of gesture or posture.
Viktor Kabaniaev's solo was danced to the entirety of Wagner's
"Libestod" and proved one of the more remarkable works of the
season. In a spotlight, Kabaniaev started in a fetal position,
moved through thrusting, exploratory movements until he returned
to the same position at the curtain. A single work light stood upstage left. He demanded everything and then some from his own Vaganova training - off center thrusts and turns, lengthy turning circles as the music swelled, a singularly taxing solo. At one point upstage center he lunged at the rod holding the dark curtain and struggled, swinging on it wildly to prevent the curtain rising as it did slowly, inevitably. I found myself remembering the Dylan Thomas poem, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night".
The two highly diverse halves of the ballet reflected an emotional honesty, a depth of expression quite unusual in any company, but especially for Diablo Ballet. Their repertoire has, for a long time, reflected the trendy and sophisticated, and White Light is a singular, healthy departure.
"Who Cares" mounted by Christopher Stowell proved just right as the final number, danced to Roy Bogas' piano in the orchestra pit. This very thinness of musical material gave this staging a particular feel for the 'Thirties'. Stowell seemed to get this illusion from some of his performers - particularly from Tina Kay Bohnsted and Christopher Young, dancing to the music which provides the title of the ballet.
Richard Marsden displayed Lauren Jonas beautifully. Perhaps it was the finale where his multiple pirouettes finished with such a quick crisp passe it took one's breath as he finished with "oh, such a trifle" insouciance.
Karen Lee Connell had Kelly Teo as her partner. While she was given font and center choreographically, Teo managed to make his mark in his brief moments, like some individual popping out from behind a fence to say, "Hay, look, folks, I can dance too!" And can he!
If this type of programming continues in the fall, Diablo Ballet will have reached a new artistic level. Doubtless the death of Kyong Ho Kim plays is contribute. But a depth of programming seemed to replace an emphasis making for a certain monotony and slickness. If so, congratulations, Diablo Ballet.