As part of my own Artober celebration, I tried to take part or catch as much “art” as I could. Exhibits, conference, visual and performing arts. The last couple of weeks had me seeing a few ballet productions. Each one different, each one offering some satisfying gifts.
I have always believed that maturity does not come with age. When an artist is secure and confident in his/her technique, their artistry naturally flows and the audience is rewarded with moments that are satisfying and heartfelt.
We saw the live stream of the Royal Ballet’s Don Q at our local cinema. I have always thought that Ballet in Cinema is a genius idea and a great way to capitalize and use available technology. Yes it doesn’t offer the full effect of watching it live, but for most people it would be the closest thing to experiencing one of the best companies in the world. They were less than 20 people in the room but all of us were in unison in appreciating the technical display in front of us. I expected a “mature” performance from Carlos Acosta (who is the choreographer as well) and Marinela Nunez. These are dancers that are on the top of their game and it showed. They went through the entire ballet with ease that it looked like it was just another day in the park. Marinela even had this smile on her, a giddy giggle, almost to say “I can do this about 3 more times tonight.” The ballet was nicely choreographed. It was slightly busy at times, but the effort to make the characters more relatable is a welcome treat. The effort of making it more relatable to the audience of today was obvious. Ratmansky did his version for Dutch National Ballet which I thought was slightly more successful but overall Acosta’s Don Q was a fun evening at the “theater.”
Dance Theatre of Tennessee’s Ballet in the Park presents Giselle was a big success this year. People flocked to Centennial Park to see a straight out, traditional staging of this tale of love, betrayal, forgiveness and redemption. This was a no frills ballet that relied heavily on the power of the story, the music, the setting and of course the dancing. The closest thing to a special effect was a fog/smoke machine and a handsome Great Dane. Still it proved to be a magical evening and it is largely due in part to Jennifer Drake and Brian Williamson. These two have been dancing together for only 3 1/2 years but you would think they have been partners for long. Giselle was not an easy ballet – the choreography demanding, the style specific, the characterization detailed and add the fact that they are doing this in an open air bandshell makes it even more tough. They rose to the challenge and led the company to do the same. The feedback and reviews especially of them are very well deserved. Jennifer imbued her Giselle with the right amount of vulnerability. Her transition from naive peasant girl to a spectral wili was made possible because of her complete commitment to the character and because she is on top of her technique. Brian on the other hand offered an assured partnership. He stayed true to the style and choreographic demands by giving a restrained performance making his Giselle “float” & the center of the action. It is very easy to hate his character but by the end of the ballet you emphasized with his grief. I am so thankful to see these two display their maturity and professionalism. I might be biased but I can say that they offered the best rendition of Giselle based on style and technique seen in Nashville.
Nashville Ballet opened their series with Artistic Director Paul Vasterling’s Peter Pan. I expected the ballet to be another visual feast as it is from the same team that brought Paul’s Nutcracker and Midsummer Nights Dream. As expected, it was a beautiful production – the sets were lush, costumes sparkly and of course the flying was fun. It was nice to see Sadie Harris and Jon Upleger on stage very much seasoned performers. Each time they came on stage as Mr. and Mrs. Darling, you kept your eyes on them. There was an easy and relaxed manner in their dancing. Their maturity and effortless presence were on display and very much appreciated. I feel that Mollie Sansone as Wendy offered the best dancing that evening. It is so gratifying to see an artist develop into her own and Mollie offered secure dancing and a committed character. She went through her passages confidently (they were some tricky en pointe combinations) each time maintaining her character. It is tough to take focus away from a flying character but she somehow managed. I was out of town for their weekend run but basing it off the reaction from the audience during the final dress run, this is another success for Nashville Ballet.
Joffrey Ballet’s La Bayadere was very much a success and offered everything you would expect from a big ballet – inspired dancing, fast paced and fresh staging, intricate choreography, luscious sets and scenery, gorgeous costumes and easy to follow narrative. This is classical ballet geared for this generation. The traditionalist in me missed some of the scenes and was surprised to see sequence and dance order interchanged but in the end you don’t mind because it was excellently done. Kudos to Stanton Welch for a glorious ballet and for Joffrey Ballet for rising to the challenge. It seems that under Ashley Weather’s direction the company is changing it’s look that almost mirrors San Francisco Ballet. Dancers almost all have the same look and they are tackling big classical ballets and giving justice to it. At the center of it all is Christine Rocas as Nikiya and what a mature, nuanced and secure performance she gave! I have seen Christine’s debut in major ballets since she started at Joffrey. We were there during her debut as Giselle in Frederick Franklin’s Giselle. Saw her in Arpino’s Nutcracker. We had plans to see her debut as Kitri in Possokov’s Don Q but she got hurt and didn’t perform. Her Nikiya was beautifully restrained, perfectly in control. She knew when to push or hold back – just like the music (beautifully played by the Joffrey Orchestra) she made us go through the highs and lows and offered a dynamic performance. Christine has this quality that as soon as she steps on stage, your eyes are focused on her. Her lines extend to the heavens and her port be bras are so beautiful that when she gestures, it is coming from within and her entire body speaks. During her very 1st pas, she whipped out a double a la second turn to penchee like it was nothing! Her partnering with her Solor (A pyrotechnical Ogulcan) was strong and in control. The partnering choreography was intricate yet the two of them made it look easy. I was embarrassingly crying after the first 5 minutes of her dancing and I have 2 more hours to go! I was just so happy and proud to see Christine develop into this mature confident woman. Her characterization was clear and very musical. You can feel her love for Solor and her quiet rejection of the Brahmin in Act 1. Her scenes with Gamzatti (A buoyant and strong Anatascia) were believable and gripping. Her basket dance in Act 2 with a real snake was the dramatic highlight of the ballet. Then when Act 3 came, she became this ethereal being. Her bourees across the floor in her 1st entrance alone is worth the ticket price. Kingdom of the Shades was beautiful. Despite a few wobbles, the ladiesx gave a mesmerizing performance. Staying true to Petipa, the choreography for Shades offered the best of the evening and was crowned by Christine’s overall command. By the end of the ballet, complete with Samsonian collapse of the temple, the packed audience was ready to give everybody a much deserved applause. And when Christine came out last, she walked high and tall, took her time, and gestured across the room. Everybody stood up! Bravo!
I think that is the beauty of our art form – each one different and yet all have the ability to touch you. When the moment where performer and audience are connected – the feeling is magical and you are left fully satisfied yet wanting more. What a treat to see these performances!