North Carolina Dance Theatre delights at Chautauqua

By Steve Sucato
News Contributing Reviewer

For the first of its two performances with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, the North Carolina Dance Theatre, in residence at the Chautauqua Institution, presented a stylistically and musically diverse program featuring three works including the world premiere of choreographer Sasha Janes’ “Loss.”

The program, Tuesday night in the Institution’s Amphitheater, began with a reprise of choreographer Mark Diamond’s “Appalachian Suite” that premiered at the institution in 2010. The “folksy” ballet, with the feel of a Broadway production of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” told the quaint story of a young couple (Anna Gerberich and Gregory DeArmond) on their wedding day. Set to an original score by CSO guest conductor Grant Cooper, the ballet began with Gerberich happily welcoming the day, looking skyward as DeArmond approached. The two melted into a tender contemporary ballet pas de deux that, like the music it was danced to, flowed gently like a summer breeze.That gentile scene soon gave way to an overly zany section in which the townsfolk, including a moonshine toting hillbilly, came out in celebration of the nuptials. Laden with musical theater stereotypes of 19th century Appalachian folk, the section featured familiar-looking homespun group dances along with a slow-motion comedic brawl and an ax-wielding men’s dance. The suite then returned to its opening serenity before building to a crescendo via country jigs, reels and large group dancing that put a gleeful exclamation point on the ballet.

Cooper’s music, played marvelously by the CSO, was rich sounding, and although Diamond’s choreography failed to match, the ballet overall proved entertaining summer fare.

Next Janes’ “Loss” catapulted the program’s level of choreographic sophistication and skill upward in an emotionally gripping pas de deux set to Samuel Barber’s iconic “Adagio for Strings.”

Danced with passion by Jamie Dee and Frederick (Pete) Leo Walker II, Janes’ relentless choreography, dense with jaw-dropping lifts and skillful partnering, portrayed the desperate emotions of a pair of siblings dealing with a shared loss. A frantic Dee was enveloped in the consoling arms of Walker as the pair’s tumult swept them back and forth across the stage with Dee soaring on high to Barber’s soul-piercing music.

Rounding out the program were excerpts from choreographer Marius Petipa’s 1881 version of the ballet “Paquita.” Set in the time of Spain’s occupation by Napoleon’s army and danced to music by Ludwig Minkus, the excerpts were of the ballet’s second act wedding celebration in which the young gypsy girl Paquita (Gerberich), having discovered she is of noble birth, marries the French officer Lucien (Walker).

The pointe shoe and tutu ballet dripping with classical structure featured brilliant performances by Gerberich, an exquisite dancer with star quality, and the powerfully athletic Walker along with respectable performances by a corps de ballet made up of student dancers from the Chautauqua School of Dance and soloists from NCDT.

The ballet was highlighted by an elegant pas de deux by Gerberich and Walker along with several delightful solos, the best being a graceful one by Melissa Anduiza and a spritely one by Amanda Smith. Gerberich capped the rousing ballet with a stellar display of technical skill in multiple “fouette” turns that elicited murmurs of approval from the audience that led to a rousing ovation at ballet’s end.

NCDT’s summer residency at Chautauqua continues with Amphitheater performances of An Evening of Pas de Deux, July 24; Dance Innovations, July 31; and a season-ending performance with the CSO, Aug. 10.

This review originally appeared in The Buffalo News on July 11, 2013 

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