BalletMet Columbus and Cincinnati Ballet Collaborate on Stellar Program

George Balanchine's "Symphony in C". Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.
George Balanchine’s “Symphony in C”. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet Columbus & Cincinnati Ballet – Symphony in C
Ohio Theatre – Columbus, Ohio
March 22, 2014

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

A historic collaboration between two of Ohio’s top ballet companies, BalletMet Columbus and Cincinnati Ballet in the program Symphony in C at Columbus’ Ohio Theatre was not only an audience-pleasing triumph, but was perhaps a harbinger of the quality programming fledgling artistic director Edwaard Liang has in store for BalletMet in the comings seasons.

It was a rare treat to witness the melding of two powerhouse ballet companies in one joint program; mixing both dancer talent and the choreographic talents of each company’s director.  Add to that a George Balanchine ballet classic and the program easily ranked among BalletMet’s finest in the past decade.

Symphony in C opened with Liang’s “Wünderland,” a contemporary ballet originally created for Washington Ballet in 2009 and set to the music of Philip Glass.  Danced by BalletMet’s dancers, “Wünderland” began with five of the company’s female dancers en pointe and in deep plié with arms rounded and outstretched looking like sculpted idols from some ancient civilization.

Edwaad Liang's “Wünderland”.  Photo by  Jennifer Zmuda.
Edwaad Liang’s “Wünderland”. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Said by Liang to be inspired by a large snow globe he saw in Russia replicating a town in Siberia, “Wünderland” sought to abstractly capture the beauty and magic contained within that globe.

Glass’ sweeping music for the ballet set a dreamlike tone which was played out in several technically challenging, yet mesmerizing pas de deuxs, a men’s trio and a partnering sextet. Liang’s choreography utilized common choreographic movement found in contemporary ballets today with the dancer’s arms and legs stretched to elegant ends, and dancers arriving into place onstage via upright sliding and skidding movements.

Where the ballet shone most was in Liang’s unison group dances which had BalletMet’s dancers moving in and out of visually pleasing geometric patterns, and in an emotionally turbulent pas de deux in which dancer Carrie West leapt blindly into Gabriel Gaffney Smith’s arms then escaped his embrace, ducking under a further attempt by Smith to enfold her.  The pair’s passionate performance reached its climax as simulated snow fell from above, filling the air around the couple giving the scene the appearance of the inside of a snow globe after being softly shaken.

Cincinnati Ballet dancers in Victoria Morgan's "Bolero". Photo by Peter Mueller.
Cincinnati Ballet dancers in Victoria Morgan’s “Bolero”.
Photo by Peter Mueller.

Next Cincinnati Ballet artistic director Victoria Morgan added her own unique twist to Maurice Ravel’s iconic composition Bolero.  Her 2007 ballet of the same name for Cincinnati Ballet’s dancers (costumed in studio garb) and BalletMet Academy students (costumed in black formal ballet class uniform), was a play on the evolution of dancers into artists.  The ballet showed young dancers doing rudimentary ballet exercises at the barre, their progression in age and technical ability as older students replaced younger ones moving from the barre to “center” exercises and finally the students giving way to the end result, Cincinnati Ballet’s professionals.

The ballet also appeared to contain an underlying bullfighter theme with the students in black possibly representing young matadors whose eventual commanding presence and skill had to be honed over time, the professional dancers (costumed in red) the matador’s cape, their artism free from constraint, swept across the stage with eye-catching assuredness and flair, and the audience, the bull, drawn to the cape by Morgan’s wonderfully crafted neo-classical choreography highlighted by five sparkling lift-filled pas de deuxs.

The two companies then came together for the program’s final ballet, Balanchine’s masterwork “Symphony in C” (1947). It was the first time The George Balanchine Trust, owners of the ballet, had allowed two different companies to perform the ballet together.

George Balanchine's "Symphony in C". Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.
George Balanchine’s “Symphony in C”. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

It was here the two companies dancing as one, somewhat differentiated themselves in skill tackling Balanchine’s fast-paced, deceptively simple yet unforgiving choreography.  Cincinnati Ballet’s dancers, especially their principals and soloists, appeared the more confident and technically solid bunch.  This is not to say that BalletMet’s dancers did not do credit to the ballet, they did, and the integration of the two company’s dancers in it appeared relatively seamless.

Large groups of dancers in tights and tutus took the stage in waves of graceful bodies outpouring the richness that is Balanchine’s movement. Broken into four movements set to music by Georges Bizet, “Symphony in C” showcased lead couples in each that darted, leaped and turned with precision and vigor as the corps de ballet dancers that accompanied them formed elegant lines and patterns. Together the ballet’s dancers created several breathtaking moments. Of particular note were the performances of Cincinnati Ballet’s Janessa Touchet and partner Patric Palkens, Sarah Hairston and partner Zach Grubbs, as well as dancer James Gilmer. For BalletMet: dancers West and partner Andres Estevez along with Marissa Parmenter, Ashley Wegmann and Courtney Muscroft.


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