Charlotte Ballet w/Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra
Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater
July 5, 2018
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
Call it a tribute program for the two men responsible for much of the dance works created and performed by Charlotte Ballet over the past half dozen years during its annual summer residencies New York’s Chautauqua Institution.
For Charlotte Ballet II program director Mark Diamond, the performance recognized his 30-years as part of the Chautauqua family in the capacity of dance educator at the Chautauqua School of Dance and as a dance maker. For Charlotte Ballet resident choreographer, Sasha Janes — who began his Chautauqua run decades ago as a dancer with Charlotte Ballet (then known as North Carolina Dance Theatre) — the program was an affirmation of the Australian-native’s talents and the many works of his enjoyed by Chautauqua dance audiences over the years.
The program began with members of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in the unusual position of standing onstage (all except two cellists) in a barbershop quartet-like formation performing the “Pezzo in forma di Sonatina (Movement 1)” from Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C major, op. 48.
Famous for being a part of the soundtrack to the George Balanchine ballet classic Serenade, the mere use of the music, although played quite beautifully by the CSO under the direction of Rossen Milanov, left one pining for Charlotte Ballet’s dancers to suddenly emerge to dance the Balanchine ballet, even if only the one section of it. Alas, it was not to be.
Next, with the CSO relocated to the Amphitheater’s new orchestra pit, they joined Charlotte Ballet’s dancers in a reprise of Diamond’s ballet Scherzo, set to the second movement from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor op. 125.
One of Diamond’s more celebrated group works for the company, the contemporary/neo-classical ballet was filled with the hallmarks of many of Diamond’s works, a mishmash of movement styles and disparate dance movement, some inspired, and some leaving one scratching their head as to their inclusion. But as in many of his works, you get the sense in his choreography that Diamond really cares about each dancer onstage making a contribution.
Scherzo opened with veteran dancer Alessandra Ball James in spotlight dancing a quirky solo that vacillated between sleek beauty and somewhat odd ball dance moves. Although the company is unranked, James certainly qualifies as one of its prima ballerinas for her regality, power, technical prowess and theatrical presence onstage.
Diamond’s non-narrative and seemingly non-stop ballet then continued with its cast of eleven dancers (including three from the School of Dance) moving through a litany of dance phrases in various dancer configurations that was as engaging as it was at times uniquely unusual. In the end, the ballet and the dancers’ performance of it, proved satisfying. It was a fine tribute to an artist whose contributions to the Chautauqua Institution, its dance program, and Charlotte Ballet’s summer residencies there, has been invaluable.
The program closed with Janes’ 2015 ballet, The Four Seasons. Set to Vivaldi’s score of the same name, Janes’ packed the ballet with energetic choreography to match the breadth of the score’s dynamic range. It led off with “Spring,” a section filled with fast-paced, flirty contemporary ballet choreography performed by eight dancers in various configurations throughout.
“Summer” came next with the trio of Peter Mazurowski, Chelsea Dumas and Ben Ingel in what looked to be a love triangle relationship. The dancers engaged in presentational movement that showed off their considerable technique, line, and extension. Highlighting the section was a short bravura solo danced by Mazurowski packed with leaps and jumps.
The ballet’s “Autumn” section with its dancers in pumpkin-colored costumes followed and had a courtly feel to it. At the center of the action was dancer Elizabeth Truell who was partnered by two male dancers who lifted and twisted her in the air but not without some difficulty at times.
Janes’ saved The Four Seasons’ showstopper choreography for last. Dancer Raven Barkley, who was named as one of Dance Magazine’s coveted “25 to Watch” dance artists for 2018, emerged from darkness into spotlight wearing a flowing white robe as the music from Vivaldi’s “Winter” section began building. Looking formidable, Barkley in tandem with a bold change in the music then lit into an elegant and bendy solo littered with rapid-fire leaps and turns. Afterward she was joined by a large corps of shirtless male dancers who along with her began a stirring unison dance phrase that saw the athletic Barkley match the men jump for jump.
For its part in the joint program, the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra performed well, although being in the pit in an open air venue for most of it noticeably took away a level of volume and impact to the music; a failing that will need to be addressed in future.
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.