"La Valse", "Monumentum pro Gesualdo",
"Movements for Orchestra", "Theme and Variations"
Sunday, 5 June 2011
by Helene Kaplan
copyright 2011 by Helene Kaplan
The season closing all-Balanchine program at Ballet Arizona is an opportunity to compare revivals to past performance, new additions to revivals, and stylistic differences and similarities among the ballets. This year's program shows the company at its strongest, taking on the technical challenges with ease and authority, but, more importantly, presenting each ballet on its own terms, from the dynamism of "La Valse" to the gentle neoclassicism of "Monumentum pro Gesualdo", the quirkiness and wit of "Movements for Orchestra", and the majesty of "Theme and Variations" by often overlapping casts.
The company performed two Balanchine works for the first time, the often-paired "Monumentum pro Gesualdo" and "Movements for Orchestra" with music by Stravinsky and staging by Susan Hendl. Neither work is danced often outside New York, and the opportunity to see the ballets is rare. The company danced both works as comfortably as it does "Four Temperaments" and "Agon", as if it had been dancing them for many seasons. In "Monumentum" this season's newcomer Breanna Starke, partnered with elegance by Elye Olson, brought out all of the family resemblances to Balanchine's other neoclassical leotard ballets, particularly to "Apollo's" muse-like gestures. Starke's most striking characteristic is her plastique; her transitions are as striking as her poses.
"Movements for Orchestra" is another beast, with its short explosive movement from nowhere against a small female corps. It also takes rock solid technique, to be able to stop on a dime almost casually. Ginger Smith has it and sangfroid and touch of wryness resembling Suzanne Farrell's in the role. Russell Clarke was her able partner, substituting for Joseph Cavanaugh.
In "Theme and Variations" Jillian Barrell danced even larger than in "La Valse", radiating strength and confidence. Astrit Zejnati brought his customary elegance to the demanding male role. The demi-soloist casting was an embarrassment of riches: Tzu-Chia Huang, Michelle Mahowald, Ginger Smith, and Breanne Starke partnered by Elye Olson, Ilir Shtylla, Michal Wozniak, and Slawomir Wozniak. Like the waltz couples in "La Valse" -- Breanne Starke and Daniel Marshalsay, Erica Felsch and Zherlin Ndudi, Tzu-Chia Huang and Michal Wozniak -- and the corps in "Monumentum"/"Movements", the ballet was cast from strength.
At the end of the performance, three dancers who are leaving the company, stepped forward in their tutus and crowns, received bouquets and took their final bows: Ginger Smith and Jennifer Ham -- both will attend Columbia University -- and Michelle Mahowald. It was bittersweet to see Smith take the bows with Breanna Starke after "Monumentum"/"Movements", the past and future side-by-side.