"Lento a Tempo e Appassionato," "The Moor's Pavane," "A Swingin' Holiday"
November 17, 2012
Lesher Center for the Arts
Walnut Creek, CA
by Rita Felciano
Copyright@ Rita Felciano, 2012
Diablo Ballet, now in its 19th year, has been remarkably successful in creating a space for itself among the medium-sized ballet companies that call the Bay Area home. Starting out with a full-orchestra, which disappeared with the funding, Diablo has never given up live music in one form or another. In the last couple of years, the company has worked with Greg Sudmeier and his small combo; Sudmeier is also a capable arranger so there is rarely a Diablo concert without at least some live music. Most importantly, Artistic Director and Co-Founder Lauren Jonas has a knack for intelligent programming, some of it commissioned, some of it from the rep. It may be one of the reasons that Diablo is anything but a pick-up group. Her dancers stay around because she challenges them. For this year's opening concert, however, the only one presented this season in the elegant 785 seats Hoffman Theater, Jonas' touch missed its mark.
Limón's 1949 quartet for two couples remains an astounding piece of choreographic architecture. Economy and grandeur, restraint and explosions, power and delicacy all work together towards that inevitable finale. In Tragedy you are left with a sense of order having been restored. "Pavane" doesn't even give you that consolation.
Excellently coached and reconstructed by former Limón dancer Gary Master and current Limón company member Raphael Boumaila, this "Pavane" was a co-production with SjDANCEco. Their Maria Basile danced His Friend's Wife and Heather Cooper The Moor's Wife. Diablo's Derek Sakamura interpreted The Moor and Robert Dekkers' His Friend. The quartet gave a beautifully detailed and balanced rendition that subtly brought to the forefront the sexual tensions underlying the conflict. In his icy control Dekker's Iago, insidious and increasingly raging, was particularly effective. Sakamura was not the best casting choice. An elegant slender dancer, he didn't have the physical presence we expect to see in Othello. It didn't help that his costume seemed too big. Cooper, delicate and young, gave a lovely Desdemona. In modern parlance Basile's fine Emilia would be described as "needy."
Somewhere else, Kelly's "Swingin" might have a better chance. But the Bay Area has been stuck -- or gifted depending on your perspective -- for a long time with the late Michael Smuin's Christmas extravaganza using pop and holiday music along similar lines. So comparisons with Smuin's take on celebrating Yuletide in a bar are inevitable. Kelly made use of his eight dancers by creating four duets -- each in a different mood -- and had the rest of the cast lounge around. It's about as clichéd an idea as there is though with their spiffy attacks and flair for old-time social dancing the dancers did their best to enliven flimsy choreography.
If Jonas hoped for an evergreen, she may have to start over again. However, she received one excellent gift. Sudmeier had selected ten popular and holiday songs and arranged them for a sixteen-member band. They were imaginatively orchestrated, and the musicians were swinging in top form. That was a holiday present.
Fonnegra, who used to dance in Venezuela, staged the Nebrada. The three Scriabin etudes he used promised a trajectory towards more drama; pianist Roy Bogas' excellent interpretation certainly suggested that possibility. But Nebrada raised the heat perhaps, one degree. "Lento" remained a slight, repetitious piece which looked like a catalogue of possible lifts. Some came so fast that it would take truly virtuosic performances to get a modicum of effect out of them. Though Yamazaki showed a lovely yielding quality, the dancers looked overtaxed.