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Friday, October 25, 2013

Classical and Neo-Classical Forms Merge in Studio Connections

Saligia dancers from Studio Connections. Photo – Wade Bell.


2013 Studio Connections

Reviewed by Kathi E.B. Ellis.
Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Kathi E.B. Ellis. All rights reserved.

As the program’s title suggests, the Louisville Ballet’s Studio Connections presentations are an essay in discerning patterns. And Artistic Director Bruce Simpson always brings his audience an intriguing mix of works. This year’s program explores ways in which the idea of classical and neo-classical dance merge and diverge, influence and are influenced by what comes after and what came before. As always, Mr. Simpson is interested in placing specific and discrete dance pieces within a universal context.

To begin at the end: Brandon Ragland’s newest ballet, Allegro Energico, received its premiere on Wednesday evening. Mr. Ragland’s choreography continues to grow in sophistication and confidence. This seems to be his most formal piece of choreography to date. Maybe this perception stems from his music choices or, possibly, the putatively neo-classic costuming. The arrangement of full ensemble and smaller group variations also feels like a more traditional composition than his earlier works. As with last season’s main stage Stalemate, he is again working with a large ensemble who fully embodied both aspects of tonight’s title throughout. Set to music of Mozart and Bruch, the dancers exploded onto the stage with verve from the opening exuberant notes. The solo danced by Christy Corbitt Miller, in particular, became a dialogue between movement and note, a playful almost competitive give-and-take as note engendered move, and move teased forth note. The male ensemble (Forehand, Krieger, Ruiz, Stokes, Wetzel, Wojtera) were in keen form, displaying excellent elevation in their leaps and lifting their partners (Albrechta, Ashikhmina, Miller, O’Dell, Sellers, Thursby) with such apparent ease that they appeared to reach the ceiling time and again. Allegro Energico was a fine culmination to this evening’s program; and like Mr. Ragland’s previous piece, it would be good to see this piece make the transition to the Whitney stage in a future season.

The evening began with Arthur Saint-Leon’s La Vivandière Pas de Six, re-staged by the artistic staff of the Louisville Ballet. During his introductory remarks, Mr. Simpson talked about re-staging this Saint-Leon work: Saint-Leon developed an early notation system for his choreography, making it possible for future generations to re-create this original vision. In an art form in which traditions and choreography are passed on from generation to generation and from mentor to apprentice, the opportunity for such a precise re-creation of a relatively early ballet is unique. In contrast is the varied history of the Esmeralda Pas de Deux, also included in this program, to which Mr. Simpson also referred, one in which there are so many reinterpreted versions a definitive version is nigh impossible to identify.

I was struck by the parallel between this year and last year when Mr. Simpson programmed another Romantic choreographer as the curtain riser for Studio Connections – August Bournonville. Vivandière was indeed charming, as he intimated in his remarks before the performance. The combination of precise foot choreography with long gauzy skirts and the flowing arm movements with specific head attitudes create an alluring blend that seduces the audience into a recognizable but not entirely realistic world. The casting of Justin Michael Hogan as the lead in this piece and as James in last year’s La Sylphide (to be seen in its entirety as part of the main stage next spring) may have contributed to my sense of déjà vu. Mr. Hogan seems suited to the nuances of this style of choreography and he and Ashley Thursby were a delightful couple in this piece. They both have a long, elegant line and a joie de vivre that brought a warmth to the audience on a chilly evening. Ms.Thursby’s dancing throughout Wednesday’s program was delicate and expansive, filling the music to its fullest. Hopefully Louisville audiences will get to see this pairing again in the future so they can more fully deepen the connection they demonstrated in Vivandière. The ensemble of four ladies (Bovard, Cambron, Hoffman and Langston) were equally charming and, as always, it is a delight to see trainees dancing alongside full company members with such assurance. Ms. Bovard’s brief solo was especially compelling.

Ashley Thursby’s work was also on view as a choreographer. Her Andante was seen previously in last year’s Choreographers Showcase, where it was surrounded by twelve other pieces. This time it was set among five other pieces, which allowed the audience to appreciate more fully its neo-classic antecedents. Mark Krieger (who danced in the original) and Leigh Anne Albrechta brought a lightness and lissomness to this piece, which served it well – and the final lift is still a breathtaking sculptural moment. Also seen in a previous Choreographers Showcase was Sanjay Saverimuttu’s Saligia. Placed in the penultimate position on the program, this piece for seven dancers was an interesting link to Mr. Ragland’s larger ensemble program closer. While there were several choreographic moments that echoed across the one hundred seventy years of ballet on display throughout the evening, this is the piece that for me fit least comfortably in the evening. With some new dancers in Mr. Saverimuttu’s piece, the collective energy was more intense than in its previous incarnation and I found myself drawn in more than when I first saw it.

The two classical pas de deux of the evening were Gsovsky’s early twentieth century homage to the classical tradition and the aforementioned Esmeralda pas de deux, music by Pugny. Erica De La O and Eduard Forehand danced the latter piece. There was a rough moment early in the piece with a fumbled lift, but moments later an intricate fish dive was executed with precision. The addition of the tambourine provides some moments of flamboyance for Ms. De La O. Grand Pas Classique by Gsovsky, music by Daniel Auber, has the feeling of what a competition piece might be. It includes, and also comments on, many of the elements of classical ballet, cramming a great deal into a few minutes. Natalia Ashikhmina and Kristopher Wojtera embraced the technique and grandeur of this piece with aplomb. A perfect counterpoint to follow the opening Vivandière.

The one disappointment about Wednesday evening’s opening performance is that the Louisville Ballet Studio’s bleachers were not entirely full – surprising for these intimate performances. While it brought the dancers and choreographers support from their Louisville Ballet colleagues, who were able to sit out front, I hope that it is Louisville Ballet fans who will fill the bleachers at subsequent Studio Connections performances.

Studio Connections
October 22-27, 2013
Louisville Ballet Studios
315 East Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
(502) 583-2623
http://www.louisvilleballet.org/

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