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City Ballet of San Diego: A Milestone finish to celebrate the first 20 years. 5--5-13

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On May 5th, 2013, in the Spreckels Theatre, City Ballet of San Diego finished its 20th anniversary season with a rousing program of  "The Seasons" (Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons") and Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana." Complimented by a live orchestra and 100 voice choir, the program encompassed both ends of the classical spectrum.  Elizabeth Wistrich, the Company's resident choreographer, explored the many layers of the two iconic compositions; sometimes creating dance on the surface of the music while at other times bringing other layers into view.  Thus, it was not only a dance experience but also an opportunity to hear the music with new ears.


"The Seasons" opened the program with a simple backdrop of an abstract tree which changed color appropriate to the "season" fulfilling a stage design necessity without distracting from the often intricate dance patterns.  Quick clear petit allegro laced together the more languid sections of the composition.  Wistrich's choreography brought to the surface the inner tension of the music.


Ariana Samuelsson and Geoff Gonzalez danced the "spring" allegro and largo sections.  In a series of quick turns, each a bit further off axis, and finally spilling out of the turn, Samuelsson neatly segued that blink of an eye into the next sequence.  Both she and Gonzalez were a pleasure in the subsequent largo interlude. 


Erica Alvarado and Gerardo Gil were captivating in the "fall" section as evidenced by the tell-tale utter silence of the audience.  The pas de deux was beautifully composed and beautifully danced.  Alvarado fills the stage more and more as she claims the space and her dance presence expands.  Gil, as always, is a passionate partner as well as a presence in his own right.


Throughout the various sections the entire ensemble was very much at home in the demands of the intricate petit allegro; quick, clean, clear beats and weight changes.  Though the dancers come from many diverse backgrounds, and each is an interesting individual, they readily fit this diversity together to make a wholesome whole.


Orff's "Carmina Burana" is a powerhouse of rhythm and sound which can easily overwhelm silent dancers, but that is only if the choreographer tries to compete.  Wistrich wisely did not so choose but instead made the dance a natural part of the whole experience. 


This is a huge undertaking both artistically as well as logistically; with many sections, costume changes, mood variations, and a challenge to any artist: dancer, choreographer, singer and musician. Under the baton of John Nettles both orchestra and choir were wonderful.  Vocal soloists:  Rebecca Steinke, Kacey Kurpinsky, Nick Munson and William Nolan must be noted. 


In "Fortune plango vulnera" Stephano Candreva, Gerardo Gil, Geoff Gonzalez and Ryosuke Ogura were terrific both as individuals and as a group.  Seeing men dance - truly dance - not just turn and jump - but actually being part and parcel of the musical mood is an experience all too rare.  They took full advantage of the opportunity.


The stage setting was a changing back drop of fairly dim, half realized shapes of archways and similar simple scenes.  Across the entire back of the stage was a flat surface atop a few steps which added another dimension for exits and entrances.  A line of "monks" in full length dark cowls, holding candles, walked slowly onto the darkened stage to open the work.  Though the lighting brightened a bit it never truly came into good clear light, but remained tenuous throughout breaking up the outlines of the dancers. 


The mood of the costumes was somber: black, earth tones, brown - even including tights and pointe shoes.  There were flashes of red (often covered by black) and yes, one pas de deux totally in red, and a section in white (including a momentary costume tangle), one or two other dances in flesh tones - but the overall feel of the palette was dark. 


I liked David Heuvel's costume designs but found myself thinking - yet another costume in black, not brightly lit against a dark back drop.  It may match our mystic concept of the "dark ages" of the 11th and 12th centuries manuscript upon which Orff's cantata is based, but I don't think that translates into darkish stage lighting and costume color choices.  Peasants may have worn earth tones to work in the fields, but they partied in bright colors.  And that's my problem - I love color.  I want to clearly see the dancers - the shapes, the line of movement and for that one needs light. 


With such a rousing finish to the 2012-2013 season, one can only be grateful for the 20 year journey this company has made.  In a city that has struggled for decades to nurture the ballet, to have dancers of quality come and make a home here rather than leave to grow, is to go counter to all predictions, including mine.  This success is no accident but the result of steady intelligent building - layer upon layer.


To City Ballet: - another 20 years, please.   



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