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"Balanchine Masterworks," City Ballet of San Diego, Mar. 9, 2014

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The program of "Balanchine Masterworks" presented by City Ballet of San Diego at the Spreckels Theatre, on March 9, 2014, is evidence of the Company's expanding repertoire of ballets choreographed by George Balanchine.  Each addition to this treasure trove, which is carefully guarded by The Balanchine Trust, is an indication of technical and artistic maturity.


Not only does a Trust representative come to assess the ability of the Company to take on each ballet, but assesses the capability of each dancer, the venue, staging, and production values.  The intent is to present, as closely as possible, how these ballets were danced during Balanchine's lifetime.  Choreography is a fragile art easily changed and corrupted; permission to dance this repertoire is not easily gained. 


"Apollo" was first presented in Paris in1928 and was the ballet which announced the presence of a major choreographic talent.  It was also the beginning of Balanchine's life long love affair with the music of Igor Stravinsky.  During his lifetime, Balanchine often added and subtracted from this ballet, particularly the opening segment - the birth of Apollo.  City Ballet wisely dances this work in its entirety which gives meaning and context as the god is born, stumbles as he realizes his role and then grows before our eyes into the power that is his birthright. 


Geoff Gonzalez, both as a dancer and as Apollo makes this role his own.  He does indeed show the wonder of his inner godhood as it grows and he becomes adept at using it.   The three muses, Ariana Samuelsson, Erica Alvarado and Kyndra Ricker, all danced with grace, but it was Gonzalez/Apollo who showed the way to where the gods dwell.


"Allegro Brillante" to Tchaikovsky's music is the newest addition to the Company's Balanchine repertoire.  Erica Alvarado and Stephano Candreva did well as the leads, the dancing by everyone was fresh and crisp - negotiating the quicksilver choreography with style.  But, I thought this ballet belonged to the men:  Trystan Loucado, Carlo Di Dio, Derek Lauer, Ryosuke Ogura and Candreva.  When dancing together, it is particularly difficult for men to truly coordinate their dance vocabulary of jumps and turns.  The timing and energy is so different for each dancer; speed of rotation, height and breadth of each jump (whether small or large).  And yet, this they did to perfection. 


Using Ravel's music, "Sonatine" is a light piece which Ariana Samuellson and Geoff Gonzalez negotiated with ease.   Accompanied onstage by pianist Nina Flowers, the dancers pause to consider the opening bars of music and then let it dance through them.  Both dancers - as Balanchine often expressed it - made the music visible.  Though well lit by Stephen Judson, and though choice of costuming is stipulated, still I do dislike black (used mostly for the male dancer) against a black back drop.


"Serenade" to Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, was first presented in 1934, and originally choreographed for Balanchine's adult students; his first ballet made in the United States.  During rehearsals several incidents (that a painter would call "happy accidents") occurred which Balanchine wisely included: the dancer who arrived late, the one who fell down and those who shaded their eyes from bright light.  The Balanchine Trust keeps a tight watch on how the ballets are presented, however, the Company has earned the significant accolade of being able to stage this work without direct supervision. 


Led by Samuelsson, Alvarado, Ricker, Megan Jacobs, Candreva, Lauer, Kate Arnson, Katie Spagnoletti and Karin Yamada, the dancers were one and all, together and inspired.  The opening tableau drew applause and the excitement grew to a roar from the audience as the dancers circled the stage with up-tempo piqué tours in a whirl of  frothy skirts.  From beginning to end  this was pure delight.  The resultant standing ovation was truly earned and deserved.


In addition to the vision of Artistic Director Steven Wistrich and Resident Choreographer Elizabeth Wistrich, one must also give credit to Emily Kirn, Ballet Mistress.  Though the dancers come from a wide range of backgrounds, their energy now not only has a cohesive goal but also a comes from a cohesive source.


John Nettles led the City Ballet Orchestra - live music - always a plus.



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I am grateful for your bringing the City Ballet of San Diego to our notice. After reading your post I looked at the company's website and was very impressed. Coming from Huddersfield where we have the famous Choral Society I like the idea of a ballet company being involved in a Messiah Sing Along.


I know California well having been a graduate student at UCLA and having later worked there briefly as a an in-house legal advisor to a California electronic banking group and a visiting professor to a Sacramento law school. I have also spent a number of very pleasant holidays in the state. At several times in my life I have had the opportunity of settling there.  I was very tempted because I much prefer the climate of Southern California to ours, there is so much beauty in the state (the Pacific Coast, the Redwoods, Yosemite, Lake Arrowhead, the desert, Lassen and Shasta, the Redwoods and so on), I made many friends and met many interesting people and I love San Francisco but I always resisted the temptation because I thought I would miss London.


So much goes on not just in ballet but also opera, drama. music and film and of course there are the wonderful museums and art galleries.  By contrast when I started my graduate studies at UCLA in 1972 very little seemed to be going on in the whole of Southern California.  There were performances by visiting companies such as the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Los Angeles Music Center and some excellent chamber music and contemporary dance on campus but that was all. Until I visited New York, Boston and DC where I saw a different show each night the only ballet I could find in the USA was a short season by American Ballet Theatre and a film of the Royal Ballet's Romeo and Juliet


I did visit San Diego on a couple of occasions, once on the way to Tijuana and on another occasion to visit the zoo. While I appreciated the city's open spaces, relatively clean air and seaside location it was essentially a naval base - a bigger version of Chatham or Portsmouth.  I certainly don't remember the City Ballet.


It is clear from your posts here and also from those of Adult Beginner that a lot has changed since I was in Southern California and I am delighted.  In particular I am pleased to read about the work of the City Ballet, its repertoire, dancers and school.  The Los Angeles Ballet has established itself and the San Francisco Ballet has flourished. If I had the opportunity of living in Southern California nowadays I am sure I would not miss London.

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Choreography by George Balanchine
©The George Balanchine Trust”
Photo: Chelsea Penyak




First let me say that I do have permission to post the link to the picture and/or the picture itself (whichever works :))


How very kind, Terpsichore, to take the time to write such a wonderful description of your visits and stays in California and the USA.    We came to San Diego in 1964 when my husband graduated from university.  We are both born and raised in Philadelphia - bred on the Philadelphia Orchestra, two opera companies, in the midst of art gallerines, institutes, universities and being betwteen NYC and DC- on the tour of every major company.   


At that time San Diego was only 17th largest city in the country and though we missed the throb of the pace of life and the attendant cultural offerings of Phila - we loved the open skies, the beaches, rocky coast, the cleanliness - mountains behind and ocean in front.  Even at that time, while dance company activities in the city were hard to find -we've always had truly great ballet/dance teachers.  A number of the original Diagelev dancers retired here and taught:  Nijinska, Koslov, Baldina, etc.  The problem was we couldn't keep the local talent - once trained they left.  But, we've always had more than credible orchestra, very good opera company and many museums within beautiful Balboa Park and equally beautiful Spanish architecture.


Then in the late 1960's dance companiies began to appear and thrive.  City Ballet of San Diego which is now, as I recall, over 20 yrs old, broke through to become a truly worthy classical company with a range capable both of an outstanding Giselle (which I reviewed for this board)  as well as an impressive Balanchine repertoire.  The founder and AD, Steven Wistrich had a direct connection to NYCB and his wife, Elizabeth Wistrich is a fine choreographer - which gives them a distinct advantage.   The dancers are carefully chosen  as is the programming, venue, choice of live music, etc.  


San Diego is no longer a Navy town - though we do welcome and appreciate their presence in the world's most beautiful and, i believe, largest natural harbor.  The city is now (I think) 8th largest in the country and is much more cosmopolitan but hasn't lost its Spanish ambiance.  It is visually a very beautiful place to live.  The efficient freeway system was not imposed on an existing city but grew with it.  Strict zoning codes limit high rise growth along the miles of white sand beach.  


The city has a thriving night life in the Gas Lamp district downtown - with major hotels, convention center, sports park, shopping malls, theaters, etc.  When we arrived the downtown area was empty by 6 p.m.  That is certainly not the case now: There are lots of outdoor cafes, social dancing, - all taking advantage of the fine weather.  This scene is repeated in several other areas of the city such as Hillcrest, Normal Heights, City Heights, Old Town, and others.


Of course, a huge plus is the truly fantastic weather with very low humidity.  We are a bit too far south for most northern storms and likewiise for the southern storms - we sit in a unique pocket.  The dry air keeps the mosquito population down for which I - prime meat - am grateful.  Fine weather does make life easier.


We also have a thriving tourist industry - with the San Diego Zoo (largest in the world), Wild Animal Park, Sea World - and on and on.  So - if you cannot find a way to live here - do come and visit.  


We also have a very diverse population which translates into a good selection of restaurants.  But -  the Mexican food is great! 

Edited by Anjuli_Bai
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