Ballet San Jose – 2013 Benefit Gala – San Jose

Ballet San Jose flyer for the 2013 Benefit Gala.<br />© Ballet San Jose. (Click image for larger version)
Ballet San Jose flyer for the 2013 Benefit Gala.
© Ballet San Jose. (Click image for larger version)

Ballet San Jose
A Gala Performance:
Gala March, After the Rain pdd, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Glo-Stop excerpt, Swan Lake pdd, Romeo and Juliet pdd, Le Corsaire pdd, Five Variations on a Theme, Tarantella pdd, Giselle pdd, Sinatra Suite pdd, Don Quixote pdd

San Jose, Center for the Performing Arts, California
16 November 2013

This was an evening not to be missed. Newly appointed Artistic Director, José Manuel Carreño, made sure that the quality of the eighteen guest artists for Ballet San Jose’s Gala Performance would tantalise even the most skeptical dance fan. And driving to San Jose is certainly much easier than flying to New York and Boston to see these truly magnificent dancers.

The evening opens with students from the Ballet San Jose School in a Gala March accompanied by music from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Act III. Of course it is always encouraging to see dance’s future on stage. I only wish that the choreography were less cluttered and confusing as different age groups constantly run on and off stage performing no more than a few phrases at a time. Giving everyone a bit longer in the limelight while dancing in calmer sequences would show them off to better advantage.

Guest artists Rebecca Krohn and Ask La Cour from New York City Ballet dance Wheeldon’s pas de deux from After the Rain. This is the third time I’ve seen this piece of choreography since January, and here, Krohn and La Cour strike mid-way between the abstract yet touching clarity that SF Ballet dancers Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith bring to it, and the ravishing emotional interpretation by Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels of the Joffrey Ballet. Krohn has the fresh innocence of a young girl and she and La Cour draw a roundness of line and a picture of the delicate awakening of feelings previously unexplored. Lovely, but not exerting much punch.

Ana Sophia Scheller and Gonzalo Garcia, also from NYCB, step out in Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux to excerpts from Swan Lake. Scheller has it all – warmth, musicality, technique – and uses them as if she were in a lively conversation with the audience, not merely showing the steps. I hadn’t seen Garcia since he jumped ship from SF Ballet six years ago and I am disappointed to see that during his time at NYCB he is no longer the firebrand who could ignite the stage. As dancers age, hopefully gracefully, some manage to retain their charisma or mature into artists of emotional depth, but either he was having a bad night or has been in an environment that hasn’t nurtured his talents.

Akira Takahashi and Amy Marie Briones in Jorma Elo's <I>Glow-Stop</I>.<br />© Alejandro Gomez, courtesy of BSJ. (Click image for larger version)
Akira Takahashi and Amy Marie Briones in Jorma Elo’s Glow-Stop.
© Alejandro Gomez, courtesy of BSJ. (Click image for larger version)

With the exception of the opening piece for the home team students, the Ballet San Jose dancers only appear in one piece out of the remaining eleven – an excerpt from Jorma Elo’s Glo-Stop, which was originally choreographed on American Ballet Theatre and remounted on BSJ this past spring. The dancers do it very well and frankly, they should have danced several more times in their own gala. Of a company of thirty-two dancers, only twelve got on stage, compared to eighteen guest artists. Seeing all the visiting luminaries is inspirational, setting the level of the artistic bar a bit higher, but equally important is developing the company as a whole. Surely the local audience needs to be introduced to the local dancers.

Next is the first of the three gala staples on the program, the Black Swan pas de deux from Act III of Swan Lake, danced by Gillian Murphy and Thomas Foster of American Ballet Theatre. Murphy is a strong technician who also reveals a sharp intelligence in her interpretation of Odile. The next logical step in her artistic development might be to learn how to disguise those strengths and, instead of acting a character, simply become her. Foster is a natural danseur noble, a perfect melancholy prince stirred to excitement by the woman he thinks is Odette. He would make a marvelous Poet in Les Sylphides.

After the intermission comes a welcome change of pace, the balcony pas de deux from MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. The Prokofiev score sends us soaring along with Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes of ABT. To generate this amount of passion outside the context of the whole story is pure alchemy. Both these nuanced actors whet our appetite to see them perform the entire ballet.

Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes in <I>Romeo and Juliet</I>.<br />© Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of BSJ. (Click image for larger version)
Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes in Romeo and Juliet.
© Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of BSJ. (Click image for larger version)

Adiarys Almeida and Joseph Gatti come through with a top-notch rendition of the second of the evening’s pas de deux by Petipa, Le Corsaire. However, programming three works that each have a coda of thirty-two fouettés seems like overkill.

The only solo is offered by Joaquin de Luz of NYCB in David Hernandez’s Five Variations on a Theme. He easily dismisses any technical difficulties with the pointing of a foot, resulting in nonchalant perfection. Two of his NYCB colleagues, Megan Fairchild and Daniel Ulbricht, follow with Balanchine’s Tarantella. It’s not clear who is having more fun, though Ulbricht wins in the jumps department while Fairchild takes a prize for her sly humor.

Another inspired choice is the Act II pas de deux from Giselle with Boston Ballet’s Lorna Feijoo and Nelson Madrigal. They give some of the best interpretations of Giselle and Albrecht I have ever seen. Feijoo’s ethereal lightness and fleet footwork truly evoke a ghost who barely needs any support from the nearly invisible partnering of Madrigal.

In contrast, Gomes returns to pair up with Misty Copeland, also of ABT, in Twyla Tharp’s Sinatra Suite. With Ol’ Blue Eyes’ iconic voice to propel them on, both fashion-model-gorgeous dancers turn their high-voltage sensuality on each other to electrifying effect.

The performance wraps up with the third Petipa duet, Don Quixote grand pas de deux with San Francisco Ballet’s Maria Kochetkova and Taras Domitro. Both are flawless technicians and Kochetkova’s deceptively demure approach only highlights Domitro’s sizzling Latin flair. Definitely the crowning touch to a highly artistic evening.

It would be difficult to say, based on this gala, what Carreño’s vision for Ballet San Jose is. Here’s hoping that the company doesn’t become just the frame for frequent guest artists and that it will grow and find an identity that values its own dancers and all their contributions.

About the author

Aimee Tsao

Aimée Ts'ao, a San Francisco dance writer, has appeared in Dance Magazine, was dance critic for the Bay Area Reporter and was the senior ballet editor for the Dance Insider Online. She lets her previous incarnation as a professional dancer (ballet and modern) imbue her perspective and hopes you like the resulting flavour.

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