By Jennifer Poyen DANCE CRITIC (Copyright Feb 14, 2000 San Diego Union Tribune)
If “The Nutcracker” is for those once-a-year ballet audiences, a Valentine’s Day show on lovers’ themes is for viewers who venture out a second time each season.
Two local companies – San Diego Ballet and California Ballet – offered programs over the weekend that tackled the timeless subject of romantic love. Both companies weighed in with reduced versions of “Romeo and Juliet,” the classic tale of doomed lovers set to Prokofiev’s turbulent, ravishing score. And both versions offered a glimpse at the companies’ strengths and weaknesses.
The shadow looming over California Ballet is the pending retirement of Derljse Dabrowski, an affecting Juliefduring Saturday evening’s performance at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. How much longer can San Diego’s most expressive ballerina keep dancing?
Without any obvious heir to Dabrowski, not to mention the kind of choreographic vitality that makes audiences await a company’s performances with baited breath, what is the future for Maxine Mahon’s 32 year-old Cal Bal?
And the question for San Diego Ballet,’seen at the Lyceum Theatre: Can its leaders find the money to really develop as a company?
Ever since the arrival of associates Thor Sutowski and Sonia Arova, I3riticipal dancers and corps members alike are dancing with greater precision and confidence. The dancers’ classical work is at once relaxed and polished, and their contemporary work has more solid technique, a better foundation.
But when will we see a full-evening work (be it classical or contemporary) that stretches the dancers and surprises the audience? Beyond thoughts of love, these were the ruminations that arose (at least for this critic) during a pair of mixed weekend concerts.
After a disastrous opening act, in which a seriously under-rehearsed and insufficiently trained corps tackled Act IV of “La Bayadere,” Charles Bennett’s 20-year-old version of “Romeo and Juliet” came as a relief. With the glorious Dabrowski at its center, this one-hour, dance-lite ballet was pleasurably problematic.
Too much early condensation of the story of the Capulets and Montagues made Romeo and Juliet’s meet- ing at the ball an anticlimax. Yes, we all know the plot, but a successful ballet demands internal logic. It shouldn’t rely so heavily on an audience’s collective consciousness of story.
And where is the dancing? Dabrowski’s infrequent appearances, often with her favorite (but technically diminished) partner Mark Lanham as Romeo, were moments of light and sustained emotion in this tragedy without tragic heroes or heroroes.
Technically, though, Bennett’s “Romeo and Juliet” is geared to a developing, not an accomplished, company – it’s 90 percent gesture and character acting, with a small sliver of the kind of risk-laden steps that make you not want to take your eyes off the dancers. It’s pretty, but pretty tame stuff.
“La Bayadere,” which showcased the company’s newest principal dancer, the Albanian-trained Artan Kerlishi, was another matter entirely. The piece opened with an embarrassingly shaky corps de ballet performing a batch of slow-moving, unvaried arabesques.
The choreography, attributed to Marius Petipa, was pokey between appearances by the well-trained Kerlishi and a wan Yvonne Montelius. For the rest, watching the corps wasn’t so bad if, as a nearby viewer pronounced, you only watched one of them at a time. Forget unison; most of the girls were concentrating so hard on maintaining their balance that they couldn’t be concerned with each other.
One wonders why Mahon chose to include this substandard filler, and why, for that matter, the company doesn’t unveil a full-length “Romeo and Juliet,” which would at least do away with the narrative lapses and the irritating slicing and dicing of Prokofiev’s magnificent score.
San Diego Ballet
Sutowski’s “Romeo and Juliet” pas de deux was a tantalizing look at what could be an exciting new local production of the classic ballet. It’s not an edgy update, a la Anjelin Preljocaj, but the choreography exhibited an unusually (for San Diego) contemporary verve.
Ame Kaplan and Ilya Kuznetsov made a moving pair of star-crossed lovers, flirting blithely with each other as with fate. Kuznetzov, particularly, has grown in emotional range, and his technique is more polished, more supple, now. In the market scene, he out-danced an engaging Gabriel Medina and an impish Peter Kalivas, but not badly. An esprit de corps is developing among these dancers; they project the feeling that they like dancing, and dancing together.
That was especially apparent in “Photographs and Memories,” a somber work by the usually buoyant Javier Velasco, set to songs by Jim Croce. Images of abandonment, isolation and regret floated amid Velasco’s sweeping, vigorous choreography – strangely (and affectingly) a group work about intimate dealings between lovers.
Velasco’s “Que Bonito Amor,” set to traditional mariachi songs, was a ponderous and uncharacteristically reverent blend of ballet steps and folklorico mexicano. Corina Fabbroni, totally in her element, outshone everyone, including Kuznetsov. The Russian-trained dancer’s pyrotechnics are everywhere in Velasco’s dances, even where they don’t belong, which comes across as pandering. A little less of that, and sustained effort by all should pay dividends down the road for this promising troupe.
Jennifer Poyen can be reached by phone (619-293-1277), fax (619-293-2436), e-mail (email@example.com) or mail (P.O. Box 120191, San Diego, CA 92112-0191).