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San Diego Ballet’s ‘Shakespeare’s Sonnets’ at UCSD’s
Posted: 04/03/2007 at 03:37:12 PM PDT
Updated: 04/03/2007 at 03:42:58 PM PDT
by Kris Eitland
At first glance, you might assume that “Shakespeare’s Sonnets,” Javier Velasco’s ambitious production for San Diego Ballet, is a bland collection of old poetry, dull Elizabethan madrigals and a few court dances. But you’d be wrong. The encore presentation of “Sonnets” on Saturday afternoon at UCSD’s Mandeville was a rich tapestry of spoken word, a range of world music and dance styles, and some riveting performances.
It opened with about two-dozen dancers dressed in brocaded vests, simple skirts and short pants, already on stage and casually warming up. By removing the curtain and seeing dancers “behind the scenes,” one felt connected to them as real people.
Seated at corners of the stage, Steve Gunderson and Gail Mackler welcomed the crowd with their flawless voices, as a charming winged “Cupid” slumbered on the floor in a pool of light.
(Cole van den Helder)
That comfortable feeling continued with the familiar sonnet “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day…?” to introduce the first dance piece, a romantic duet by Rachael Sebastian and Askar Alimbetov accompanied by soft flutes.
Supported by mournful bagpipes and well-timed poetic lines, Sebastian performed a splendid solo that revealed her powerful presence. Her heartbreaking story unfolded as she twisted en pointe, wiggled her hips and sunk into the splits. She rose into a beautiful sequence of pique turns that accentuated her lovely long limps and arched feet; her internal focus was riveting.
Accompanied by Middle Eastern sounds, Gabriela Ley and Pal Udvarhei were wonderfully seductive partners in dangerous dips and teases. The overlapping poetry with words like “slave” and “desire” worked well as they followed each other with lustful liquid arms.
Performances by two guest artists, Andrea Feier, a former Paul Taylor dancer, and Uma Suresh, from the Natyapriya classical Indian troupe, added an unexpected spice and depth to the program. In a flowing earth colored dress, Feier appeared as a powerful mystic from an ancient land and shared secrets with her expressive hands, inspired by American Sign Language. As she twirled in the earthly fabric, she conjured images of a young Martha Graham, especially in deep plies and contractions. Even her simple runs were exciting, and every flick of her hands complemented Shakespeare’s powerful lines.
Suresh interpreted a sonnet with pounding flexed feet and arching hands, and her powerful expressions and gestures seemed to tell the history of the ages. Nobody snoozed during the seductive duet with Heather Falten and Askar Alimbetov. Many squealed as Christopher Blurton and Ari Sorrentino joyfully tossed Abby Avery through the air, and the energized company had everyone tapping along for the rousing finale.
Even with 22 dances, this program moved surprisingly fast. Gunderson and Mackler’s impeccable recitations connected the pieces, as did the swift overlapping of dancers entering and exiting. But those wonderful transitions and dancers dressed in the same costumes also made it difficult to recognize individual dancers in ensemble pieces. Many of the dances began to look the same.
Additionally, the poetry readings seemed to complement solos and duets, and perhaps the trios, but often overwhelmed the ensemble pieces. It’s a brain thing that perhaps a neuroscientist on the UCSD campus can explain. The brain just can’t follow more than three dancers, listen to music and absorb poetic text at the same time; it responds by shutting out part or all of the stimuli.
Overall, the choreography was inventive, the premise was engaging, and the dancers were impressive. Shakespeare himself would have enjoyed the blend of elements.