Trainees Kathryn Nachajski and Shelby Shenkman in Concerto Barocco.
Photo by Sam English.
Music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Paul Hindemith, American folk tunes arranged by Hershy Kay
Choreography by George Balanchine
Review by Valerie Canon
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Valerie Canon. All rights reserved
The closing production of Louisville Ballet’s 2015-2016 season consists of a night of short works by famed choreographer George Balanchine. As noted in the program by Artistic Director Robert Curran, “a full evening of three Balanchine ballets is an honor not often afforded to ballet companies of any size.” Mr. Balanchine was one of the foremost contemporary choreographers of the 20th century and was known for his neoclassical style. It was a delightful performance that showcased important works not seen previously by Louisville audiences in their home city.
The first ballet was Concerto Barocco. Stylistically, this is considered the quintessential Balanchine piece of its period. The intention is to highlight the music of Johann Sebastian Bach through the movement of the dancers. The set consists of the blue-lit cyclorama and costumes that are widely regarded as Balanchine’s signature style for his contemporary works. The simple set and costuming allow the audience to focus on the dancers and the choreography. The first movement highlighted a handful of Louisville Ballet’s women dancers, led by soloists Erica De La O and Jordan Martin. Martin had a terrific grasp on the stylization of the movement. She was a pleasure to watch throughout the entirety of the work.
The second movement was a pas de deux, softly and tenderly executed by Ms. De La O and Benjamin Wetzel. The corps de ballet created simple sets with their bodies and occasionally assisted in partnering sequences. The ladies of the corps had their work cut out for them. Never leaving the stage through the entirety of the piece, they were constantly on the move, executing complex patterns, direction changes, and fast footwork. The only mishaps were spacing and issues with straight lines, problems the corps has suffered throughout the season. Concerto Barocco was well executed and embraced the stylization for which Balanchine is known.
Kammermusik No. 2, with music by Paul Hindemith, is a work demonstrating Balanchine’s versatility. With permission from The George Balanchine Trust, Louisville Ballet brought new life to the design work. The new set consists of a wall of 300 nylon fabric boxes created by Louisville artist Chris Radtke, who also designed costumes of red and white color block. The visual concepts were an excellent update to this work. The fabric boxes diffused the lights in a unique way that the normal flatness of the cyclorama could not. This, along with the brightness of the costume colors, gave a warm, pulsating feel to the work. Kammermusik No. 2 stood in stark contrast to Concerto Barocco, as the corps de ballet in the second piece consisted of only men. The male dancers didn’t really have the opportunity to show their athleticism, but they demonstrated great technical ability. Again, the corps suffered problems with spacing and attention to lines. Although the ballet was male-heavy, the focus still remained on the two women soloists, Christy Corbitt Miller and Natalia Ashikhmina. The pairing of these two dancers was an excellent choice: they complement each other nicely in their movement and energy. Kristopher Wojtera and Brandon Ragland performed as the male soloists and executed their parts beautifully. Mr. Ragland had a hard time containing the joy he felt in the movement, and it was a pleasure to see that emotion shine through. An undercurrent of folk character dancing throughout, combined with intricate footwork and the frantic feel of the music, made for an intriguing and fascinating modern art ballet.
Closing out the evening was the crowd-pleasing Western Symphony (traditional folk tunes arranged by Hershy Kay). With a backdrop reminiscent of an old Western, and with saloon girl and cowboy costuming, this piece is Americana at its best. You can always tell when dancers like a piece by the joy expressed in the movement, and, start to finish, this ballet was enjoyable. The first movement had eight women and four men corps de ballet members starting out with a square dance. Natalia Ashikhmina and Mark Krieger filled the soloist roles. Ashikhmina seemed a little stiff and uncomfortable in the flirty role of lead dance hall girl, although she was technically perfect, as usual. Krieger, on the other hand, seemed completely at ease, perfectly executing a complicated turn-and-jump sequence.
The second movement featured Louisville Ballet’s First Couple, Erica De La O and Kristopher Wojtera, with an ensemble of four ladies. The four ladies are meant to represent the rhinestone cowboy’s (Wojtera’s) horses. This movement is a cute play on Giselle/Swan Lake. It’s always wonderful to see De La O and Wojtera dance together; they have a chemistry that is untouchable and a great trust in their partnership. This was exemplified in the middle part of the movement, where Erica took daring leaps through the air, over the corps girls, and into the arms of Kristopher — quite the spectacle. Erica perfectly executed a series of Italian fouettés, and Chris gave a jump sequence great spirit, making this movement the strongest of the three.
The third and final section featured Kateryna Sellers and Brandon Ragland with the entire ensemble. Sellers and Ragland are two of the company’s most athletic dancers. Although a relevé sequence performed by Sellers seemed a little too safe, the charm and sass played up by both soloists, combined with quick, perfectly executed footwork, made for a flashy and fun performance. The movement recalled to the beginning of the piece with a square dance performed by all the feature soloists with the addition of Christy Corbitt Miller and Ryan Stokes. The curtain fell on the entire cast performing turns from fifth position at a very brisk tempo. This piece really captures the American spirit of fun, love of life, and joy.
Balanchine was a great performance and shows the versatility of Louisville Ballet. The inclusion of George Balanchine’s choreography into the company’s repertoire was a brilliant move. Heading into the 65th anniversary season, the company, lead by Robert Curran, is sure to continue to grow and impress audiences.
April 8, 2016 @ 8 PM
April 9, 2016 @ 2 PM & 8 PM
The W.L. Lyons Brown Theatre
315 West Broadway
Louisville, KY 40202
Valerie Canon is an actor, director, dancer, model, and choreographer based in the Greater Louisville area. Mrs. Canon received her BFA in ballet performance from Oklahoma University in 2004, and has performed in ballets around the country as a principal, soloist, and corps de ballet member. She directed Unhindered and Ungendered: A Killer Show, for Wayward Actors Company in January 2016.