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Ballet Austin, Bass Concert Hall, September 12-14 and April 2-5, 1998(Austin, Texas)

Dance thrives in the capital city of Austin, Texas, deep in the heart of rolling green hills and home to the country's biggest high-tech boom. One of the fastest-growing cities in America, Austin supports two professional dance companies: Ballet Austin, a midsized repertory classical troupe, and the Sharir Dance Company, an eight-person contemporary dance ensemble. Each recently celebrated itsfifteenth anniversary season with distinctive Texas flair.

Ballet Austin started modestly in 1982 under Eugene Slavin and Alexandra Nadal as a small, eclectic professional troupe that grew out of a civic ballet company. It offered mixed-repertory programs of one-act ballets and an obligatory Nutcracker. Since artistic director Lambros Lambrou arrived in 1989, the company has doubled in size and budget and added more evening-length story ballets to its ever-expanding repertory. Despite skeptics who argued that such classics wouldn't sell to Austin's youth-oriented, high-tech population, Swan Lake, Giselle, Don Quixote, and Lambrou's Ulysses have drawn capacity crowds. Two evening-length works, Cinderella, presented September 12 and 14, 1997, at the Bass Concert Hall, and Romeo and Juliet, performed April 2 to 5, 1998, formed the bookends to the company's fifteenth anniversary season.

In the past decade, choreographer Stephen Mills has created twelve ballets for Ballet Austin while simultaneously developing his signature contemporary style of intertwined bodies, sweeping musicality, and inventive movements. Cinderella is Mills's first evening-length classical ballet, and it's a beauty. Balancing the elements one expects from a classical program, he fills the stage with movement, drama, and a few surprises. His contemporary pas de deux for Cinderella and the prince seems a bit jarring next to the more traditional ensemble dances, but overall, the ballet's fresh, contemporary staging and romantic touch fit Ballet Austin like the proverbial glass slipper.

Cinderella's choreography blurs the lines between the classical purity of nineteenth-century standards, such as Marius Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty, and contemporary stalwarts, such as Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet. Mills maintains a classical base of classroom steps, without Petipa's formalism and polite poses, while incorporating MacMillan's sense of open, swirling motion.

As a former dancer and resident choreographer with Ballet Austin, Mills knows the dancers well, and his choreography accentuates their strengths. Inga Loujerenko portrays an innocent, sweet Cinderella whose light, supple extensions belie her steely technique. Rafael Padilla, as the Prince, performs with a regal, endearing charm. Loujerenko and Padilla, trained in Soviet Russia and Cuba, respectively, offer fluidity and expansiveness of epaulement that jell stylistically in their duets.

Mills focuses on the love story rather than the comic elements so often highlighted in Cinderella and offers enjoyable family entertainment without inserting clownish, slapstick humor. Instead of men en travesti, he casts women as the Step-Sisters, which Ann Arnoult and Dana Lewis dance petulantly. Catherine Leon Parker, a former Ballet Austin principal, provides evil elegance as the StepMother.

Margot Brown, a radiant Fairy Godmother, offers one of the ballet's memorable moments as she leads the tutuclad corps through the fairy dance. Brown's exquisite stage presence and liquid port de bras draw immediate attention whenever she appears. Equally commanding is Chris Hannon as the Master of Ceremonies, with his controlled multiple pirouettes and precise pantomime. Hannon is the company's most versatile male dancer, and Mills employs Hannon's acting and technical skills admirably as the prince's faithful aide.

The ballet maintains the traditional story line and classical trappings (full sets, elaborate costumes, tiaras), but Mills forgoes Prokofiev's familiar score in favor of music by Alexander Glazunov. An accomplished musician who trained as a classical pianist, Mills compiled a lush, romantic score from a variety of Glazunov ballets. Performed by the Austin Symphony Orchestra, the music evokes an old-fashioned, Russian ballet nostalgia.

While Cinderella offers elegance, softness and charm, Lambrou's Romeo and Juliet provides melodrama and excitement. Sex, sword fights, suicide, adolescent rebellion--Romeo and Juliet has it all. Shakespeare translates well onto pointe in this opulent ballet, a visually stunning production that delivers appropriate dramatic punch.

Oh, the splendor of the Capulet ball! Designer Tommy Bourgeois's renaissance costumes dazzle with sumptuous black-and-gold velvet gowns, flowing skirts and sleeves, and ornate headdresses. The ball scene alone is worth the price of admission, with the stately, swirling choreography set to Prokofiev's dark, brooding score, also performed by the Austin symphony.

The husband-and-wife duo of Nadya Zybine and Padilla dance Romeo and Juliet (alternating the title roles with Dana Lewis and guest artist Yanis Pikieris). Zybine and Padilla glow as the teenage lovers. Their dancing is organic in the blending and bending of bodies and in their emotional honesty. Padilla's standard boyish charm and exuberance serve him well as Romeo, while Zybine, who is noted for her bravura technique, illustrates a new fragility and vulnerability as Juliet. She's all naivete and giddiness while dancing at the ball with friends Andrea Comola, Darragh Lewis, Heather Thomas, and Lisa Marie Washburn.

In the balcony scene, Lambrou's choreography captures the spontaneous joy and self- consciousness of young love. Padilla and Zybine's performance is carefree and energetic--you imagine them blushing under their stage makeup. Although the run-catch-clutch-swirl pattern continues too long, the duet cements the dramatic narrative and establishes the lovers' all-important choreographic motifs that weave through the ballet.

Hannon (Mercutio) and Edward Moffat (Tybalt) dance strong supporting roles. Sparks literally fly during their sword fights, offering Hannon an for some acrobatic fencing moves. Moffat stalks the stage menacingly, the quintessential ballet villain. At Tybalt's death, Lady Capulet (Parker) weeps and flails in gut-wrenching grief, ripping off her cloak and hat, tossing and pulling her hip-length hair.

Lambrou is not known for his subtlety, and Romeo and Juliet offers an appropriate vehicle for choreographing in broad, sweeping strokes. Action permeates the ballet like a roller coaster. From the harlots' shenanigans to the street brawls and the final, agonizing death scenes in the Capulet crypt, the ballet supplies ample dance and drama--and an engaging finale for the company's fifteenth anniversary season.
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Author:Lomax, Sondra
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Sep 1, 1998
Words:978
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