Carolina Ballet: Rubies, Weiss, and gentle change


George Balanchine

I’ll start with the title piece which comes at the end of the Carolina Ballet season opener: “Rubies” was choreographed by George Balanchine and was produced in accordance with his style and technique with the George Balanchine Trust. This is important to note. I have seen reviewers and/or commenters suggest it is time to update the work of George Balanchine on numerous occasions. First, while his view of the “ballet body” may be out of date, the work of George Balanchine is stylistically current and as influential as ever. His is not an old-fashioned ballet, but is challenging, fast, dynamic, and limitlessly interesting. Second, the work of influential choreographers should no sooner be revised than the work of Leonardo Da Vinci or Leo Tolstoy. The difference between those artists and a choreographer is that the work of a choreographer is fleeting, subject to interpretation and therefore to change with every iteration. The George Balanchine Trust protects the integrity of the work and ensures its performance is held to a high standard, so when you see a performance produced in accordance with this standard, you are seeing the work of George Balanchine.

“Rubies” is striking even before the dancing begins due to the rich ruby-ness of the costumes. It’s no wonder that Karinska, the New York City Ballet costume designer, was the first sole costume designer to receive the Capezio Dance Award for creating costumes of “visual beauty and complete delight for the dancer” in 1961. (Read more about her long and interesting life in this short New York Times article:

As I mentioned above, there is nothing outdated about this choreography. For instance, hips are a body part mostly hidden in perfect lines with the torso and legs in ballet, but here they are featured prominently without disrupting that perfect line, creating a slinky, graceful and jazzy look.

The stamina required for this almost 20-minute dance of fast movement, dips, slips (deliberate) and high kicks is unimaginable, and the opening night cast was up to the challenge. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure principle dancer Ashley Hathaway kicked her crown in a back attitude (leg lifted behind the dancer with a bent knee) at least once, if that gives you any idea of the energy level on the stage. It is truly jubilant.

Three works by Robert Weiss

The Rubies program also features three works by founding artistic director Robert Weiss. I feel fortunate to be in a place where I can see new works created by a single choreographer over time. If you want to know what “War and Peace” is about, then read “War and Peace.” If you want to understand the work of Leo Tolstoy, then read everything you can by Leo Tolstoy. The same can be said of a choreographer. There is an inner-circle warmth and joyfulness in Weiss’s choreography. There’s often a literal physical connection between dancers, with linked arms and complex intertwining shapes. Family and love are often the theme of his dances, but emotional or intellectual connection is usually present regardless of theme.

The show opens with “A Classical Ballet” with music by Prokofiev. This is a straightforward celebration of the beauty of ballet. I loved the intricate footwork and petite allegro (small fast movements) that was skillfully performed. Soloist Courtney Schenberger is lovely; pretty and pleasant. As she looked from the audience to partner, principle Kiefer Curtis, her soft expressions changed naturally – flirty, playful, content. Schenberger’s comfortable stage presence felt like a warm greeting by a gracious host, which made this dance a perfect way to open the show. The pairing of principles Alyssa Pilger and Richard Krusch did not seem like a natural one. Both dancers were faultless and exquisite, but they lacked chemistry together. I never noticed them even look at each other, which is remarkable considering the amount of partnering in their pas de deux. Krusch has a masculine and stoic style that makes him a force to behold on stage, while Pilger has a softer, understated style that may become overshadowed in this pairing. I would like to note Pilger’s beautiful controlled descent from her toe to her flat foot in arabesque that reminded me of Gelsey Kirkland as Giselle in this recording.

“Meditation from Thais” could easily have been my sole motivation for attending the ballet that night. Danced by principles Lara O’Brien and Marcelo Martinez, this pas de deux is all the beauty that adagio can be. The physical connection between dancers characteristic of Weiss is present; in fact the dancers are connected throughout the majority of the approximately 6-minute piece. The two are so in sync that they move as one and the connection they’ve established remains even when they’re on opposite sides of the stage. It is slow, continual movement, but the energy never rests. It is like the difference between a line and a segment – at the end of the visible line, the energy continues interminably. I knew this dance had taken my breath away and I don’t claim to speak for anyone else, but there were audible gasps across the theatre as the lights went down and the audience started to breathe again.

At the end of the third Weiss piece, “Stravinsky PDD,” I wanted to stand and cheer. The surprise modern style of this piece is like a splash of cool water, and it is the perfect answer to “Meditation from Thais,” which it follows. The simple gray body-conforming costumes are soft and pleasing to the eye, the Stravinsky music is dissonant and the dance is bird-like with a 1950/60s beatnik quality. It reminds me of Audrey Hepburn. This one and “Meditation” before it are like watching the music become sentient. In this one, the music-come-to-life can’t make sense of the world, whereas in “Meditation” it doesn’t try to. Soloists Lily Wills and Miles Sollars-White were a perfect match for each other as they mirrored each other’s movements, and for the style of this dance.

New work, new collaboration, new artistic leadership

Robert Weiss and Zalman Raffael

Change is scary. I did not like hearing Robert Weiss’s announcement last season that it would be his last as artistic director. I did, however, take comfort in the knowledge that the company was being left in the hands of Zalman Raffael, who has proven himself more than capable. “In the Gray” is one of my favorites of more than 20 pieces that Raffael has created for the Carolina Ballet, and it’s a perfect example of how ballet is moving forward and keeping up with the times.

The first program of Raffael’s first season as artistic director contains a collaboration between himself and Weiss, “Bariolage,” with new music created for this piece by composer Shinji Eshima. The voices of both choreographers come through. What a beautiful way to honor what has made the Carolina Ballet special for more than 20 years while looking forward.

I don’t think any words I have will do this piece justice. I have to admit that I don’t always notice or pay attention to meanings in ballets that aren’t clearly stories (like Sleeping Beauty.) I just love the aesthetic qualities and let the dance invoke whatever feelings it might from me. During the intermission after this dance I overheard talking about the powerful subject matter, and now is when I tell you that I don’t know what that was. It’s a beautiful ballet, frenetic in parts, then lyrical. There is a cast of three men — on opening night, Sam Ainley, Marcelo Martinez, and Sokvannara Sar, and one woman, Jan Burkard, and relationships are established in changing pairs. Two men partner with lifts in styles traditionally performed by a male and female dancer and with as much skill and grace. Burkhard’s speed and precision are impeccable.

There is so much variety in this well put together program. It gets me excited about what to come this season.

Tell me your thoughts!









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