Diablo Ballet’s March 2 Program, Shadelands, Walnut Creek

9 Mar

Shadelands in Walnut Creek is a community facility with a makeshift stage where Diablo Ballet performs twice a year.  The company’s dancers have taught there and provide the city with outreach programs. There just may be a fiscal advantage over full season at the Dean Lesher Center downtown.

Neither venue is ideal for dance. Dean Lesher needs more front lighting.  Shadelands gives lousy sight lines for an audience member seated  behind someone  moving their head for their own viewing convenience.  The Diablo dancers rise above the limitations ,and in assignments in listed ballets project the skill and refinement defining the small ensemble since its inception eighteen years ago.  The level surpasses several larger professional ensembles, including  the beautiful lighting of Jack Carpenter.

This March  program displayed three women and four men in four works proceeding without pause, two initially mounted on Diablo Ballet, one a totally new work and Christopher Wheeldon’s pas de deux a West Coast premiere of the 2000 work Mercurial Maneuvers for New York City Ballet. Former S.F. Ballet principal Joanna Berman mounted Wheeldon’s work, occasioning two interviews.

Tina Kay Bohnstedt, now ballet mistress with Houston Ballet, created “First Movement from A Path of Delight or…” to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major in 2009, inspiring a pas de quatre danced at various stage locations. Characterized by Bohnstedt’s particular penchant, an upper torso roll to the trills and arpeggios frequently appears with a forward thrust of one foot, shoulders back.  Bohnstedt also uses the device in lifts, contrasting to picky little bourrees with the dancers’ head concentrated on the floor in tricky passages.  Visually the patterns are quite different from the quiet clarity of the piano, but they also cohere to the music and were nicely performed.

David Fonnegra’s Back in The Day uses pop tunes for a pas de trois with Edward Stegge and Fonnegra lightly vying for Rosselyn  Ramirez’ favors. A completely predictable piece, with populist overtones, it was neatly danced with Ramirez gently personifying the why of the competition.

Hiromi Yamazaki and Derek Sakakura were neatly matched in the Wheeldon piece, a lovely essay in turning dancers’ back to the audience, lifts that displayed Yamazaki like a banner in the wind, and the choreographer’s amazing capacity to visualize the music, here Dmitri Shostakovitch’s Piano Concerto No. 1

K.T. Nelson’s 1997 work for the company, The Escaping Game, closed the program.  Utilizing the music of Zap Mama, I remember the work as using more dancers than the five featured. Nelson creates a cheeky form of bravura, part classic, part modern with a lively spread of corn pone.  Her imagination is in a class by itself.

Following the brief program a question and answer period followed.  Diablo Ballet will dance at the end of March at Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City, at San Jose State University and at Napa’s Opera House, giving the program and dancers a seven performance run. If  such runs become a company habit. it would be a welcome and deserved development.

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