Karen Gabay’s Gala with Ballet San Jose

1 May

Karen Gabay’s Gala, her final performance as a principal with Ballet San Jose, was rather hastily arranged and followed the company’s final performance of the season April 21.  However short the arrangements were, the tribute selections which started at 7 p.m. were warmly received by the audience in the half filled San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.

Excepting Amour Gitan, the music was recorded.  The selections were apt, however, and included video selections from Gabay’s thirty-some year sojourn with a company originally founded by Dennis Nahat and the late Ian Hovarth.  The first of three videos showed footage from her early Cleveland years, Gabay a glowing young woman with her initial principal role as Maria in the Nahat-Hovarth production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker; her attentive partner was an equally youthful Raymond Rodriguez. As Maria, Gabay’s hair was noticeable in supported turns; I couldn’t help but wonder what such flung tresses in pirouettes does to a partner.  This section also featured a bespectacled youngish man with an abundant head of hair and an enthusiastic, discerning delivery.  It took me several seconds to register this spokesman as Dennis Nahat.

Fast forward, The Nutcracker  grand pas de deux  provided Gabay in white classical tutu with seven cavaliers dressed in black.  As  arranged by Gabay, each partner supported her for a phrase or two of that swelling hymn to the pas de deux.  The swains were: Maximo Califano, Rudy Candia, Jeremy Kovitch, Ramon Moreno, Anton Pankevitch, Raymond Rodriguez, Maykel Solas.  Bright eyes gleaming, her smile radiant, Gabay looked sensational.

The next video permitted time for Gabay to change for Amour Gitan with Maykel Solas, the pas de deux she created and danced in Ballet San Jose’s spring series.  The video included moments from the Nahat production of Romeo and Juliet which was created on Gabay with Rodriguez as Romeo. While Lev Polyakin was the violinist once more with George Lopez as pianist for the Maurice Ravel Tzigane created for the two instruments; later the orchestrated version was debuted in 1924 under the direction of Pierre Monteux. In 1975  Balanchine created a work for Suzanne Farrell to the symphonic version.

In her one-sided slit ruffled red sheath, Gabay was sufficiently alluring to get her way with the bare-chested Solas after some preliminary squabbles and one or two spectacular Solas jetes. In this partnership Gabay’s upper back stiffness was noted, neck and shoulders creating a forward emphasis in the upper torso, a foreshortening developing over time as a mannerism.  With her petite appeal, generous spirit and steady technique it was little noticed.

Following intermission and another video the program finished with another Gabay creation, 2-2 Tango, featuring many of the company dancers.  One could enjoy the haunting phrases, with that wonderful swoop and punctuation in the tango.  Gabay has the ability to create light-hearted, sometimes cheeky, unexpectedly punctuated dances as demonstrated in Point of Departure summer tours  as well as two pas de deux danced by Junna Ige and Shimon Ito in 2010’s USA International Ballet Competition.  Enjoyable, they register as clever, well constructed, a new take on some formulaic situations if one is scarcely torn asunder emotionally.  It’s  a genuine talent.

Gabay utilized Maximo Califano handsomely.  In suit and fedora at a slight sinister angle, it was a neat touch having him launch the piece evoking the drama inherent in his native Argentine music. He moved around three couples, the women dressed in red with a touch of flounces.  Three couples followed, then a pas de trois where Mirai Noda and Maria Jacobs-Yu skirmished over Akira Takahashi before joining forces to defeat his ambivalence towards their charms. Mordido paired Gabay and Rodriguez in a skillful, if deadly-tender death dance, Gabay’s only appearance here.  Down the line Califano, Beth Ann Namey and James Kopecky reversed the two and one face off.  Eight couples danced the finale with Califano to complete the dance with a final dashing gesture.

Following the warm audience enthusiasm,  there was a large bouquet of red roses for Gabay.  Raymond Rodriguez delivered a tribute after the individual tributes when each dancer in the company, whether on or off stage, brought a single rose to Gabay.  Jacobs-Yu curtseyed, stage hands came on, conductor George Daugherty, the evening’s musicians, costumers, electricians, publicist Lee Kopp.  It was a genuine parade of associates.

A jarring visual note occurred when Alexsandra Meijer in a short strapless white dress retired into the group after giving a rose to Gabay; she  then rendered a curtsey and rose to Maximo Califano before weeping on his shoulder.  Rumored not to have his contract renewed,  Califano and Meijer both joined the company in 2001.

It is thought and hoped that Karen Gabay will remain with Ballet San Jose as ballet mistress.  She would, like Rodriguez, contribute an enormous institutional memory and professional wealth.  Seeing glimpses of her mad scene in Giselle and verve in Toreador in the videos, character roles would benefit from her dramatic skill and theatrical savvy.  Where ever she settles, the organization will be damned lucky.

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