Menlowe Ballet, November 15

17 Nov

Menlowe Ballet had what I counted as its fifth performance November 15 at the Menlo Park-Atherton High School Auditorium, a spacious stage, appreciably raked seats, with some futuristic qualities to its ceiling and lobby. Outside, a food truck allowed us to wolf several bites before the program began.

Artistic Director Michael Lowe once again invited an area choreographer to contribute to the program, titled Lineage. A wise move, it enabled dance lovers with memories to revisit choreography not current in any company’s repertoire. Last fall it was Betsy Erikson; the spring performance I did not see featured Viktor Kabanaiev; this fall season featured Ronn Guidi, Oakland Ballet’s founder with his Trois Gymnopedies to Erik Satie’s memorable, limpid composition, and the pas de deux in his reading of Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Lowe himself was featured in a reworked Serei and an extremely clever tribute to two versions of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, the Bronislava Nijinska and the Marc Wilde versions, mingled with his own inventive comments.

Before further comments, let me say the company has accomplished several strategic moves promising a healthy history: Lowe as choreographer, Sarah-Jane Measor as his associate with Julie Lowe as Ballet Mistress have formed a healthy trio and Lisa Shively as executive director. They have the Menlo Park facility as a home theatre; judging from last night’s attendance, a healthy and enthusiastic audience of dance lovers, parents and students. Measor’s direction of Menlo Park Academy of Dance assures a steady stream of students. Between her and Lowe’s invention their inclusion in choreographic offerings is not only stellar, but skillful.

Serei seemed to have been expanded since I first saw it in 2012. Again featuring a koto preface played by Mariko Ishikawa, it evokes the memory of an Asian woman reflecting on various aspects of past lives. I guess Mariko Takahashi’s skillful performance suspended on the silks was designed to convey an ability to see into her past lives, danced by Mariko Ishikawa, Lauren Mindel Julie Giordano, and later by Aurora Frey, Coreen Danaher, Emily Kerr and Megan Terry. Gregory de Santis proved to be an attentive partner, his samurai qualities gentler than the usual two-sword swashbuckling swagger. I was put off by the use of the shakuhachi to singularly strong, almost strident choreography. The shakuhachi was used for meditation and begging by Zen Buddhist monks, allowed for secular performance only with the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Aurora Frey and Damon Mahoney appeared in a glittery unitard appearance in the Kingdom of Koi; this seemed to my questionable memory to be an addition to the original choreography. But the use of the students and their formations spoke well of Measor’s abilities.

Trois Gymnopedies, staged by former Oakland Ballet principal Joy Gim, featured Coreen Danaher, Emily Kerr and Jacob Kreamer with the white unitard costumed by Mario Alonso. Ronn Guidi’s choreography spoke to the correctness of Enrico Cecchetti, particularly in the port de bras and phrasing. I would like to see all three dancer explore the flexibility of the torso, creating a fuller rubato between culminating postures to the musical phrase.

The balcony scene from Ronn Guidi’s Romeo and Juliet was staged by Abra Rudisell, herself a most memorable Juliet. Friday night’s Juliet, Terri McGee-Kelly was shy, introverted, minimally responsive to Gregory de Santis’ thoughtful, if adolescent ardent Romeo. McGee-Kelly’s shoulders and upper torso were simply mute to love’s surging emotion, though Guidi’s choreography depicted those incredibly precious movements with sensitivity and understanding.

Tribute, Michael Lowe’s incorporation to two interpretations of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, was an amazing “kitchen sink” inclusion of styles and habits managing to work to that relentless score, played by musicians Angelo Bundini, Philip Brezina, Allison Lovejoy, Tarik Ragib , Rob Reich, Paul Stinson and Carolyn Walter. Ronn Guidi later remarked that Lowe caught the essence of both Nijinska and Wilde in addition to Lowe’s own comments. These additions included sauntering, gymnastics [Lowe trained as one], floor stretches, groupings, pitos [finger snaps] swiveling hips, solo variations. Something happened concurrently all over the stage, bare except for the circular table [Nijinska] and barre [Wilde], bringing the evening a rousing finale.

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