Menlowe Ballet’s Spring Program, April 5

14 Apr

The Menlo Park-Atherton Center for the Performing Arts is a multi-windowed structure with audience seating a little over 500. Situated on Middlefield Road, it is an ideal venue for a small company with good sight lines, the elevated seats close enough so one doesn’t feel consigned to the Gods.

For Menlowe Ballet’s spring offerings, two were by Michael Lowe, artistic director, the middle ballet Guest Dennis Nahat’s pas de cinq from his 1985 production of Swan Lake. Lowe’s spring premiere Transcendance commenced the program, his tribute version of Ravel’s Bolero closed it.

His Chinese-Korean heritage has provided Lowe with considerable inspiration. I saw his Emperor and The Nightingale, a piece where a boy who witnesses a murder; Bamboo ;
Transcendance. Lowe here moved from charming, Asian-flavored sketches to very short red cheongsams on several women bar inhabitants, vying for the attention of three men. One woman, enraged over a man’s change of partners, knifes her rival who clutches her side, slowly expiring. There is a blackout before the stage is graced by women in white and the victim is suddenly also in white, Chinese traditional color of death. The lover appears; groupings indicate the Great Beyond possesses a suitable aura of bliss.

A Lowe choreographic characteristics is a light touch, deftly administered. Here, however, the situation seemed stock, the development of conflict overly simple. Cheongsams in red, the color for brides and happiness in Chinese lore, provided the principal clue to the location; most of the women possessed light hair and, of course, Western facial contours. Lowe essentially is too decent a person to choreograph low life and result again seems to skim the surface, va stock plot.

As one of Oakland Ballet’s principal dancers, Michael Lowe danced in Marc Wilde’s interpretation of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero and the staging of Bronislava Nijinska’s take on the score. LOwe’s Tribute to brought both works together with a large cast. Happily it included Jenna McClintock, one of Oakland Ballet’s last principals in its earlier form. Her assignment was slow reaching its center-stage movements center stage, but I found myself looking using her as my focus, not heeding manifestations of the two vastly different interpretations. With contrasting interpretations vying with each other simultaneously, I chose to concentrate on a reliable focus. Even when one group was primarily active, attention could not bridge the contrast effectively. I wanted to see one interpretation at a given time, the two coming together only at the end.

The principal charm was Dennis Nahat’s pas de cinq from his 1985 production of Swan Lake, Act I. Ever logical he viewed the princesses as part of a lengthy visit, not just the Act III waltz. This Nahat version has the princesses present in Act I, dancing with him for the first time with the prince paying due attention to them, not yet distracted by Odette. This interpretation worked very well, the dancers charming, the prince was Maykel Solas, guesting from Ballet San Jose, behaving like a prince, pirouettes, jetes et al. Hopefully, more of such gems will appear on future programs.

The company is beginning to cohere nicely, student use handled as a deft soupcon to the major dancers. If the latter can round out assignments enough to remain in the Area, a problem, in today’s climate Menlowe Ballet’s future looks bright.

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