Menlowe Ballet’s 2016 Spring Season

5 May

Coming thick and fast, late April-early May signal performance, performance, performance.

Lucky for Menlowe Ballet-it was able to engage four Silicon Valley Ballet soloists and principals for its spring season titled Collage. The company has a penchant for bold single title programs, though the performance does not always reinforce the declaration. This time, with its three numbers, the label was apt. It featured Michael Lowe’s Jin Ji [Collage[; Repeat after Me by Val Caniparoli to Johann Paul Von Westhoff’s Sonatas Pour Violin and Basse Continuo; and Gregory Dawson’s “and so I say to you,” to music by Dalmusio Payomo, Ron Kurti, Gregory Dawson. The Caniparoli and Dawson works were premieres, the Lowe work a mix of former parts from his Izzie-winning Bamboo and two additional numbers.

Lowe engaged Junna Ige and Maykel Solas, principal dancers, and soloists Amy Marie Briones and Akira Takahashi from the ill-fated Silicon Valley Ballet, all of whom had been initially hired by Dennis Nahat when the company was named Ballet San Jose. The fifth dancer, Anton Pankovitch also enjoyed the Nahat imprimatur, [ if you can apply that word to dancers] but had appeared with Menlowe Ballet in 2014; a quintet of excellent troupers..

The cheerful charm of Lowe’s choreography has been reinforced by the Menlo Park Academy of Dance students, seven of them in Chai DaiRibbons], included in Jin Ji. Well trained, mostly on the medium-sized, they danced with non-nonsense and confidence. What was most interesting in this pleasant Asian-accented work was Chu Yi [New Year’s Eve] featuring Akira Takahashi as a young man on a drunk with fantasies of three women [Christina Schitano, Amy Marie Briones and Chantelle Pianetta]. Moving between the table with bottle and tumbler and center stage Takahashi partnered the trio in succession as they emerged from a glittering, multi-hued shimmer of metallic ribbons. Consistently in character, Takahashi warmed to his role with an energy which he didn’t seem allowed to unharness in the years following Nahat’s departure from the ill-fated Ballet San Jose-Silicon Valley Ballet.

Val Caniparoli’s Repeat After Me hued to its formal structure, if the music itself had measures anything but classical. Angular gestures of arms, hands and head accents opened and closed the work. Susan Roemer’s costumes gave the women short grey blue skirts with a black line front and back. The colors were matched by the men, but might have been enhanced with a belt. Maykel Solas made his first appearance as did Anton Pankovich, both excellent partners.

“And so I say to you,” Gregory Dawson’s first work for Menlowe Ballet, gave clear evidence that he has moved on from the predominantly singular variations of his mentor and former director Alonso King. Using Pankovich to commence and complete the work, Dawson’s ensemble passages, particularly at lower stage left, worked well with the energetic score attacked at equal pitch by the ensemble.

Typical of my reactions to both new works, I need a second viewing to deliver an opinion verging below the initial visual and aural impact. What lingers from this performance was the cohesion of the new artists, the existing dancers and the students.It would be terrific if the new artists could remain with Menlowe Ballet, enriching the ballets and certainly drawing audience members from their former company. It also might inveigle more critics to watch Menlowe Ballet grow from strength to strength.

A final charm to the evening was to see Betsey Erickson in the audience and
elsewhere Christine Elliott, both with length histories in Bay Area dance and seasons with American Ballet Theatre and Rika Onizuka, a veteran both of Smuin Ballet and Lines Contemporary Ballet. Carlos Carvajal’s wheels wrapped it up as a singular evening’s treat.

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