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Diablo Ballet

Thanksgiving Family Performances: Nikolai Kabaniaev's "Instead of a Tango," Balanchine's "Harlequinade Pas de Deux," and K.T. Nelson's "It's Not What You Think"

Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, CA

November 24, 2000
By Karen Drozda

Diablo Ballet performed to a full house on Friday November 24, back on home turf after their triumphant San Francisco debut earlier this year. The program featured all that we love about Diablo ballet - fresh work by local choreographers, live music, and a classic Balanchine.

Nikolai Kabaniaev's "Instead of a Tango" takes a fresh approach to the ballet/tango fusion, remaining entirely within ballet and modern dance technique while capturing the spirit and passion of Tango. Tango is not just a music, or a style of dancing, but an attitude. A whole philosophy and outlook on life that is dark, melancholy and intense. Music by Alberto Ginastera, Astor Piazzolla, Julian Plaza and E. Saborido provided dancers with a range of Tango styles, from the classic Piazzolla to the crashing dissonance of Saborido.

Stage lighting was mainly dark, with interludes and flashes of light. A final scene, where dancers perform one by one as the spotlight illuminates their virtual stage-within-a-stage, dramatizes the sense of aloneness in Tango. Tango represents passion frustrated or unrequited as often as passion shared.

The title "Instead of a Tango" works on different levels. Literally, we have a ballet dance "instead of a Tango". On a more philosophical note, the choreographer equates Tango with passion. "Passion is disturbing and inconvenient, so we learn to control it. "Instead of a Tango" is instead of a passion. But what is still burning deep inside?

"La Captive" begins with the starkness of two performers walking slowly downstage. Soprano Carole Klein leads the small procession sending her voice in front of her. She turns aside to reveal Erika Johnson standing alone and vulnerable in a red traveling dress. Erika begins dancing with a simplicity and innocence that makes the audience catch their breath at the heartbreaking beauty of it.

Set to three songs by composer Hector Berlioz, "La Belle Voyageuse"," La Captive", and "La Belle Isabeau", the ballet unfolds in three acts which represent a traveler, a captive, and a woman abducted. Choreographed by Christopher Stowell for Diablo Ballet, this world premiere performance included live musical accompaniment by pianist Roy Bogas, cellist Sharon Bogas, soprano Carole Klein, and members of a girls' chorus from the San Francisco Conservatory. The singers perform an integral part of the choreography, moving about the stage as a counterpoint to the dancers.

The piece seems designed to showcase the talents of Erika Johnson, whose remarkable performance certainly made us sit up and take notice. We congratulate Artistic Director Lauren Jonas again on her ability to balance and blend the uniquely individual talents of the Diablo Ballet dancers.

The Balanchine "Harlequinade Pas de Deux" was danced with enthusiasm and technical virtuosity by Tina Kay Bohnstedt and Viktor Kabanaiev, but suffered just a bit for its placement among the more interesting modern choreography. Viktor was convincing in his role as the boyishly comic Harlequin, determined to win the love of Columbine. Tina Kay dispatched her role as the flirtatious, sharp-witted Columbine with an ease that belied the obvious physical challenge of the choreography.

K.T. Nelson's new pop ballet "It's Not What You Think" is set to song recordings by Iceland's Bjork Gudmundsdottir, with five couples weaving through the push/pull dynamics of their relationships. Nelson relies less on the vocabulary of ballet than either Stowell or Kabanaiev, with her trademark athleticism and abandon. Men dribble their partners like basketballs, cradle them like babies, and carry them triumphantly on their shoulders.

As with many new pieces, it was pleasing to watch but had a sense of not quite reaching it's maturity. I sense that it will be even better in subsequent performances.

Diablo always manages to stage pieces that captivate the eye and tickle the imagination. It makes one wonder how they will ever choose "The Best of Diablo Ballet" for their January 13 performance at Zellerbach Hall.


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Edited by Marie.

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