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Diablo Ballet

"7th Anniversary Celebration" featuring Val Caniparoli's "Open Veins," Kelly Teo’s World Premiere "Women's Stories," Nikolai Kabanaiev's "Your Eyes" and George Balanchine's "Who Cares?"

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

March 16-17, 2001
By Karen Drozda

Two World Premieres, one emerging guest choreographer and a Balanchine. Judging from the buzz of animated discussion during intermission, nobody in the audience remained unmoved by the dancing. All the dancers produced outstanding performances in demanding pieces that pushed the limits of expectation and convention.

Val Caniparoli's "Open Veins" is based loosely on the death of Petronius Arbiter, an official in Emperor Nero's court who was forced to commit suicide by slitting his veins. Repeated for the Walnut Creek audience after being performed at Zellerbach Hall, the piece was created in 1998 for the Atlanta Ballet as a tour de force for four male dancers. Both the music and the dance are inspired by the suicide of Petronius and the sadness of senseless destruction. Honor, power, corruption, senseless violence, and the strength of a lone act permeate the performance. The dancers remain devastatingly alone even as they dance in unison.

What could present a greater contrast than to follow with a piece for four female dancers? Kelly Teo’s World Premiere "Women's Stories" delves deeply into the female psyche and the intimate thoughts of modern women. The work is intensely personal, based on a recorded dinner conversation among Diablo ballerinas Tina Kay Bohnstedt, Karyn Lee Connell, Erika Johnson and Corinne Jonas. Wondering what women talk about when men aren’t around, Teo began with a questionnaire that asked what defined them as women. The conversation took on a life of its own, turning to very personal thoughts on dancing, career decisions, body image, maternal instincts, sexuality, and the influence of childhood games.

The first segment has all four women performing the same movements, but not in unison. It is painful to watch how they are controlled by convention, by social expectations, by their fears, and by their anxiety to please. Brief gestures of rebellion are immediately followed by gestures of conformity and compliance. Sexuality and individuality are repressed.

Each dancer then returns to the stage, having shed her frumpy housecoat, and dances to the sound of her own recorded voice. With relief, we see them emerge as individuals and as strong women, sure of themselves and their convictions. As their stories emerge, we don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It is fascinating but slightly uncomfortable to hear such intimate thoughts, though the dancers proudly claim their words without embarrassment. Their confessions are profoundly moving, and touchingly honest.

The topics discussed are woven into the choreography, with the actual dinner party conversation recording woven into the musical score. Teo says that the end result is a celebration of the Diablo Ballet's women – their strengths, and their ability to function as a cohesive group made of their individual voices.

"Women's Stories" was just recently awarded the prestigious Choo-San Goh grant, and is Teo’s fifth work for the company. The music is by Estonian Composer Arvo Pärt, and Irish Composer Aphex Twin, with sound collage by Michael Bermesderfer.

The second World Premiere is by Diablo dancer/choreographer Nikolai Kabanaiev, who also composed the score "Your Eyes" from which the name of the dance is taken. Nikolai's training at the famed Vaganova School in St. Petersburg, Russia encourages dancers to be well-rounded in their artistic training. He had eight years of training in classical piano and, and began composing at the age of fourteen. After dancing became his focus, he continued to compose music like some would write a diary – to record an emotional experience. His score is composed on a keyboard, with additional sounds woven into the piano melody as dictated by the emotion that he is trying to convey.

The choreography is for four dancers, one "real" character and three "imagined". This time there are two men and two women. "Your Eyes" is based an experience of emotional impact. This impact is something that occurs within one person, but is inspired by another. How much is imagined inside the one person? How much is part of the "real" world? Kabaniaev writes "I know exactly what I am doing, and then I look into your eyes" There is chaos, magic, and vertigo. "Is it fantasy? Or is it your eyes?"

This is the first time that Kabaniaev choreographs without point shoes, but there is no awkwardness. He adjusts the music based on the choreography, which is in turn adjusted according to the strengths of each dancer. His demanding choreography pushes the limits of the dancers, using their individual strengths and talents, and defies dance convention. His approach is not about coming up with new steps or moves, it is about the kind of emotion that is produced. This is mirrored in his approach to musical composition, using whatever sounds best express the desired emotion.

The program finished with the whirlwind ballet "Who Cares?" choreographed by George Balanchine, with music by George Gershwin. Music of the Roaring 20’s combines with choreography from the Mod/Disco 70’s in a unique freshness and flouting of convention. Danced with impeccable technique and lighthearted virtuosity, the Diablo company paid homage to the roots of modern ballet. Some of the moves are dated, but the spirit remains fresh. It is not the culture of today, but it is one of the cornerstones of our cultural heritage.


Please join a discussion of this performance in our forum.

Edited by Marie.



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