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Diablo Ballet

'White Light,' 'Scriabin for Two,' 'Incitations' and 'Who Cares?'

by Mary Ellen Hunt

May 5, 2002 - Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, California

For their final performances of the season at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, the versatile Diablo Ballet offered a satisfying mixed repertoire program highlighted by an intriguing premiere from the company's own Viktor Kabaniev.

The eight-year old ballet company, as always, showcased their impressively fleet, sure-footed dancers in works ranging from quirky modern to neoclassical ballet. Clearly, though, their current standout is Tina Kay Bohnstedt, whose duet with Lauren Jonas in Kabaniev's "White Light" was a high point of the evening.

The elegiac "White Light" was dedicated to the memory of Diablo dancer Kyongho Kim, who died earlier this year. By turns highly internal and theatrically flamboyant it is perhaps not for everyone's taste, but Kabaniev's work is reminiscent of European dramatic modern works and had obviously taken on a personal tone for the dancers.

The ballet unfolded in two seemingly disparate sections, a duet for Jonas and Bohnstedt to Arvo Pärt's "Spiegel im Spiegel" and a solo for Kabaniev himself, to Richard Wagner's famous "Liebestod" from "Tristan und Isolde." Setting a self-conscious, serio-comic tone that contrasted nicely with the contemplative score, Bohnstedt appeared in a series of spotlighted vignettes around the stage that developed into an eccentric duet with Jonas. Although very different dancers, Jonas and Bohnstedt were well-matched, both giving the weighted movements an air of experience and maturity and building layers of inscrutability that were so satisfying that the piece could have stopped at the end of the duet.

Kabaniev's solo was much more straightforward in its disconsolate motivations. The choreography exhibited his pyrotechnic skills, but with the dramatic rising strains of the "Liebestod" at too high a volume over the Lesher Center speakers, it also veers dangerously toward melodrama. It is difficult to say whether the ending, with Kabaniev struggling wildly against the traveler drape in the back, came off as touching or extravagant or just peculiar, but whatever the case, clearly Kabaniev is unafraid of sentimentality.

Diablo also revived a concert version of George Balanchine's blithe "Who Cares?", ably staged by resident choreologist Christopher Stowell. With only three couples dancing to eight tunes by George Gershwin (instead of 24 four dancers and sixteen songs, as in the longer versions of the ballet), it was a production scaled perfectly for this company, although the ballet lost some excitement with only a piano for accompaniment, Roy Bogas's spirited playing notwithstanding.

Still, you work with what you can, and "Who Cares?" lit up mainly through Bohnstedt's pizzazz and charm. Her approach to the pas de deux with Christopher Young to "The Man I Love" was relaxed and buoyant and a later solo, to "Fascinatin' Rhythm," paired her musicality with a delightful insouciance.

Jonas, along with her partner, the boyish Richard Marsden, gave a coyly intimate interpretation to the "Embraceable You" duet. A reliable turner, she delivered solid dancing in her solo and Marsden offered a suitable lightheartedness in his. Jonas, who is also Diablo's artistic director, was not slated to dance in this program, but gamely stepped into both "White Light" and "Who Cares?" on only a few weeks notice, replacing an injured Grethel Domingo.

The cast was rounded out with an effervescent Kelly Teo partnering Karyn Lee Connell. Teo brought out the best in Connell, who occasionally struggled with neat, precise attack in her solo work. With Teo beside her, however, she covers more space than usual and danced to an edge.

The program opened with Teo's own "Incitations," choreographed to the tango music of Astor Piazolla and Michael Bemesderfer. Teo is a dynamic, propulsive dancer and as expected, there was much of his whiz-bang style in the ballet. There were visually arresting moments for the four-dancer ensemble, but although the performers worked hard, they never quite captured a flair and intensity to match the music.

Also on the program was Nikolai Kabaniev's engaging "Scriabin for Two," which was given a sexy and playful interpretation by Erika Johnson dancing with the choreographer himself. Sometimes coltish, sometimes moody, this is one of Nikolai Kabaniev's most mercurial and effective works and among his best.

This article was first published on May 19, 2003 in the Contra Costa Times

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