NBT’s CLASSIC AMERICANA
By: Hal de Becker
Photos by Virginia Trudeau
Russian influence: It isn’t always bad.
In 1933 Russian-born George Balanchine came to America where over the next half century his choreography, teaching and nurturing of talent shaped and popularized the art of ballet in this country.
Before that, classical ballet in America had a bare existence and survived on the support of a small coterie of theatergoers. Today it is an industry that entertains millions of viewers, employs thousands of dancers, choreographers, teachers, costumers, scenic designers and stage crews, and is the frequent subject of TV and movie productions.
The first ballet Balanchine created in America was ‘Serenade’ in 1934. It is now recognized as one of his major masterpieces. It was also the first offering on Nevada Ballet Theatre’s refreshing triple-bill, ‘Classic Americana’, at The Smith Center.
The curtain rose on 18 ladies in white diaphanous skirts, each gazing in the same direction with one arm outstretched. This opening pose, like other suggestive effects in the dance, introduced an intriguing aura of mystery.
There was no theme or story: neither was needed. As performed by NBT’s dancers the innate symmetry of the ballet’s intertwining patterns and poses became an ideal visual realization of Tchaikovsky’s melodic score.
The dancers were well matched in skill and appearance and the fluidity of their movements often created an illusion of floating. Especially memorable were Emma McGirr and newcomer Mirella Costa Neto. Costa Neto and Sergio Alvarez brought a special purity to their duet in the waltz scene.
The cast’s respect for the masterwork was palpable and may have been inspired in part by Sandra Jennings who, assisted by Clarice Rathers, staged what was a polished, totally satisfying production.
Paul Taylor’s ‘Company B’ was set to songs recorded by the Andrews Sisters during the World War II era. The exuberant dances and up beat music reflected the innocence and optimism of youth. But the young sweethearts’ hopes and dreams were doomed.
As Taylor’s bright, breezy dances entertained downstage, soldiers in near silhouette moved ominously across the back of the stage. They were the ‘boys’ – which is what most of them were – who were destined to lose their youth, not from gradually growing older, but from bullets.
The sad reality of this ever-timely work might be found in the title of one of the songs: “There Will Never Be Another You.”
The 13 dancers gave a flawless performance at every level.
Some of the highlights included Costa Neto and six men in Rum and Coca-Cola; Kenneth Shelby’s Tico Tico solo; Steven Goforth as the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy; McGirr’s solo, I Can Dream, Can’t I?; and Jun Tanabe with his gals in Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny and with his pals in Joseph! Joseph!
‘Western Symphony is a powerful finale to any program. But on opening night most of NBT’s dancers, though they had the steps, lacked the explosive spirit. Fortunately, Balanchine’s choreography itself abounds with Wild West exhilaration and excitement.
The dancers might have been more high-spirited had the music, familiar frontier songs, been played more up-tempo.
Most of them seemed tentative and restrained and injected little characterization into their roles. The dance hall girls weren’t flirtatious and the men came across not as cowboys but as ballet dancers – albeit good ones.
Exceptions included Benjamin Tucker whose loose, easy going cowboy swagger was convincing and Neto and McGirr who were appropriately enticing as dance hall girls – after all, back then such ladies probably did more for cowboys than just dance. Christina Ghiardi, Alvarez and Tanabe were also noteworthy.
At times, the staging by Richard Tanner looked cluttered. At one point, some of Alvarez’s virtuoso steps were almost lost in the crowd. Odd casting had the troupe’s tallest man, Steven Goforth, paired in a duet with Betsy Lucas, one of its smallest ladies.
The dancers are strong and talented and with a few more performances under their gun belts will no doubt invest their roles with more vivacity and character development.
What’s next for NBT? The Nutcracker, of course. This must see holiday event performs December 9 through December 24 at The Smith Center