NBT STARTS SUPER SEASON
By: Hal de Becker
If its opening presentation is any indication, Nevada Ballet Theatre’s new season should be one of its best.
The two works NBT recently presented at The Smith Center, one abstract the other a story, made a perfectly balanced, well-designed dance program.
It opened with Paul Vasterling’s ‘Seasons,’ an exquisite pure-dance visualization of Vivaldi’s music depicting Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer, and concluded with Act One of George Balanchine’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ set to music by Felix Mendelssohn.
With superb dancing, choreography, costumes, sets and lighting, plus live orchestra and chorus, the performance was NBT’s most memorable of late.
The NBT dancers deserve much of the credit. Their dancing, especially in ‘Seasons,’ can be described in one word: beautiful. Perhaps, it was their exposure to the high caliber choreographers, ballets, and rehearsal directors gracing this program that set them in their new direction of excellence.
Their performance in ‘Seasons’ was a revelation of ease, skill and artistic self-awareness of youth, strength and beauty. They gave the impression that the choreography might be as comfortable to dance as it was to watch. Indeed, the movements of the choreography, even when sudden or angular, always appeared unforced and fluid, at least as danced by these artists.
The choreographer presented the six men and six ladies, in inventive duets, trios and ensembles. At times, the duets were paired for two men or two women giving those sections an even more contemporary quality, the message being that a couple need not be limited to just man and woman.
Costuming by David Heuval was itself a tour de force. Diaphanous orange, blue and green floor length chiffon trains flowed in a dance of their own in harmony with the dancers’ bodies. Lighting by Michael Mazzola and Randall Chiarelli added to the eye filling beauty of the stage picture.
When the curtain opened on ‘Dream’ to reveal a forest thick with massive trees and huge pink rose blossoms it was obvious that this would be a big production in every sense of the word.
The cast itself numbered 73 according to the program notes and included 30 talented young students of NBT’s academy all of whom performed with professional aplomb. (With all that youthful talent available I’m surprised NBT hasn’t formed a performing ‘youth company’.)
NBT’s dancers have distinguished themselves in the past dancing Balanchine ballets at TSC, ‘Serenade’ and ‘Rubies’ among them. However, those were non-narrative works. Story ballets like ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ include roles that require specific characterizations.
Such roles and the dancers who excel at them are called ‘demi-caractere.’ It is an art in itself and requires training and experience. Considering that NBT’s dancers are not often called upon for demi-caractere, it was gratifying to see many of them portray their roles persuasively.
Most of the story was effectively compressed into one Act which also included all the important characters.
The pivotal role is that of the forest sprite Puck who is dispatched by Oberon, King of a magical Fairy land, to punish his Queen, Titania, with whom he’s had a petty dispute.
Puck exposes Tatania to a love inducing flower and once ‘under the influence’ she falls in love with the first being she sees which happens to be an actor wearing a life-sized mask of a donkey’s head (Shakespeare’s opinion of actors?)
Puck then creates havoc among two couples, Hermia and Lysander, and Helena and Demetrius, by accidently administering the love flower to two of them in a way that mis-matches them. The amusing confusion that follows is eventually resolved by Oberon but not before the audience has been treated to lovely dancing by Fairies, Butterflies and more.
Braeden Barnes’ portrayal of Puck was delightful. He was appropriately lithe and athletic as well as naughty and mischievous, but with the innocent charm of a Huck Finn.
Krista Baker infused the role of Helena with hot blooded temperament that was modern, realistic and believable. As Hermia, the lyrical Alissa Dale danced with even increased freedom and fluidity. Betsy Lucas’ fleet feet were flying as the lead Butterfly.
Benjamin Tucker didn’t resort to stereotyped moves or gestures. His acting was natural and brought his Lysander convincingly to life as a young man in love but confused. Barrington Lohr showed a flair for comedy as Bottom the donkey-headed actor and Steven Goforth adequately fulfilled the role of Demetrius.
As King Oberon, Morgan Stillman danced his solo steps nicely but evoked no sense of majesty, magic or mystery. Likewise, Lesley Rausch danced well and possessed high extensions but brought little else to the role of Tatania.
Ms. Rausch, like her partner, Karol Cruz, was a Guest Artist from Pacific Northwest Ballet. Their participation was appreciated but they contributed nothing to the performance that wasn’t available from dancers within the ranks of NBT itself.
The surprise of the evening was the explosive entrance and ensuing dancing of newcomer Christina Ghiardi as Hippolyta. When she was on the stage the stage belonged to her.
She has that rare charismatic stage presence that goes out beyond the footlights and dominates an audience’s focus. It’s a quality that can make stars – and enemies.
Fairies and Butterflies adorned with wings and flowing attire danced impressively as did Courtiers, Retinue, Pages and forest creatures. All were handsomely costumed by Martin Pakledinaz in colors ranging from rich earth tones to luminous pastels.
Mr. Pakledinaz also designed the sets which were ideal evocations of the ballet’s fantasy fairy land. Immense and elaborate, they still left plenty of room for dancing.
The Las Vegas Master Singers’ chorus and soloists, directed by Dr. Jocelyn Jensen, provided the loveliest musical sounds of the performance. Their singing was integral, unobtrusive and exquisite. One doesn’t always hear the Mendelssohn choral section with ‘Dream’ performances. Kudos to whoever decided to include it this time.
Members of the Las Vegas Philharmonic under the baton of guest conductor Emil de Cou played well despite squeaking strings early on. Maestro de Cou’s tempi were danceable and he never allowed orchestral volume to intrude upon the dance.
Admittedly, this consummate performance will be a hard act for NBT to follow. Nothing the company has presented for a long time begins to match it. However, if the decisions and ideas that led to the success of this production are repeated, NBT’s artistic stature is likely to remain at this new high level.