Sunday, October 21, 2007
Deja Vu All Over Again
reprinted with permission
It was déjà vu all over again Saturday afternoon at Oakland's Paramount Theatre. Oakland Ballet was back on stage, Ronn Guidi was in charge, and company icons were floated out in a straightforward and unpretentious celebration of what the old Oakland Ballet always did best: sweetly, and imperfectly, dance.
When a dance company slips away, as Oakland Ballet under Karen Brown did last year, the dance disappears, too. There's no material artifact left behind to remind us of what took place. This made it a curious experience Saturday -- at once comforting and discomfiting -- to see some of the same dancers perform some of the same dances they executed on the Paramount stage years ago. More touching and curious still, they managed to recreate the feel and mood of the old Oakland Ballet with its combination of zeal and naivete. Time appeared to stand still.
As a contest to resuscitate a comatose body and restore it to its previous state, Guidi (and his new performing arts foundation) succeeded in spades. But if Saturday's concert was meant as a harbinger of future plans, it is unclear what Oakland Ballet has in mind.
With financial support from Chevron and Target, the concert toured the storehouse of Guidi's Oakland Ballet (1965-1999), from his lighthearted commedia del l'arte homage, "Carnival d'Aix"(1980), to Vaslav Nijinksy's epoch-making "Afternoon of a Faun" (1912) and Mark Wilde's athletic take on Maurice Ravel's iconic "Bolero."
Given the dearth of dancemaking know-how these days, Guidi's skill read across the footlights as honest, if not scintillating, craftsmanship. His "Trois Gymnopedies" set to the Erik Satie music by the same name, was a beautiful, brutally simple study in flow and essential abstract form. "Carnival" was a charming trifle set to an exquisite score of 12 inventive dances by pioneering composer Darius Milhaud.
The limpid "Gymnopedies," dating from 1961, is one of the choreographer's more lasting works, embodying the music's timeless air of a flowing stream. Although the dancers struggled to master and transcend the movements, and couldn't, the simple boldness of the work shined through.
Nijinksy's "Faun" is a still-modern study in archaic mystery, but Saturday's performance slipped toward empty exoticism. Ethan White as Faun, along with the chorus of Nymphs, lacked the full-body articulation essential to the ballet's eerie two-dimensional power. Jenna McClintock as the lead Nymph got much closer to the quality and captured the demure tranquility of her role.
Wilde's "Bolero" is an entertaining and athletic account of dance on a naked stage. It was a great closer and showed the company to full advantage. The entire concert was accompanied heartily by the Oakland East Bay Symphony with Michael Morgan conducting, giving each work the musical support it deserved.
Guidi's company always embraced the audience with small town bonhomie, and Saturday afternoon Oakland Ballet danced with honesty and heart. They resurrected works and resurrected the mood. But the question remains: Is this enough to relaunch Oakland Ballet?