Monday, November 26, 2012

Review: Diablo Ballet delivers a stunning 'Pavane,' stumbles through
premiere of 'Swingin' Holiday'
By Ann Murphy, Correspondent San Jose Mercury News

Each time a 20th-century dance giant dies, fear runs through the dance world's collective veins. With another genius gone, where will the new crop of movement masters come from, and can dance survive without such legendary talent? It is a question that has been haunting the dance world for decades.

Friday night at the Dean Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek that question hounded Diablo Ballet's opening program of its 2012-13 season. In an evening filled with talented and passionate dancers, the company mounted work that ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. Dance has endured, but the issues of legacy and revitalization haven't gone away.

The production of "The Moor's Pavane" threw the problem into sharp relief. The late Jose Limon's almost Kabuki-like depiction of the Othello story is a masterpiece of modern dance from 1949 and Diablo Ballet brought it to life with stunning depth. But the dizzy premieres bookending "Moor" seemed to have been intended for another program or a different company altogether.

In "Moor," two couples, Othello and Desdemona (The Moor and The Moor's Wife), Iago and Emilia (His Friend and His Friend's Wife), perform a taut, elegantly formulated web of decorum, corruption and desire costumed in sumptuous Renaissance garb. Every step, each gesture and every foot of stage space seem sculpted with narrative, holding visual and metaphysical importance and shaped by a fate that is still en route. The stately music by 17th-century composer Henry Purcell only ratchets up dramatic tension.

It was thrilling to watch how Robert Dekkers as the calculating and homoerotic Iago performed with some of the same slithery elegance that dancer Lucas Hoving brought to the role he originated in 1949, and how Derek Sakakura embodied the credulous Othello with power if not quite the willfulness of Jose Limon. Maria Basile was a nuanced Emilia; and Desdemona, Othello's wife, was captured by Heather Cooper with the soft innocence that makes her the prey in a quiet, evil conspiracy. Both women are on loan from sjDANCEco.

Although more than 60 years old, "The Moor's Pavane" is timeless as well as timely in its account of how politics, power and sex lace together to cause tragedy. Its ability to communicate something complex with compressed simplicity is a supreme example of the power of dance.

By contrast, Vicente Nebrada's premiere of "Lento a Tempo e Appassionato," which opened the program, was a demonstration of dance as a series of well-executed athletic tricks meant to denote passion. The program closer, the premiere of "A Swingin' Holiday" by Sean Kelly, with the Diablo Ballet Swing Orchestra in the pit, showed the desperation of an art form that returns to the Lindy, zoot suits and mashups of Christmas music with almost zombielike insistence.

Nebrada made hash of Alexander Scriabin's three piano etudes as the lovely dancers Hiromi Yamazaki and David Fonnegra, with the estimable Roy Bogas on piano, spun and entwined and punched each accent in a histrionic depiction of male-female love worthy of the over-the-top emoting of early silent films. Isadora Duncan performed a dance of simple gravity in 1923 to some of the same Scriabin etudes, but Nebrada seems as in the dark about that past as Kelly seems blind to the fact that Michael Smuin fully captured the '40s Broadway dance shtick decades ago.

For ages, dance commentators have noted that without an effective written scoring system, dance remains dependent on one generation passing down information to the next. But Youtube is quickly giving young choreographers access to dance archives that no other generation has had. Film clips can't replace the transmission between artists, but they put more history at young artists' finger tips. It is in their interest to use them. We will all benefit.

diablo ballet
Presents works by Vicente Nebrada, Jose Limon and Sean Kelly Page 1 of 2
26/11/2012 09:19 AM
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 17
Where: Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek Tickets: $36, $52, 925-943-7469,

Page 2 of 2
26/11/2012 09:19 AM