At Diablo Ballet’s Inside the Dancer’s Studio opening on Friday, March 2, at Walnut Creek’s Shadelands Arts Center, the great mysteries of ballet will be up close and extremely personal.
If you’ve ever wondered how an adult woman balances on the tips of her once-tender toes, or marveled at the ease with which she is lifted by a man whose physique resembles that of a fashion model more than a body builder, the interactive, in-your-face presentation is your ticket to dance nirvana.
Presented in a rehearsal studio—but completely produced with costumes, live music, and months of refinement—audience participation and access to the artists is aimed at establishing the company as unique.
“This series is all about, ‘How can we be different?’” says Artistic Director Lauren Jonas. “We’ve accomplished that with our educational outreach programs, but this is really about connecting on another level.”
While the goal of attracting new audiences boils on the front burner of the company’s agenda, Jonas also focuses on engaging first-rate choreographers to work with the company.
Her latest coup is a catch from Christopher Wheeldon, an internationally recognized artist whose prolific output has been greeted with nearly unconditional admiration from the press, the public and ballet historians. Credited with reviving the classical form while invigorating it with fresh standards, his ballets are in the repertoire of the Bolshoi Ballet, the Royal Ballet, San Francisco Ballet (SFB) and New York City Ballet (NYCB).
His Mercurial Manoeuvres, on the Diablo Ballet’s program, was originally commissioned for NYCB’s Diamond Project. Former SFB principal dancer Joanna Berman was setting the work when Patch dropped in during the second day of rehearsals.
“What makes this dance special is the partnering. It’s not just carting the girl around. It’s incredible strength and sensitivity and subtle moves that have to do with balance,” Berman explained.
Beyond the impeccable partnering, there’s Dimitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor, Op. 35, and a magical, dreamy, adagio quality emphasizing stillness and exquisite details.
“In this dance, every movement is important. There are no wasted moments. Even the 'rest' steps, if those are not done with intention, then it’s not [Wheeldon’s] piece,” she declared, referring to the choreographer’s trademark articulations.
Indeed, the dancers, just 20 feet away, were repeating a transition, searching for the connection that allows a big lift to dissolve seamlessly into the next step. After a while, they moved on: “We’ll have it by the time you come back,” they promised Berman, who leads a busy life teaching dance and raising her 8-year-old twin sons.
David Fonnegra, a longtime dancer with the company, also has a new ballet on the program. Set to Sinatra songs, Back in the Days is performed without lyrics in a live instrumental arrangement. Fonnegra is working in a neoclassic style.
“I give them ballet steps, but the arms aren’t classical and you can smile most of the time,” he said. “I like people to be free, to be expressive.”
He held a notebook, filled with technical, 2-inch-square diagrams of the staging, but described the piece as relational—with love, confusion and walking away included.
“It’s a solo, then a duet, then a trio, finishing with everybody going their own path,” he said, adding that the familiar lyrics to Fly With Me were impossible to keep out of his head while he was creating the ballet.
“There’s a lift or two,” he admitted, laughing along with his dancers, who sat nearby, exhausted and covered in sweat.
Escaping Game by ODC Artistic Director KT Nelson and A Path of Delight or… by former company member Tina Kay Bohnstedt are also on the bill. A post-show Q&A and reception with refreshments, coffee and Destino Wines follows the performance.
This Diablo Ballet performance has also drawn attention in the Twitter-sphere. , according to Diablo Ballet. The company has invited five "text-perts" to live-tweet their reviews of Inside the Dancer's Studio, at hashtag #diablo.
Performances: Friday, March 2, at 7:30 pm, and Saturday, March 3, 2012, at 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm.