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Milestone celebrations involve much planning and work, but a well-done gala generates memories that can linger long after the celebration is over. This was certainly the case at Greensboro Ballet’s 30th Anniversary Gala Celebration.
A glittering array of dancers lit up the stage in six separate works, ranging from Balanchine standards to a world premiere, all accompanied by an amazing 27-piece orchestra conducted by Winston-Salem Symphony conductor emeritus Peter Perret.* Dancers from Greensboro and all over the country impressed with their agility and finesse and delighted the audience with costumes that could have come off a stage in any major city in the world.
The first ballet, Balanchine’s "Valse Fantaisie" (1953, with music by Glinka), was a study in synchronicity and nuance by dancers Nina Bass, Blair Chamberlain, Jacky Hauser, and Christopher Pennix, all members of Greensboro Ballet. These sparkling, polished talents are proof of how far Greensboro Ballet has come since its early days as Greensboro Civic Ballet.
In “Tarantella,” another Balanchine classic (with music by Gottschalk, orchestrated by Hershey Kay), Eric Pereira and Daniel Ulbricht wowed the audience with this take-off of an Italian folk dance. To see two soloists with the New York City Ballet perform up close in the beautiful Carolina Theatre was breathtaking. The energy was palpable, with Pereira’s fawn-like delicacy a wonderful counterpoint to the powerhouse that is Ulbricht.
The folk theme continued with August Bournonville’s “William Tell Pas de Deux” with music by Rossini, featuring guest dancers Elizabeth Sykes and Logan Learned from the Sarasota Ballet. Sykes is a Greensboro native and N.C. School of the Arts grad, while Learned hails from the West Coast. Sykes and Learned danced this flirtatious and demanding piece in the Bournonville style of quick foot movements with small, elegant arm accompaniment. The two made the nearly impossible look easy and this piece was a show-stopper.
“Intervals,” by choreographer Emery LeCrone, was a world premiere perfect for the gala performance. LeCrone is a Greensboro-born, Greensboro Ballet-trained dancer who is making her mark in the choreography world. This subtle, understated piece with five dancers (with music after Sufjan Stevens and Osso's album Run Rabbit Run) was not just a balletic exploration of space, it was a peek into the future of modern ballet choreography.
The exclamation point in this show came right before intermission, when New York City Ballet soloist Daniel Ulbricht performed a tango by Piazzolla. Even though brief, this piece was just about as titillating as it gets, with its jazz elements, aerobatics, and gravity-defying leaps. This “tango fusion” was like a sparkler on the Fourth of July, and those who were lucky enough to see Ulbricht perform this solo will likely never forget the experience.
The last performance of the gala was “Kitri’s Wedding” from the Minkus ballet Don Quixote. This piece was a true collaboration between Greensboro Ballet and its guest artists. Linnar Looris, born in Estonia and now with the Houston Ballet, paired with Houston Ballet’s Katharine Precourt for a beautiful wedding couple. Loonis’s face itself was a study in the concentration and physical strength required for such a challenging pas de deux. A beautiful Cupid was danced by Elizabeth Sykes, and the rest of the cast was delightfully filled out by the Greensboro Ballet corps. Grand scenes such as this truly showcase individual talents of each and every dancer - for example, Greensboro Ballet’s Matthew Baird, who performed lifts that drew gasps from the audience.
I had the pleasure as an arts reporter of watching Greensboro Ballet Artistic Director and CEO Maryhelen Mayfield and her company grow from the early years, and kudos must be given to Greensboro’s Grande Dame (may I call her that after more than 30 years?) of dance. Greensboro is so lucky to have her. Without her, there might be no Greensboro Ballet, at least in its present, spectacular form.
*For the record, Maestro Perret is also a distinguished critic for CVNC.