The Carolina Ballet brought back some favorites and featured a new-to-the company classic in a mostly-Balanchine, mostly-Mozart program that opened Thursday in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium for a four-day run. The five pieces were performed by some new and intriguing combinations of dancers.
Divertimento No. 15, danced to Mozart’s music (K.287) is Balanchine in a confectionery mood, and David Heuvel’s costumes suit the dance well. But the confection is not overly sweet, and its graceful classicism is well braced by modernist playfulness. Balanchine offset his lovely interlacing lines and cascading flow of motion with weight-shifting movements, sometimes giving the dancers a jerky angularity like that of music box dolls. The Theme and Variations section—a series of solos and duets—featured some fine dancing, with Erica Sabatini noticeable for her sparkling energy. The Minuet for the women of the corps was sweetly done. Samantha Boik, who has been steadily increasing in skill and confidence, has risen to a new level of assurance, control and womanly grace, and she and Caitlin Mundth were particularly nice in the Minuet. By the Andante movement, everyone was fully warmed up and relaxed, their inner rheostats turned up so that they seemed to beam their light across the proscenium, separately and together beacons of beauty.
Next came three short works of distinct and different character. Balanchine’s Steadfast Tin Soldier, set to Bizet's "Jeux d'Enfants," is a very strange little dance, in which a toy soldier and a mechanical doll fall in love—before she burns up in the fireplace, leaving the soldier with only a souvenir paper heart. It was performed here by Margaret Severin-Hansen and Pablo Javier Perez, who are fabulous dancers and wonderful partners, but this choreography does not give scope to their best talents. Although they worked mightily, the piece fell rather flat.
The real highlight of the evening was the brief Robert Weiss-choreographed The Visitation for two dancers, set to the adagio movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major. This is not Weiss’ most inventive ballet, but it is completely charming. Atilla Bongar is another of the company’s dancers who has steadily gotten better and better and who has suddenly leapt to a new level. He was densely forceful here as the recipient of Melissa Podcasy’s attentions, able to project great authority even in stillness. And she was gorgeous, moving with ravishing fluidity and a piquant mix of rushing power and delicate gesture. Together they made a potent combination that one hopes to see again, often.
The third short work was the Pas de Deux from Balanchine’s Agon, set to Stravinsky’s music composed for the ballet. Agon is a great ballet, riveting in its entirety. Often seeing a pas de deux taken from a larger work is something like eating the sweet seedless heart out of a watermelon, but in this case the choice morsel seemed less tasty without its full panoply of accompanying structures. Hong Yang and Timour Bourtasenkov gave us their usual exquisite dancing, but they had no way to overcome the lack of context.
The evening closed with Balanchine’s feel-good show-stopper series of dances to George Gershwin tunes, Who Cares? It’s got swing and is a lot of fun for the dancers, whose pleasure is highly infectious. All fourteen pieces are very enjoyable, but Jan Burkhard and Richie Krusch may have had the best time at the party, getting electric to “S’Wonderful.” Alain Molina was in fine form, too, whether dancing alone or with one of several women. But Lilyan Vigo summed it all up with her solo to “Fascinating Rhythm.”
Dance supplies many human needs, but essential to all its actions is the way it binds us to life’s thumping force with rhythm’s shimmering gossamer. It gives us the very greatest gift, that of being completely in the ever-passing moment, dancers and audience bound together on the beat. When the company thundered joyously through the finale, “I Got Rhythm,” they were sharing it with us all.