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Ann Dunn and her incredibly hard working troupe of dancers are loose again. This time, Asheville Ballet was in the Diana Wortham Theatre at Pack Place for a weekend run of classical ballet and sweaty, writhing trench work. The two go hand-in-hand with this choreographer, whose skill and attitude stand resplendent when compared with... well, nearly anything. Her ballet company, one of the oldest arts institutions in Asheville, ranks with the Asheville Symphony Orchestra for continuous programs of stock repertoire and adventurous contemporary productions.
This program was titled Coppelia, after the classical ballet that started this evening's adventure. This version was heavily edited to just three acts to fit both time and structurally significant events (that means the whole story was told, but most of the redundant tricks, hours of smiling, and incessant gesturing were reduced). Ann Dunn, Lyle Laney and Amy Strickland choreographed the scenes. In costumes consistent with the 1870 premiere in Paris and a recording of Leo Delibes' score by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Andrew Mogrelia conducting), the romantic fantasy of Dr. Coppelius' toy shop unfolded on a bare stage under standard lighting. The ensemble consists of five soloists along with friends, children – boys and girls – and a series of dolls – Louis XIV, conquistador, Gypsy, Arabian, Ballerina, Spanish, Japanese and Scottish dancer, and Raggedy Ann – that all come to life for a series of adventures.
Veteran member Lyle Laney anchored this cast, along with Bud Crawford, Justine Williams, Sarah McGinnis, and Amy Strickland. Amid the ensemble were varying levels of performance; some were lucky just to hit the marks and one or two were just a tick slow off the mark while others displayed high skills and evidence of deep training. The whole pulled together suitably to convey a very well structured and nearly perfect length classical ballet worth experiencing many times.
After intermission, the mood changed to dancing in the street with selected scenes from West Side Story. Dunn chose four movements for this brief medley; "Mambo and Cha Cha," "There's a Place for Us," "Cool Rumble," and the Finale were choreographed by Dunn, Laney, Allison Hertzberg, and Garth Grimball. The music of Leonard Bernstein (lest we not forget Stephen Sondheim) was from a Columbia recording of the original Broadway Orchestra, and the score's rhythms are fertile territory for interpretive movement. No effort was made to replicate the original production; instead this was a fresh interpretation on Bernstein's evergreen melodies and pulsing pace.
A lyrical pas de deux featured Laney and Hertzberg, while the "Mambo and Cha Cha" showed how classic training doesn't interfere when the ensemble is executing nature's best moves. It was a short set, full of drive and rich, creative movement that satisfied the music.
They'll be there for the weekend, and the experience is worth far more than the ticket price. Classical ballet and modern dance bordering on rock 'n' roll is a wide swath, rich in both visual and aural stimulus.