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'Tour de Force: A Gala Dance Spectacular'

by Kathy Lee Scott

May 21, 2009 - Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa, California

Fourteen prominent dancers from around the world gathered to perform 14 dances during the “Tour de Force: A Gala Dance Spectacular” at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, California. At the May 21 show, traditional ballet pas de deux interspersed with modern dance. All performers delighted the full audience, who gave them a standing ovation.

Boris Eifman began the gala with a pas de deux from his 2003 story ballet, “Who's Who.” In the scene, Russian dancer Alexei Turko (Eifman Ballet) helped an American chorus girl (Maria Alexandrova from the Bolshoi Theatre) to stay en pointe. In the comedic scene set to Rachmaninoff’s music, they occasionally fumbled on purpose. However, if the girl was supposed to not have danced in pointe shoes much, Alexandrova didn’t convey this as her balances and pointe work were superb.

In a quick change of venue, Mariinsky Theater of St. Petersburg’s Anastasia and Denis Matvienko danced “Grand Pas Classique” to Auber's melodies. Denis took care of his wife, setting her gently onto her pointes. The pair performed Gzovsky’s traditional choreography with strength and clarity. Only the recorded music seemed a bit slow during Anastasia’s petit allegro solo.

Continuing in the traditional mode, Bolshoi principals Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev performed an Act Two pas de deux from the classic “Giselle,” in which Giselle’s spirit forgives her fickle lover, Albrecht, for his betrayal. The pair followed Coralli and Perrot's choreography. Vasiliev displayed his character's love for the dead girl, gently swinging her so her legs swayed to and fro before he set her onto her pointes. She appeared weightless during the slow carries to Adams’ music.

The next piece brightened the mood. More light-hearted, Bernice Coppieters and Chris Roelandt from Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo locked lips in the kissing scene from “La Belle” and keeping them together, twisted, turned and groped each other. The “world's longest kiss” broke for a brief gasp before Roelandt dove back to lip lock again with Coppieters. The scene, which depicts the Prince and Sleeping Beauty’s first meeting, allowed the pair to act as well as dance. The flesh-colored unitard Coppieters wore, with its stomach cut out, gave Roelandt a place to stroke her, much to her surprise, although she didn’t object. Adding to Maillot’s inventive choreography was Tchaikovsky’s music.

The Odile pas de deux from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” returned the mood to a more serious tone. Bolshoi’s Alexandrova joined Guillaume Côté from the National Ballet of Canada in the scene in which the Black Swan enchants the Prince and secures his vow of marriage, which dooms Odette to life as a swan. Alexandrova gave her Black Swan an intense, stern attitude. She performed Petipa’s choreography with strength and precision. Her Prince, however, tended to collapse his torso when ending leaps. He also beat his grande cabrioles sloppily.

Returning to the performing arts center stage, Mariinsky Theater of St. Petersburg’s Diana Vishneva joined Artistic Director Vladimir Malakhov from Berlin State Ballet for a modern piece, “Kazimir’s Colours.” Choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti premiered the piece in 2000, during which he explored the relations between joy and light, form and abstraction. The dancers appeared a bit shaky in the modern ballet piece, created to music by Shostakovich. They often fudged the endings to their turns, and when Vishneva went to clasp Malakhov, he seemed not in the right spot. Despite this, the pair created interesting shapes with unique lifts and supported moves.

For the next piece, Eifman choreographed a solo for Nikolay Tsiskaridze from the Bolshoi Theatre to music by Kancheli and Barber, “Fallen Angel,” which premiered in the gala. As is typical of Eifman’s work, this piece personified emotions of loss and yearning. Tsiskaridze would reach up toward heaven using every inch of his body, then tumble down to earth, defeated, collapsing into himself. The dancer tended to land his jumps heavy, but his intensity was palpable and exciting. Toward the end of the piece, Tsiskaridze pulled a length of black fabric from the wings, while someone held it off stage. The dancer fought with the unseen person before the person released it, and the dancer covered himself with the fabric.

Closing the first part, Mariinsky Theater of St. Petersburg’s Leonid Sarafanov performed with Osipova in the joyous marriage pas de deux of Kitri and Basil from “Don Quixote,” music courtesy of Minkus with choreography by Gorsky. This often-performed piece includes a spectacular one-handed lift, which Sarafanov executed with aplomb. His solo showed his tight control and clean endings. Osipova’s fan dance thrilled, especially when her hops on pointe seemed to skim the floor, almost like she would fly instead of touch down. Her passés were clean and she seemed to be so high, she had to force her foot down for a pirouette. Osipova’s ending piqué turns flew across the stage with barely a touch on the stage. The pair gave an outstanding performance to end the first act.

Four men opened the second half, dancing Christopher Wheeldon's “For 4” to Franz Shubert’s music. He created the piece originally for “Kings of the Dance” and used the canon and rondo forms of movement similar to the music. Matvienko, Vasiliev, Sarafanov and Côté in turn showed off their technique through tours, turns, leaps and jumps. If this had been a television show, the screaming and shouting would have continued throughout the piece.

Next, the Eifman Ballet company presented the final Act 1 scene from “Russian Hamlet: The Son of Catherine the Great,” featuring his principal, Alexei Turko, and the Bolshoi’s principal, Alexandrova. Since this is a story ballet to Beethoven’s music, the audience was dropped into the plot with this scene. Figuring out who was who and what was going on proved difficult, so enjoying the dance became the main emphasis. Again, Eifman’s dancers performed with intensity, giving every movement power and passion. His corps de ballet became a living entity that ended the piece as a pyramid of people who raised the two women to the peak.

Following this, Complexions Dance Company’s principal dancer Desmond Richardson danced a solo, “Lament,” created by Dwight Rhoden to music by Charles Veal, Jr. and Caroline Worthington. Rhoden created a dance in the modern genre that put Richardson in motion throughout. Even when the dancer stretched his arm out, it was merely the beginning of another movement. He had to leap high and roll on the floor, and Richardson succeeded.

In a change of pace, married pair Anastasia and Denis Matvienko portrayed Romeo and Juliet in an excerpt from Edward Clug’s “Radio and Juliet,” a reverse look at the Shakespeare play. The ballet moves from when Juliet sees Romeo dead next to her, backwards to when they first met. Using music by Radiohead, the pair showed the love and attraction between the couple. They kept holding each other’s hands between the lifts.

Vishneva and Malakhov returned for “Le Parc,” which Angelin Preljocaj choreographed to Mozart’s music. During the modern ballet piece, Malakhov caressed Vishneva’s legs before lifting her up. Vishneva manipulated Malakhov’s limbs before he lifted her. In this piece, the pair seemed more rehearsed and relaxed with each other. They didn’t struggle to find their holds or positions.

Osipova and Vasiliev closed the show with a rousing “The Flames of Paris” pas de deux that earned the “Tour de Force” its name for the evening. Not only did Vasiliev show his masculine, bravado side but proved his value as a dancer with three grand assemblé en tournant in a row. Osipova kept up with him with her superior pointe work.

Those fortunate to attend the “Tour de Force” gala came away with marvelous memories of ballet in its current state, which is spectacular.

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