Celebrated Masters
Amanda Farris and Christian Squires in Val Camiparoli's “Hamlet and Ophelia” pas de deux. Photo: Berenger Zyla

Celebrated Masters

Diablo Ballet

Lauren Jonas, Artistic Director
Del Valle Theatre
Walnut Creek, Calif.
May 6 and 7, 2016 (reviewed May 7)
Diabloballet.org

Joanna Berman’s staging of Val Caniparoli’s “Hamlet and Ophelia” was just right. Caniparoli has a gift for perspective. He tends not to over-reach. Instead he instinctively gets when his argument has been made without talking past the deal. Moreover, he knows what works to make this happen for which companies, and in that spirit, this Hamlet and Ophelia pas de deux is tailor made for a company the size of ten-member Diablo Ballet.

Its mission is captured in the program’s Shakespeare quote, where Ophelia says, “O, woe is me t’have seen what I have seen, see what I see!”

Amanda Farris sees. She follows Christian Squires’ Hamlet, carried unbeknowst to him, on his cape’s very long train, as he enters the stage at a funereal pace, and in a state of despair. One of the more imaginative entrances in ballet, it places you right in the midst of the dramatic dilemma, but without expert coaching it could have ended up a train wreck. With Berman as Yard Master, it clickety-clacked along rhythmically, without losing an iota of sensuality. To music by Bohuslav Martinu, Squires abandons his slow advance, and after a few ruminations, leaves the stage to Farris. She dances a solo as lovely as her entrance, though more complex and dramatic. The steps reveal that contradictions which live outside her ken pull her in opposite directions. Squires returns to take her on his journey in a pas de deux. In its ascending moments we see joy, but also a streak of menace when he dips her into his dark mood, and flips her horizontally. Caniparoli’s choreography is rich, and the dancers’ pacing is sublime. As a couple they conspire to make this exquisite tapestry their artifact.

In a post-performance talk, choreographer Gary Masters credited music composed by Carlos Chávez, and arranged and played by Greg Sudmeier, as the inspiration for making “Mythic Place” on Diablo Ballet. Viewed by Masters as a “challenge” to the dancers, it mostly seemed so because of its datedness. Though set in the style of José Limón, it lacked the power of Limon’s tantalizing economy-of-scale story telling, and tended to bleed out at its edges. The mid-century costumes by Renee Rothmann, with clean lines in bold tropical colors, and contrasting sash, promised refreshment from a source undisturbed for several decades. Instead, the piece consists mainly of poses arriving on bare feet, meant to look as if they’d sprung from a mythic place. In fact, they looked like they issued from a too-bright neon-lit studio with white walls in Greenwich Village, where a tambourine accompanied dancers in black leotards doing contractions on a sweat-beaded wood floor and triplets across it. The simplicity of the choreography did not find a friend in the elaborate score that mashed up traps and symbols, and instruments I couldn’t identify, when a tambourine would have channeled a stream of mythos more spare and yet more stylistically á propos.

The irrepressible Robert Dekkers gave us a rework of “Carnival of the Animals” re-christened, “Carnival of the Imagination.” It brought together pop-up characters, some of who come directly from the original piece of which his “Imagination . . .” is derivative, and others of which came alive with the help of Christian Squires’ delightful and insightful costumes. Some ideas worked better than others. Raymond Tilton in his smoke red fiery unitard was a very scary Dragon; Jackie McConnell as “Pippas the Imaginary Friend,” though a consummate character dancer, was more the Confused Mouse with crumbs to nibble on in terms of the dance steps that Dekkers left her.

Tetyana Martyanova’s Unicorn was eyecatching and regal; the Rainbow Constellations, danced by an ensemble consisting of Aidan DeYoung, Jamar Goodman, Tetyana Martyanova, Rosselyn Ramirez, Mayo Sugano and Raymond Tilton, carries forward the intrigue of the original, and they dance their abalone chimera so well that you feel that you’re in the deep blue right along with them.

The piece has a magical “Little Prince” quality that convinces me that Dekkers could put his best foot forward by developing a repertoire of children’s ballet theatre, where, with his ebullient personality, he could draw children into creating their own mini-works inspired by his larger ones, where creativity is for them a world without borders.

Toba Singer, author of “Fernando Alonso, the Father of Cuban Ballet” (University Press of Florida 2013), and “First Position: a Century of Ballet Artists” (Praeger 2007), writes for international dance journals and websites, and has served as an advisor to the San Francisco Museum of Performance and Design. She was the University Press of Florida author representative at the 2013 Miami International Book Fair. “Fernando Alonso, the Father of Cuban Ballet” was nominated for the Latin American Student Association Bryce Award, the de la Torre Research and Dance Scholars Award, and the Commonwealth Club California Book Award.