Menlowe Ballet, Michael Lowe, Artistic Director (formerly of the Oakland Ballet), celebrated five years of its founding with a lively repertory of works this past weekend. Lowe choreographed one worked, restaged another (a tribute to Marc Wilde and Bronislava Nijinska). “Le Corsaire Pas de Deux “was reworked by Dennis Nahat and a new work “Portraits” was choreographed by Sarah-Jane Measur, Associate Artistic Director. All in all, the program demonstrated a wide range of young talent and a general enthusiastic love of ballet.
“After Hours” was inspired by Lowe’s visit to a Shanghai nightclub in 2001.
A story unfolds as a young maître d’ (Akira Takahashi) imagines the lovely ladies and couples who danced at the club. Three ‘apparitions” appear followed by staff and others to add to Takahashi”s memories of lovely but untouchable guests. Finally, one leaves a flower to prove her reality. Each section is charming, beautifully executed and dramatically portrayed. The ‘Chinese’ music as by Dragon Tonge Sound, Z.Khangalm Nappy G. Pink Martini and Teresa Teng.
“Portraits, “ a ‘world premiere’ brought seven historical women to life.
They were Lady Jane Grey, (Chantelle Pianetta) the Bronte sisters, (Patience Gordon, Christina Schifano and Demetria Schioldager), Gertrude Ederle (Julie Giordano) and suffragette Emily Wilding Davison )Stefanie Maughan, Ali McKeon_ who lost her life in 1913 in the “Votes for Women” cause.
All the ladies dance portrayals were well delivered and charming. Jule Giordano captured out hearts with her ‘swimming’ feats as Ederle. She threw her self to the ground, mimed swim gestures and demonstrated her championship. “Portraits” is a timely work. It should become a mainstay of future programs in our current ‘feminist’ times. Joan Raymond gets credit for the period costumes and the bathing suit with the red swim cap.
“Le Corsaire” is originally an 1899 Marius Petipa work, was premiered at the Paris Opera House in 1856. Based on a Lord Byron poem, “the ballet revolves around a band of pirates (Corsaires) their dashing leader Conrad and his love for the beautiful Harem girl., Medora.” This particular ‘Pas de Deux” has been performed hundreds of times by various companies throughout the dance world. It demands great skill, dramatic portraiture and romantic flourishes. All were well exemplified by Junna Ige and partner Maykel Solas in this performance. Ige balance and pirouettes were excellent done; Solas was remarkable with his ‘balon,’ his ability to stay in the air on leaps and jumps.
Closing the program was “Tribute” Lowes’ reconstruction and homage to Marc Wilde and Bronislava Nijinska. Lowe worked with former Oakland Ballet director Ronn Guidi and performed Ravel’s “Bolero” in 1974 and 1995.
The well-known score, with its relentless rhythm, is clapped and slapped on various surfaces as the dancers, in practice clothes, using the barre, a table and chairs, beat out the time. Each group of dancers, including students of the Menlo Park Academy of Dance participate in turn, finally forming a great ensemble of performers. The bright colored costumes are credited to Christina Welland, Scenic Design to Brent Brimhall and Lighting to Jon Goudine. It is a great finale to a thrilling program.
My only wish, as an old ballet reviewer, is that the dance vocabulary of the company be extended, steps, gestures, phrases and groupings to bring the expressive elements of the works into greater variation. With continued years the Menlowe Ballet will, I’m sure, grow in these dimensions.