Balanchine and Beyond
From Another Time. Photo: Bilha Sperling.

Balanchine and Beyond

Diablo Ballet

Lauren Jonas, Artistic Director

Del Valle Theater

Walnut Creek, Calif.

Feb.1-2, 2019

Reviewed Feb. 2, 2019

Diablo Ballet’s pocket-sized troupe of seasoned dancers performed to a full house at what has become its home-base suburban venue, the Del Valle Theater in Walnut Creek. It is cause for optimism that works by first-rank choreographers, polished by veteran stagers, have become treasured acquisitions of this San Francisco Bay Area bedroom community.

“Balanchine and Beyond” offered three works, two of which I was able to review. [Due to unforeseen personal circumstances, I was unable to see “Paquita,” the program’s closing work.]This afternoon’s version of George Balanchine’s “Apollo” dispensed with the familiar ladder and bridge set that is the armature for Apollo’s ascent, once he gets his dance legs under him. Instead, Raymond Tilton imparts that process in a solo in which he gains his inclination by successive approximation. The Muses who attend him are Jackie McConnell, put in for an injured Jordan Tilton, as Calliope, Rosselyn Ramírez, as Polyhymnia, and Amanda Farris, as Terpsichore. The Coco Chanel quadratic, brightly-lit costumes drape a classical element over Balanchine’s neo-classical and modernist treatment of a work that is famously challenging to warm up to. The dancers acquit themselves in academic unison to sustain its architectural elements. McConnell delivers Calliope not only without a hitch, but as if she’s been dancing the role forever. If there were any backstage jitters about how the amended cast would be received, they were quickly put to rest by the ensemble’s conscientiousness.

Tina Kay Bohnstedt, who is from another time with the company, when she both danced and choreographed for Diablo, returned to stage her work, “From Another Time” to an original musical composition by Justin Levitt. Dancers sit on a bench. They slide to one side, knocking one of their group to the floor. That dancer is joined by another, who has been standing in the shadows, and on it goes until all surface in a quintet consisting of: Amanda Farris, Jackie McConnell, Felipe Leon, Maxwell Simoes, and Michael Wells. The work proposes contemporary shapes to a three quarter waltz tempo score. The music asks for circling steps and gets them, but Bohnstedt refuses to settle: she ferrets out only the most intriguing and strategic ones, where dancers hang and swing from their partners’ necks, jut out a leg into an extension, tip into a fall-and-recover bounce that rises to a stately lift. The pulse is metered by a measured but inspired dynamism, where the medium is the message, and not the other way ‘round; always such a welcome insight!

Toba Singer

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.