Diablo Ballet, “Body and Soul”
Felipe Leon and Oliver-Paul Adams from Sonya Delwaide's Trait d'Union. Photo: David DeSilva

Diablo Ballet, “Body and Soul”

Works by Wheeldon, Petipa, Delwaide and Dekkers

Lauren Jonas, Artistic Director
Del Valle Theatre
Walnut Creek, Calif.
Feb. 3-4, 2017; reviewed Feb. 3, 2017

Diablo Ballet presented a program of four works. Two were pas deux excerpts, short in duration. The first of these was from Christopher Wheeldon’s “Mercurial Manoeuvres,” itself a bit of a maneuver within a maneuver, given the eleventh-hour cast substitutions, pregnancies, and injuries that have the potential to upset the apple cart in a small company. It was faithfully staged by Joanna Berman and danced with fortitude by Mayo Sugano and Raymond Tilton. The second pas de deux was from the classic “Don Quixote,” by Marius Petipa, a version staged by Lauren Jonas, and danced with great maja flair by Rosselyn Ramirez and caballero esprit by Jamar Goodman.

The evening’s other two pieces were works by local choreographer Sonya Delwaide and Diablo Ballet resident choreographer Robert Dekkers. Dekkers’ “When in Doubt,” features a score by Jacob Wolkenhauer that is a mashup of Bertrand Russell’s famous words about the future of humanity with comments by the cast of dancers who originated the piece in 2012, the current cast, and electronic music. It opens with the dancers profiled in silhouette on a stage suffused with burnished gold light. When the silhouettes dissolve, we see that the men are shirtless and the women wear black tunics. The movement derives its certitude from the process. In contrast to other works by Dekkers, where he seemed to rush his dancers toward a result, here they find their depth through the complicated yet riveting sorting of difficult counts, where dialogue stands in for music. Breakout solos demand so much concentration and deliberation that the dancers’ engagement with that deliberation takes shape as the art. Outstanding among the solos are Mayo Sugano’s, where she emerges in profile out of a wall of dancers, perpendicular to the audience. Extending each leg in a probing pas de cheval to find the footing she needs to add arms to her explorations. The wall men pulse and Rosselyn Ramirez brings a very matured, seasoned persona centered in her bearing and the off-center specificity in her attack. Jackie McConnell stays low with en face confrontations that reveal her strength. Amanda Farris is commanding and fearless. Dekkers is experimenting with placing women at the center of a work, showing a quiet bravery and confidence in what they can impart. The men frame them stolidly or with verve. Oliver-Paul Adams and Felipe Leon, who are new to the company, fall in compatibly with veterans Jamar Goodman and Raymond Tilton.

Sonya Delwaide’s “Trait d’union” makes for a lush response to the Gabriel Fauré Élégie score, with its lowing cello played by Janet Witharm and piano played by Aileen Chanco. “Trait d’union” is French for hyphen, the grammatical link connecting two words. Delwaide connects two male dancers, Oliver-Paul Adams and Felipe Leon, whose arms intertwine over shoulders in a push-pull struggle toward and away from engagement. Amanda Farris, interpolated as a third party, comes in to introduce a note of harmony. She bourrées in whisperingly, like a Lilac Fairy. She is gentle but authoritative, in search of fractures to heal. The male dancers wear plum-colored shirts and street pants that drape in a way that works against defining the fine lines Delwaide has tied so elegantly to the music, and so some of the carefully shaped nuances hide under the shirts. As the men revert to locking out Farris, she powers her way offstage with the same bourrée that brought her in, but just as surely as you never step into the same river twice, her intervention has left its indelible seal on the fortunes of the two men and their surround.

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.