A Swingin’ Holiday

Diablo Ballet

Written by:
Toba Singer
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The steady hand of Lauren Jonas continues to reseed Diablo Ballet with novel works, interpreted by dancers new to its ranks. As its 23rdnd season approaches, the company continues to grow in every direction, apparent in its “Swingin’ Holiday and more” program at the Dell Valle Theater on November 14.


The 2015 iteration of Sean Kelly’s title work ushers in the season with jazz orchestrations of familiar carols and songs for the fourth year in a row. While Musical Director, Greg Sudmeier has orchestrated scores for Diablo in the past, and put together bistro-sized combos to accompany the dancers, this year’s innovation of putting 16 musicians onstage, added big sound to the cut-loose choreography, and was registered in pure joy.


It’s a very different company roster this time out. Aidan DeYoung, whose credits include Smuin Ballet and Post:Ballet, stands out for partnering that favors theatrical over showy, and so sets a new and different standard. The eye also goes to Amanda Farris, who comes to Diablo from Georgia Ballet. Her musicality is a fine match for Sudmeier’s Duke-Ellington-headlined arrangements. Jackie McConnell steps out with spirit and enthusiasm, no matter who happens to partner her.


Robert Dekkers’ “AnOther,” to a haunting score by Yann Tiersen, opens with the dancers in a cross-hatch silhouette, and when they are lit, show a constellation of raised open-prance poses that resolve in planted steps, or arcs of sequential fall and recover ensemble supplications. The muted browns and beiges suggest a harvesting theme. Were they street wear, the women’s costumes would please the eye, but as costumes, they read bulky at the midriff. The rogue white triangular panel in the skirt’s back is distracting; it subverts the line and tends to stunt the shorter dancers.


Christian Squires’ solo showcases his gift for soft-hewn, finely defined lines with spellbinding reach. His brief pas de deux with a series of partners, as others walk in natural stride across the back of the stage, offer pockets of artful couplings as the world goes by. Mayo Sugano’s held extensions are as strong as ever, and Rosselyn Ramirez’ decision to return to the company rewards us with lovely classically honed lines in her pas de deux with Squires. Tetyana Martyanova just keeps impressing with her control, yet letting out enough line to reel us in all the more attentively.


New company member Raymond Tilton, who comes to Diablo from San Francisco Ballet, squires Farris through a very classically paced “Tchaikovsky Dances” pas de deux by Norbert Vesak, staged by Joanna Berman and Robert Glay de la Rose. They dance it with almost too much caution, but the pains they take result in a well-balanced academic contrast to the more contemporary pieces that follow.



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