A great thing about living in the Bay Area is that the local dance world is full of surprises. One day you think you’ve seen pretty much everything there is on offer, and the next you discover something that’s been there for a while but is new to you. It’s kind of like being one of those white cats, some of which tend to be a bit slow on the uptake. All the other household cats are zooming by, the white cat takes no notice, and then, five minutes later, suddenly and quickly turns its head as if to say, “What the heck’s going on here?”
That’s how I felt the weekend I attended the opening of Diablo Ballet’s 18th season out in Walnut Creek, a distant suburb of San Francisco. Admittedly, I’m a bit embarrassed that this company has flown under my radar for so long. But not anymore. This small, talented group is made up of eight dancers who have performed with companies throughout the world, including Ballet de Caracas, Miami City Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet.
Under Artistic Director Lauren Jonas, the company has become noted for its focus on new works by contemporary choreographers, all the while staying true to its classical roots. At their most recent performance weekend, November 18–19, the company presented one world premiere, one West Coast premiere, and revisited a company favorite.
The centerpiece of the program was the world premiere of Val Caniparoli’s Tears from Above, set to a score for two cellos by Elena Kats-Chernin and performed live by Daniel Reiter and Paul Rhodes. An abstract work with a heart, Tears from Above explores the relationships within and between two couples, beautifully danced on opening night by Hiromi Yamazaki, Robert Dekkers, Derek Sakukura, and Mayo Sugano. Although at first glance the dance appears to be a chamber ballet, it is so much more. Through the use of unusual exits and entrances, unexpected direction shifts, and surprising level changes, Caniparoli has created an economical work that could easily expand to fill a larger stage.
Dominic Walsh’s postmodernist take on Fokine’s Spectre de la Rose, opened the program. Set to a quirky arrangement for string trio of Carl Maria von Weber’s Invitation to the Dance, the modern choreography seemed to be at war with the romantic music. Instead of flowing organically, the dance moved from one tableau to another, ignoring the possibility that each section could be connected in a more coherent fashion. Although visually stunning, and performed competently by Rosselyn Ramirez and guest artist Domenico Luciana, this was a spare and cold Spectre.
The program closed on a cheerful note with a revival of Septime Webre’s energetic Fluctuating Hemlines (1995). A winsome Erika Johnson, partnered by the charming Edward Stegge, led the ensemble to a satisfying conclusion.
It is worth noting that Diablo Ballet presents each repertory season program over one weekend only. The next performances are in March and May 2012. Be sure to check the Diablo Ballet website for program information and tickets.
Friday–Saturday, November 18–19
Lesher Center for the Arts
1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, CA
Diablo Ballet dancers Robert Dekkers, Mayo Sugano, Derek Sakakura, and Hiromi Yamazaki in rehearsals of Val Caniparoli’s new ballet Tears from Above.