Two nights ago, I joined Cincinnati Ballet at the Aronoff for its dress rehearsal of Director’s Cut: Musical Masters, which kicked off on Thursday and goes through Sunday, March 18. The triple-bill performance features three distinct pieces. Though I didn't care for one of the ballets as much as the other two, it remained a night filled with breathtaking dancing.
Choreography by George Balanchine
Music by Igor Stravinsky
Surely you've heard of George Balanchine. (Same with Stravinsky.) Those icons carry a lot of weight in their respective dance and music worlds. While they are no doubt talented, I did not enjoy this ballet.
The dancing seemed muddled and disconnected from the music. Hard to say if it was the choreography, the score, or the execution. I'd point to some combination of all three. But considering that I’m neither a professional dancer nor a world-famous composer, perhaps it was me. Perhaps the “artistry” was above my head. Maybe it’s like the first time a novice art historian comes across a Mark Rothko painting at the MoMA. Blocks of color on a wall... that's all I could see, not the profound expression crafted with each brushstroke. Because what I did see fell flat.
The one redeeming facet was the pas de deux between Rodrigo Almarales and Chisako Oga. Their technical prowess radiated across the stage. The rest of the performance underwhelmed. It was too chaotic for my eyes to narrow in on a focal point or appreciate the movement from a greater bird’s-eye perspective.
Choreography by Jerome Robbins
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Ah, yes, a return to some familiarity! Fancy Free first premiered in 1944 with Ballet Theatre (now known as American Ballet Theatre). And the concept was quite fitting for the period: chronicling the escapades of sailors on leave in NYC. The piece was so well received that it ended up being the inspiration for the full-length musical On the Town. And the successful collaboration of Robbins and Bernstein continued later with West Side Story.
But anyway, back to Fancy Free...
Cervilio Amador, James Cunningham, and Edward Gonzalez Kay play the sailors, the last of whom (Kay) is one of Cincinnati Ballet's newest members, having joined in 2017 and who, like Amador, originally hails from Cuba. The sailors drink beer, flick their gum wrappers, and hold a "dance off" to gain the affections of three lovely ladies. Though the dames (played by Christina LaForgia Morse, Melissa Gelfin, and Kathleen Dahlhoff) indulge such buffoonery for a bit, they eventually realize they’re better off leaving the boys to be boys. As such, the question of “Who has the longest sword?” is left unanswered.
There’s much to love about this piece. While the set and costumes are a fun throwback to a bygone era, the dancing is timeless and—as the name suggests—it’s very much fancy free.
Choreography by Garrett Smith
Music by Vivaldi, Handel, and Philip Glass
Well, they saved the best for last. Because, wow, this piece is fantastic. The program was originally created for Ballet West by choreographer Garrett Smith. In all the ways I felt like Rubies was disjointed and chaotic, Facades was the exact opposite. It’s creative. It’s energetic. It’s multi-dimensional. And most of all, it just works — really (really) well.
The costumes are perfection—a mix of red, sexy tutus and skintight bodices for the ladies. For the lads, there's three-quarter length black or white tights, which are complemented by a lightweight and slightly sheer-like cardigan allowing us to enjoy the visual feast of many beautifully sculpted abdominal muscles
There’s a lot going on in this piece, but it comes together pretty seamlessly. If you’ve seen the new Apple HomePod commercial, it’s nothing like that… except, it is. (Kinda.) It is in the way the choreography stretches one’s imagination. And what's especially impressive about this piece is how it does that sort of stretching live, with only small but meaningful assists by a strategic use of lighting and a minimalistic set design. The most obvious example comes into play with the use of a “mirror” sequence by which dancers copy each other’s movements as one would see him/herself in the mirror. But the ingenious nature of Facades delves even deeper than that.
Special props must be made for Sirui Liu, David Morse, and Samantha Griffin, total standouts in their roles. And, of course, be sure to send two high fives in the direction of Taylor Carrasco and Rodrigo Almarales who are dressed as though they were pulled from a party at Marie Antoinette’s house. These two are a deadly combo; not only can they dance, but they can act as well. Carrasco and Almarales know how to embody a character to a Daniel Day Lewis degree. When they’re on stage, they never disappoint.
And overall, this program does not disappoint. Catch Cincinnati Ballet in Director’s Choice: Musical Masters, accompanied by a live orchestra led by maestro Carmen DeLeon, March 15-18 at the Aronoff Center for the Arts.