Saturday, June 19, 2010

Dance review: FCBT's 'Dream' a nice climax to sharp, entertaining show

Rogelio Corrales and Lily Ojea in‭ ‬A Midsummer Night‭’‬s Dream,
‭ ‬at Florida Classical Ballet Theatre.‭
(‬Photo by Janine Harris‭)

By Greg Stepanich

Over the years I‭’‬ve seen a number of ballet companies that feature a large contingent of children,‭ ‬and usually that means there‭’‬s a good deal of wiggle room for the kids in the presentation,‭ ‬which allows things to be not-so-precise but irresistibly‭ ‬crowd-pleasing.

But Colleen Smith‭’‬s company,‭ ‬the Florida Classical Ballet Theatre,‭ ‬doesn‭’‬t do things that way.‭ ‬In a Wednesday afternoon performance at the Eissey Campus Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens,‭ ‬the troupe‭ ‬– including all its younger‭ ‬and older‭ ‬members‭ ‬– demonstrated a thorough,‭ ‬deep discipline that let viewers take in the‭ ‬broader‭ ‬visual aspects of its work:‭ ‬precisely designed,‭ ‬colorful costumes,‭ ‬plenty of movement without mania,‭ ‬and smart bits of stage business with simple props such as old-fashioned beach parasols.

The FCBT also showed that it‭’‬s possible to create a thoroughly entertaining afternoon of traditional dance with relatively modest means if your dancers are talented enough and your choreographic planning is carefully thought out.‭ ‬Which they are,‭ ‬and which it was.

The major work on the program was‭ ‬A Midsummer Night‭’‬s Dream,‭ ‬which Smith patterned after Sir Frederick Ashton‭’‬s‭ ‬The Dream,‭ ‬but the afternoon opened with two original ballets,‭ ‬the first of which was‭ ‬From Head to Toe,‭ ‬a six-person interpretation of Eric Carle‭’‬s‭ ‬1997‭ ‬book‭ ‬by that name‭ ‬for toddlers.‭ ‬Set to three movements from Shostakovich‭’‬s‭ ‬Jazz Suite No.‭ ‬2,‭ ‬Smith‭’‬s ballet played two principals‭ ‬– Lily Ojea and Marshall Levin‭ ‬– against four supporting women,‭ ‬all of the dancers dressed in late‭ ‬19th-century on-the-town style.

Carle‭’‬s book is about motion,‭ ‬and getting its readers to imitate the actions of the animals within,‭ ‬such as a gorilla thumping its chest.‭ ‬Smith translated the actions in the book into the ballet,‭ ‬but it wasn‭’‬t noticeable in a didactic way:‭ ‬at one point,‭ ‬the four women did a kind of shoulder and body shimmy,‭ ‬and at the end,‭ ‬they lay down on the floor and wiggled their feet,‭ ‬as Carle calls for in his final pages.‭ ‬But it was the total effect of this‭ ‬slight but well-crafted piece of dance‭ ‬that was most memorable,‭ ‬with its green-and-pink color scheme,‭ ‬its carefully calibrated movements,‭ ‬and its sense of smart fun.‭

The second original ballet,‭ ‬Tidbits and Doodles,‭ ‬is unfortunately named for such an expertly designed piece,‭ ‬one‭ ‬that could profitably be exported to other youthful classical companies‭ (‬maybe it needs a punny name,‭ ‬something‭ ‬like‭ ‬Taking It Littorally‭)‬.‭ ‬It‭’‬s a‭ ‬1920s-era beach scenario choreographed by Smith and the dancers to ballet sketches by Mozart‭ (‬K.‭ ‬299c‭)‬,‭ ‬and it was nothing short of delightful.‭ ‬Three tiers of dancers in different age groups from teens down to elementary school moved in and out like‭ ‬cheerful platoons,‭ ‬with the older girls making good use of white parasols,‭ ‬opening and shutting them quickly at one point as they exited the stage.

There were all the clichés of the boardwalk of a distant day,‭ ‬such as striped cabanas,‭ ‬bodybuilders‭ (‬a funny Eric Emerson‭)‬,‭ ‬multiple beachballs,‭ ‬and‭ ‬seaside‭ ‬hucksters,‭ ‬such as in‭ ‬the main event of the dance,‭ ‬which had to do with a showman‭ (‬Levin‭) ‬offering‭ ‬$1‭ ‬views‭ ‬of a live mermaid‭ (‬Ojea‭)‬,‭ ‬to the gullible astonishment of the crowd.‭ ‬Like‭ ‬From Head to Toe,‭ ‬this ballet also had lots of fourth-wall shattering as dancers routinely engaged the audience with direct looks,‭ ‬especially here,‭ ‬when the whole company offered a collective mouths-agape as they discovered that the mermaid and her handler had slithered away.

And as in the first ballet,‭ ‬Tidbits featured a constant variety of dance steps as groups of performers moved in and out of the scene‭; ‬you noticed the‭ ‬pliés and‭ ‬en pointes,‭ ‬but they came‭ ‬across as natural,‭ ‬not fussy,‭ ‬and in the service of a general style of movement across the stage that was busy without being hyperkinetic or aggressive.‭ ‬It all flowed like the water near the imaginary shore,‭ ‬testament to how the formal language of ballet‭ ‬can bring a sense of grace and control to what in several cases here had to be ideas generated by youthful dancers who didn‭’‬t want to stand still.

After intermission came‭ ‬A‭ ‬Midsummer Night‭’‬s Dream,‭ ‬which like Ashton‭’‬s version focused on the forest magic of‭ ‬Shakespeare‭’‬s play.‭ ‬Ensemble work here from fairies to rustics was uniformly good,‭ ‬and there was fine dancing from the lovers‭’‬ couples‭ ‬– Jared Jacoby and Jessica Haley as Lysander and Hermia,‭ ‬Ben Slayen and Cassie Robinson as Demetrius and Helena‭ ‬– and from Levin as Bottom,‭ ‬who offered charming business while wearing his donkey head,‭ ‬scratching his back on a tree and munching food from an outstretched hand.‭

Katherine Davis made an excellent Puck,‭ ‬nimble and light-footed as she could be,‭ ‬perfectly underlining the quicksilver nature of this character with athletic but delicate steps.‭ ‬Rogelio Corrales made a strong Oberon,‭ ‬and Ojea a splendid Titania,‭ ‬especially in the climactic‭ ‬pas de deux to the celebrated‭ ‬Nocturne‭ ‬from Mendelssohn‭’‬s popular score.‭ ‬Ojea ended the duet with three perfect,‭ ‬elegant splits,‭ ‬a coda of sheer loveliness to the one major moment of old-fashioned‭ ‬balletic high style‭ ‬on‭ ‬the program.

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