by John Stoehr
The Charleston Ballet Theatre gave the second installment of its 20th anniversary celebration this weekend with an ode to choreographer George Balanchine. CBT is the only company in South Carolina with the rights (give by the foundation named in his honor) to perform the great Russian expat. Nick Smith, who usually covers film, theater, or visual arts, did some pinch-hitting for us and sent this review. —J.S.
Charleston Ballet Theatre’s marking its 20th anniversary with several blasts from the past, including Rite of Spring and Philip Glass’ Poetry with a Splash of Blood. The mother of all greatest hits was performed last weekend — a two previously produced pieces and an S.C. premiere of work by George Balanchine, using no-frills costumes and a stripped down set, priming the focus firmly on the dancing.
What’s so special about Balanchine? He’s regarded as one of the 20th century’s greatest ballet choreographers. He’s lauded in the same breath as Stravinsky and Picasso. Although he died 25 years ago, the George Balanchine Trust is very picky about who performs his works. In this state, CBT is the sole dance company awarded the performance rights and they did justice to his energetic numbers on Feb. 16 and 17.
Balanchine’s perfect for ballet lovers with ADD. There’s always something unexpected happening on stage, with multiple dancers forming shapes and patterns that create memorable images and moods. Best of Balanchine had no stories to tell per se, but explored plenty of themes from biggies like love and death to subtler ones such as amity and joie de vivre.
The show opened with “Serenade,” utilizing 24 dancers to make swirling frost-blue configurations. Basic movements at the outset contrasted with the fluid dancing of the company’s ballet mistress Jessica Roan, but it was Nicole Harden who really stood out with her lively, likeable performance.
Since this is Charleston Ballet Theatre, there’s an attention to stage presence in all the company’s work. Spontaneity is a hallmark of the theater — the best performers make it seem as if their characters are acting on instinct. Only Roy Men Wei Gan seemed to be anticipating a few of his moves; the rest of the dancers looked elemental, gliding across the stage as if the floor was moving and they were floating suspended about it. Ruth Hutson’s lighting (working from original lighting by Ronald Bates) helped build this illusion, bouncing delicate light off the stage to reflect the performers’ feet.
The Tchaikovsky-backed “Serenade” was followed by “Rubies,” with the dancers in sparkling red costumes, their collars like shiny necklances. Set to Igor Stravinski’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, the “Rubies” segment was the wildest of the bunch. Loose moves represented Balanchine at his most playful — Jennifer Balcerzak Muller and Trey Mauldwin cavorted round the stage in a celebration of the limber antics of gangly youth.
Gershwin’s music added accessibility to “Who Cares?” featuring Roan and Melody Staples with a more assured appearance from Wei Gan, forming a genial part of the ensemble. It was a treat to see “Who Cares?” again after its SC premiere last year, and it was a fitting way to mark CBT’s Big 20. We hope to see more of Balanchine’s best from them soon. —Nick Smith