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Letter from New York, 4-5: Young troupers
Corella's new venture; Skybetter's control

Angel Corella and Carmen Corella of the Corella Ballet Castilla y Leon. John Anderson photo courtesy Corella Ballet.

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2010 Gus Solomons jr

NEW YORK -- The young dancers looked nervously excited but confident for the March 17 opening of the New York debut season of Corella Ballet Castilla y Leon at City Center. The performance delivered thrills and a few chills in a thoughtfully designed program that showed choreographic range and promising dancing. A more modest venue might have been more appropriate for the debut of such a young classical company. But in the putative center of the dance world, other than the Joyce, theaters with big stages and medium small capacities don't exist, alas.

Angel Corella created "String Sextet" as his first ballet for his new company; the ballet premiered in 2009 in Barcelona. Set to Tchaikovsky's string sextet "Souvenir of Florence" Op. 70, the piece in four movements aspires to capture moods of 19th century Florence -- its lively verve in the first movement, serenity in the second, explosive energy and cheerfulness in the third, and splendor in the fourth.

Corella's movement choices are an assortment of his favorite things to do -- leaps and spins -- and classical tropes that he attempts to give his own flair to. No costume or lighting credits are listed for the golden glow that bathes the six men of the corps in cream-colored tights and jerkins, standing in a line, downstage to up, awaiting the entrance of their tutued partners, who enter singly from opposite sides to be lofted by their waiting beaus. The couples spread into a chevron to set up the entrance of the first of two featured couples.

Kazuko Omori, a tiny ballerina with a huge grin and five-past-six o'clock extensions, erupted with an excitement that all but overwhelmed her earnest, attentive partner Yevgen Uzlenkov. Yerlan Andagulov glided his fair-haired partner Ashley Ellis across the floor in sliding lifts and managed to keep her upright through a couple of off- kilter promenades.

The second movement was a lyrical pas de deux, danced by Maria Jose Sales and Sergey D'yachkov. A couple of bobbled lifts on opening night lent it a tension that the somewhat generic steps lacked. In the third, Joseph Gatti's spectacular jumps and turns deserved the thunderous applause they received. Like his virtuosic director, Corella, Gatti turns to the left; his sextuple turns ended in full-stop balances, and his expansive jeté turns and daring complex jumps devoured space.

In "Walpurgisnacht" -- a four decades old diversion, set to ballet music from Gounod's "Faust" -- a nymph (Omori) ping-ponged between two bacchanalian satyrs, one noble (Gatti) and one impish (Kirill Radev) in a string of big lifts; then three virtuosic solo variations revved us up before a final return to the opening passage. Leonid Lavrovsky's choreography, towing the line of Soviet-era force optimism, aspired no higher than showing off the dancers' technical skills.

The Corella Ballet Castilla y Leon's Adiarys Almeida & Herman Cornejo in Vladimir Vasiliov and Natalia Kasatkina's "Sunny Duet." Rosalie O'Connor photo courtesy Corella Ballet.

Another relic from the period, "Sunny Duet," choreographed in 1973 by Vladimir Vasiliov and Natalia Kasatkina is a quaint artifact that scarcely deserved the estimable talents of Corella company principals Herman Cornejo and Adiarys Almeida, who danced it respectfully, but not without wit. A low-fi archival recording of Amo Babajanyan's commissioned music for the dance accompanied the duet, since the score has been lost. In a subsequent performance, the pair replaced the quaint duet with the fiery Black Swan pas de deux, which matched their prowess.

Maria Pages created "Solea" especially for Corella and his sister Carmen to a duet for voice and guitar, composed and recorded specially by Ruben Lebaniegos. Pages has translated traditional flamenco movements into ballet terms. Instead of the flashy, lightning-fast flamenco footwork, Ms. Corella does hopping toe work, and Mr. Corella does a blizzard of intricate turning leaps on the diagonal. Sibling rapport infuses this slight work with great charm.

The closing ballet was the U.S. premiere of "DGV: Danse a Grande Vitesse" by Corella's friend Christopher Wheeldon. Michael Nyman's epic "MGV: Musique a Grande Vitesse" propels the five-part piece with its lush orchestration and pulsing rhythms. Short, fitted jackets -- gray on the corps, muted colors on the principals -- and a series of mesh panels, bent into large curves, a kind of metallic "hedge" by designer Jean-Marc Puissant created a futuristic locale. Lighting by Jennifer Tipton included subtly shifting hues and a cyclorama that moved up and down slowly, as if marking the times of day.

Wheeldon's forté is the pas de deux, and here there were five, around which the constantly shifting corps weaved. Dancers slithered through the narrow gaps between the mesh panels to enter and exit. There was always activity moving across the stage behind the panels that often spilled into the main space, mirroring and contrasting the primary couples. Although the ballet is abstract, its visual theatricality and the ingenuity of its movement and construction held our attention hostage throughout.

In control: Skybetter and Associates

In his evening at Joyce SoHo (March 25-27), Sydney Skybetter and a cast of alumni from the New York University/Tisch School of the Arts showed five of his dances, including the New York premiere of a dance commissioned by Zenon Dance Company in Minneapolis, in a concise hour-long concert. (Full disclosure: Skybetter and his cast were all students of mine at NYU/Tisch.)

Skybetter's work is structured with classic formality, mostly to classical music, which gives his smartly designed movement a reserve that is at once reassuring and frustrating. While the dances are beautifully crafted with recurring motifs and lucid development of movement, they sometimes seem like intellectual theses on emotions, rather than fully felt, physical evocations of them.

For example, excerpts from "The Personal" comprise three solos, set to German lieder by Schumann and Schubert and sprinkled like palate cleansers between longer dances. Each solo remains fixed in space in a pool of light. Dressed only in black trousers (bras for the women), sure-footed and dynamically focused Kristen Arnold, Skybetter, and Bergen Wheeler enwrap their undulating torsos with their arms, swivel fluidly and crouch deeply into their legs. Each solo iterates a feeling state but doesn't evolve emotionally.

On the other hand, "Cold House You Kept" effectively exploits the tension of Henryk Gorecki's rhythmically strident String Quartet No. 2 Op. 64 in an essay for a close-knit clan of four women and three men, whose obvious familiarity gives them license to treat each other harshly.  Singly, they abandon the turmoil, leaving Wheeler onstage alone.

The Scherzo movement of Shostakovich's Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57 - 3 animates Arnold, Jennifer Jones, Elliott Reiland, and Gary Schaufeld in the premiere, "Fugue State." Canonic formality of structure organizes rambunctious motion -- swan dives into pitched arabesques and brisk attitude turns -- leading to a sudden group collision that excitingly ends the dance in a gasp.

"The Laws of Falling Bodies," set to moody, dissonant instrumental pieces by Jonny Greenwood, is sufficient in length to avoid the steady-state nature of Skybetter's shorter dances. In four sections, the dance explores persistently the theme of its title with numerous variations on collapsing. Kate Ashton's atmospheric lighting shifts from back-lighted mystery to overcast daylight, on seven dancers -- including not yet mentioned Cat DeAngelis and Dana Thomas -- dressed in austere white and grey casual clothing. In intricate configurations, everybody continually yields to gravity, alone or assisted by up to three others, winding up either on the ground or lifted aloft.

He calls his troupe Skybetter and Associates -- an egalitarian name that acknowledges collaboration. Terrific dancing and skillful choreography strive to surmount the unrelenting austerity of Candida K. Nichols's monochromatic costumes. Given his already firm command of the mechanics of dance making, one hopes young Skybetter will lighten up, loosen his stringent choreographic control, and get acquainted with the more kinetically spontaneous -- and more colorful -- side of his singular dance vision.

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