Monday, February 11, 2013


Artistic director Robert Mills and ballet master Jacob Sparso before the performance.
Photo by Nancy Condit

By Nancy Condit

Oklahoma City Ballet's Paris Rouge concert of three ballets was a varied, strong presentation Saturday night, February 9, at the Civic Center. They danced an older ballet, Bournonville's l842 "Napoli Divertissements," then what artistic director Robert Mills referred to as the "palette cleanser" contemporary work "Pushing Pennies," and an end of the 19th century ballet "Gaite Parisienne."

The "Napoli Divertissements" dances are all that remain of the ballet "Napoli" that Danish dancer and choreographer August Bournonville choreographed in l842. Ballet master Jacob Sparso, who received training at the Royal Danish Ballet from ten until his graduation, when he danced one of the leads, staged the dances. Bournonville used a lot of technique from the waist down, with rapid foot steps and bouncing leaps -- not involving the arms, which was difficult for some of the dancers, who were used to the Marius Petipas style of grand leaps and lifts. In the pre-program talk Sparso said that dancers were not allowed leeway in changing steps. "That is like putting touches on the Mona Lisa. Some of the dancers try, but that's what I'm here for. 'No, no, no, you can't do that,'" he said with a smile after the talk. Sparso grew up seeing this work time after time, as well as performing it. Sparso also set the dances on the Royal Ballet of Flanders in Belgium.

The light, quick steps were lovely and technically demanding in the lovely festival dances that ended the happy resolution of the ballet, placed in sunny Italy. Ellany Abbott was particularly notable as she stood still repeatedly on one pointe, with the other leg tucked under her waltz length tutu, or occasionally extended. Tremendous. The group of 16 dancers danced together best in the "Tarantella."

The women have always been strong in the company, but, as noted at the beginning of the season, the men, with three new members, are much improved in their leaps.

"Pushing Pennies," choreographed by Mills, remains an exciting contemporary ballet danced the way you would dance if you could to Philip Glass' "Violin Concerto #2" and "Mishima" from his "String Quartet." The contemporary ballet, performed on pointe, is an "experiment in controlled randomness with the dancers' entrances, exits and where they dance on stage...(which) were manipulated depended on where the number they drew told them to go" [program notes].

Miki Kawamura's and Yui Sato's fluid isolations in the first and second solos were lovely. In their duet, Stephanie Foraker Pitts and Josh Crespo struggled and then came together, with the copper costumes, especially the flat tutu worn by Pitts, contributing to the dance.

The piece was marked by strong musicality throughout, with the final section filled with about 15 dancers fluidly crossing the stage, building different heights as solos, couples, and, finally, a multiple of five dancers. However, the stage was too dark for the dancers to be seen clearly.

The terrific copper colored leotards, with flat tutus on the women, were designed by Mills and Michael Jones.

"Paris Rouge," choreographed and directed by Mills, with selections of music from Jacques Offenbach"s "Gaite Parisienne" and "Orpheus in the Underworld,," was a boisterous, enthusiastic, touching and well danced portrayal of an evening of 1900 nightlife at "the" Paris cabaret. "Paris Rouge" is full of color, amour, and people out on the town.  "There are definite references to Massine's choreography in my version but, for the most part it is very different. I think the most similarity would be in the can can, since it is a style of dance that was actually invented in Parisianne nightclubs during that era. You can't alter the can can!" Mills replied from his iPhone to my question about the reminiscence to Masine's "Gaite Parisenne," choreographed in 1938 to Offenbach's mid 19th century composition.

Of particular note were Ezlimar Dortolina as Louise, the star with the beautiful legs, on Saturday night,
Tye Love as the nerdy, just off the boat Peruvian, who jumped and moved his legs from side to side in his excitement throughout the piece, Miki Kawamura as an heiress in a dignified classic solo while wearing an enormous period hat, and Callye McCollum as the aspiring performer on Saturday -- she's a Can can Girl on Sunday, Yui Sato, who was particularly impressive as the dancing master of the Can can girls, as he performed his solo and supported the leaps and handstands with splits of each of his dancers, and threw in a forward handstand somersault, and the Can can girls with the handling of their skirts in traditional leg lifts and showing off frilly underthings.

"Swan Lake," with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, is the final performance of the season at 8 p.m. April 19th and 20th, and at 2 p.m. on April 21st at the Civic Center Music Hall. Guest artists from the Houston Ballet Nao Kusuzaki and Christopher Coomer will perform on the 20th and 21st.

The annual fund raising Black & White Ball Gala will take place March 30th at 6 p.m. in the Devon Tower Rotunda with an auction, dinner and dancing. There will be special performances by the OKC Ballet, and live music by Squadlive.  Individual tickets are $250, or $2,250 for a table of ten. Call Leslie Thomas at 843.9898 for more information.

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