Ballet Ensemble subtly, beautifully takes audience from classical to modern styles

In the United States, ballet companies typically spend December performing “The Nutcracker,” a story of a little girl’s dream of a toy soldier coming to life. The U’s Department of Ballet will be doing something a little different. Ballet Ensemble is performing a different sort of dream — that of a depressed, opium-smoking lover in “La Bayadère.”
“La Bayadère” is a four-act ballet by famed choreographer Marius Petipa to music by Ludwig Minkus. The story, like many ballets, tells of two lovers — Solor and Gamzatti — and how they are separated by tragedy. The tableaux from Ballet Ensemble’s performance is found in Act Three of the ballet, after Gamzatti has died. Solor, in an opium-induced haze, dreams of the Kingdom of Shades, where he and his beloved get to dance together one last time.
The opening number of the scene features the corps de ballet entering by way of a ramp at the back of the stage. Combined with the fog covering the stage, the ramp makes the dancers appear to float as they progress down its slanted surface in a series of arabesques. The corps’ white fluffy tutus and dangling filmy sleeves add to this image of floating grace.
The choreography in “La Bayadère” includes intricate footwork and some beautiful work by the corps. However, the leads performing Solor and Gamzatti and the trio of dancers known as the Shades have choreography that involves more of the turns and leaps that make for exhilarating watching for ballet audiences.
The two leads perform both together and apart, and at one point, they perform with a long length of filmy fabric. This pas de deux creates some gorgeous visuals for the audience as the cloth hangs in the air, connecting the two.
Before the excerpt from “La Bayadère,” Ballet Ensemble presents two other works of choreography, one by a professor in the U’s Department of Modern Dance, Eric Handman, and one by Jennifer Weber, a professor in the ballet department.
Handman’s piece features choreography in the style of modern dance. The dancers wear socks instead of dance shoes, which allows them to slide across the stage. With a bare stage and almost jarring music, the piece is a dramatic one. The dancers stretch and slide and reach and roll across the stage. The only colors on the stage come from lights at the back which shine first blue and then red — the dancers wear grey and black to match the floor and curtains of the stage. This approach furthers the drama of the piece.
Despite the modern flavor of Handsman’s choreography, the ballet technique of the dancers shines through in their pointed toes, classic lines and graceful arms. The combination creates an exciting and dynamic performance.
The dancers in Weber’s piece wear traditional pointe shoes, but their movements are more contemporary than the classical “La Bayadère.” Beyond the choreography, which centers on a pinwheel formation that moves and changes throughout the duration, the lighting in Weber’s piece is absolutely phenomenal. From the opening spotlights gleaming through a fog filled stage to the slow fade-out at the end, the lights enhance and enrich the dancers’ movements.
While it may not be the land of sweets, snow and dancing mice found in “The Nutcracker,” Ballet Ensemble’s show is something you won’t want to miss this holiday season. Shows are Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Marriott Center for Dance. Tickets are free with a UCard.
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