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San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
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Ballet San Jose Masterpieces: "Theme and Variations," "Fancy Free," "In the Upper Room"

by Joanna G. Harris
February 20, 2015
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
255 S Almaden Blvd.
San Jose, CA 95113
(408) 295-9600
Joanna G. Harris
Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
Ballet San Jose tackled an amazing cross-section of masterpieces in its selection for the February season. The three works represent a journey from mid-twentieth century ballet (with its earlier classical roots) through end of the century 'post-modern' number. The company danced them all very well, considering the range of style demanded.

Balanchine's "Theme and Variations" (1947) is danced to Tchaikovsky's "Suite No. 3 for Orchestra in G major (final movement). Although the music was recorded, (oh for the joy of live music!) the dancers' timing transcended the sound. Junna Ige and Maykel Solas, ballerina and cavalier, were the leads as 'pas de deux'. Ige has excellent foot work and placement. He was challenged by some of his opening variations but recovered strongly in later sections.

The corps de ballet, costumed by David Guthrie in red and black, vividly amplified and extended the twelve variations. Tchaikovsky's stirring polonaise brought the vibrant piece to a close with all twenty-four dancers circling the stage.

Robbins "Fancy Free"(1944) provided an enormous contrast. If you check out Broadway today, you can see Robbins' extension of "Fancy Free" in the musical "On the Town." "Fancy Free's" narrative involves three sailors on shore leave, who encounter two girls, boast their prowess by means of solos danced in a bar, lose the girls and carry on. Danced to the original score Leonard Bernstein wrote for the work, Rudy Candia, Walter Garcia and Joshua Seibel each achieved good characterization through the clever variation Robbins provides. (These are a gallop, a waltz and a danzon.) One sailor is a gymnast; one is sweet and languid, the third is a show-off. Grace-Ann Powers, Ommi Pipit- Suksun and Emma Franchis provided the girl power. James Kopeck patiently waited bar.

The finale piece was Twyla Tharp's "In the Upper Room" (1986) to Philip Glass' music of the same name. It is a crowd pleasing number demonstrating Tharp's delight in the repetition that Glass' score amply supplies. Through the upstage curtains and the on-stage smoke, two women dancers (characterized as "Chinese temple guard dogs") start the action with the swinging, kicking and stretching moves that so characterizes Tharp's work. As the work goes on (and on), the costumes of black and grey stripes are stripped down revealing various tops, waist-bands and even socks of brilliant red.

Most of the dancers wear running shoes in contrast to four women on point, wearing red shoes and socks and called the "bomb-squad." The dancers enter and exit accelerating the pace with movement that is "fierce, driving and relentless." Lahna Vanderbush, Sarah Stein, Kenndall Teague, James Kopeck and Joshua Seibel and Maykel Solas deserve particular note, but the whole company performed superbly.

High praise is due the dancers who are to be congratulated for stamina and enthusiasm. But to this reviewer, the work, hypnotic and sometime surprising as it may be, grows repetitious, visually assaulting and 'over-the top.' It is Tharp's foray into combining 'ordinary movement (running, walking, swinging) with extended leaps, jumps and gymnastic lifts and falls. Some of us got tired.

A standing ovation was required and achieved. Congratulations to José Manuel Carreño, Artistic Director for the fine work of Ballet San Jose.
Ballet San Jose in Twyla Tharp's 'In the Upper Room.'

Ballet San Jose in Twyla Tharp's "In the Upper Room."

Photo © & courtesy of Alejandro Gomez

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