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Intermezzo Dance Company Pleasing in Debut Performace

by Bonnie Rosenstock
October 19, 2013
92nd Street Y
1395 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10128
(212) 415-5552
It is rare that a ballet dancer at the top of his game decides to start his own ballet company. But that's exactly what American Ballet Theatre soloist Craig Salstein has done. In 2012, Salstein created Intermezzo Dance Company, which presented its debut performance season with two world premiere ballets at the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center, from October 18 to 20, 2013. And he doesn't even want to dance or choreograph.

"This isn't called 'Craig Salstein and Friends,' said the forthright Salstein, 30, in a pre-performance telephone interview. "I'd like to suppress an idea that one or two people carry an evening."

Salstein envisions Intermezzo as classical ballet's equivalent of the Mark Morris Dance Group. "We have to start handing out to the majority," he declared. "So many of the other dancers are as good as those in the front. That's what I am trying to invoke with the choreographers. 'Here are the dancers, use them.' Everyone should be dancing."

Salstein gathered together an ensemble of ten talented dancers (none of whom work for a dance company) and invited five established or rising choreographers to create one component of a program in celebration of the bicentennial of Giuseppe Verdi, one of his favorite composers. "Just like Stravinsky with Balanchine and Cage with Cunningham," said Salstein. "I associate my inspiration from opera, which is a big part of my life."

He continued, "The only way I want to add my two cents in is in the programming. My feelings for these ballets are very personal because I love Verdi's music. But that's it."

The virtuoso Wyrick Quartet (two violins, one viola, one cello), with music advisor Charles Barker, accompanied the performances.

The first offering, "Veils," adapted from "Un Ballo in Maschera" ("A Masked Ball"), an opera in three acts, was the least satisfying of the presentations. Choreographed by Raymond Lukens (former dancer, ballet master and current ABT faculty member), it distilled the opera's tale of betrayal and murder. I referred back to the opera to discern the relationships since there were no program notes. There seemed to be a married couple (Rina Barrantes and Carlos Lopez) and the husband's friend (Kurt Froman), who had a thing for the wife, or she for him, or both for each other. The other woman (Shoshana Rosenfield) was probably the fortune-teller. Fifteen-year-old wunderkind Aran Bell was alternately rebuffed by the two men and embraced for whatever reason. At first I thought he was the friend's jealous young lover, but according to the opera, he was a "page."

The stone-faced Rosenfield had a tour de force of turns, but they seemed out of context. Barrantes expressed conflicting emotions with her facial gestures, but the dance movements could have been more expressive of her angst. The three men proved their aerial deftness.

Next came "String Quartet in E Minor" with music of the same name by Verdi. The work in four movements is Verdi's only surviving chamber work, which he wrote in 1873 while waiting for his "Aida" soprano to recover so he could mount that work. It is a lovely, lyrical piece and perfect for pure dance.

Part I, "Allegro," choreographed by 34-year-old Marcelo Gomes (a principal with ABT) was a cheerful piece for six dancers. Bell was perfectly paired with the equally petite, blonde and lithe Nadezhda Vostrikov. The extremely tall Kaitlyn Gilliland and Steven Hanna made a compatible duo.

It was an interesting choice for Adam Hendrickson (retired soloist with NYCB after 14 years with the company) to choreograph Part III, "Prestissimo, as a duet for the leggy Gilliland and muscular Hanna, who gave it their all. But it still felt somewhat conventional.

My favorites were Part II, "Andantino," and Part IV, "Scherzo Fuga: Allegro assai mosso." The former featured five dancers, with the speedy Froman executing effortless catches and lifts. It was choreographed by veteran Lisa de Ribere, NYCB, retired ABT soloist, critically acclaimed choreographer, faculty member of School of American Ballet and répétiteur for The George Balanchine Trust.

"Scherzo," choreography by 31-year-old Royal Ballet-trained Gemma Bond (member of ABT's corps de ballet), was a lively finely tuned crowd-pleaser for the full company, with entrances and exits, different pairings and dynamic group movements, fun for dancers (a few even smiled) and audience alike.

Salstein admitted that it is very hard to rebel against something that has given him so much, which is the classical world and the repertoire. (He plans to continue dancing as a guest artist.) "But it's getting very clear to some that the repertoire doesn't necessarily match up with the generation of 2013," he said. "There's a lot of repeating and reviving in classical and neo-classical, amassing repertory and continuing that legacy. Our age group is not into upholding a legacy, but when we sign a contract we have to do those ballets. It isn't nourishing enough."

He continued, "As I do the tap solo in [Agnes de Mille's] 'Rodeo,' I will receive the accolades, but I can't help looking at my colleagues swaying from left to right in jeans and cowboy boots, girls in flat shoes. We are not getting taxed physically. I want to give people a fighting chance."

With Intermezzo, Salstein has accomplished just that.
Kaitlyn Gilliland and Rina Barrantes - STRING QUARTET IN E MINOR in ALLEGRO

Kaitlyn Gilliland and Rina Barrantes - STRING QUARTET IN E MINOR in ALLEGRO

Photo © & courtesy of Sarah Sterner

Kurt Froman and Carlos Lopez - VEILS

Kurt Froman and Carlos Lopez - VEILS

Photo © & courtesy of Sarah Sterner

Aran Bell and Kurt Froman - VEILS

Aran Bell and Kurt Froman - VEILS

Photo © & courtesy of Sarah Sterner

Craig Salstein, founder of Intermezzo. Photo by Acapella Pictures.

Craig Salstein, founder of Intermezzo. Photo by Acapella Pictures.

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