Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley
Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley grapples with Beethoven in Celebrations and Ode.
Photo by Robert C. Ragsdale
Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
San Jose, California
April 30, 2001
Reviewed by Rita Felciano
The jury on whether Beethoven can be choreographed is still out. Isadora Duncan and Leonide Massine, apparently, weren’t too successful at it. But Mark Morris and, most recently, Helgi Tomasson have created fine works to Beethoven. Maybe wisely, they stayed away from the symphonies. Dennis Nahat, some twenty years ago, used Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, described by Wagner as the apotheosis of dance, for his Celebrations; four years later he tackled the Ninth for his Ode. If one had to decide their suitability for dance on the basis of the recent West Coast premiere of these two works as a combined piece, one would have to say “maybe” for the first, “no way” for the second part.
Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley is very much building its identity. A third of its members joined either last or this year, some of them barely beyond the apprentice stage. The fact that the company danced as competently and with such verve as it did is a credit to the survival of a core of, at times, exciting professionals. To see someone like Kevin Belanger, a new dancer, more than hold his own against the company’s much more experienced men was most encouraging.
is buoyed by a joyful exuberance, elegantly restrained by Nahat’s easy use of the classical vocabulary. Airborne women float over the men with rounded ports de bras that caress the air like spring breezes. The piece’s irresistible triple meters inspire constant motion; couples shape into circles, groups divide into men and women only to reform into a tutti. Nahat acknowledges the churning score, though he doesn’t come close to realizing its trajectories. Alighting on the music as he saw fit, he picked up on recurring themes and changing moods, acknowledging shifting orchestral relationships, but he stayed very much on the surface. He appropriately uses the extensive introduction like an overture?the curtain doesn’t open until the exposition; in “Commemorative Ritual,” Sean Kelly partners three very different women in response to the allegretto’s theme and variations?stately Joanne Jaglowski, an elfin Emi Hariyama, and a pert DeAnn Petruschke. Loveliest of all was Nahat’s nod to the presto’s (“Sudden Laughter”) antecedent in the minuet with its stately promenades, bows, and curtsys for the lead couple, Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriguez.
may be problematic, but on its own terms it makes sense. Ode doesn’t. Here the monumentality of the music’s “universal drama” defeated the choreography. Stage fog and moody lighting can’t make up for thin invention and lack of structural rigor. The adagio’s (“Remembrances”) sculptural posed endings looked contrived, undercutting the preceding duets, one of which, for Gabay and Rodriguez, soared with impressive urgency and passion. The choreography for the last movement opened with a nod to The Magic Flute‘s Temple of Isis procession and ended like a gymnastics competition. Overtaxed soloist Stephane Dalle looked as if he wanted to sweep everything away. Beethoven didn’t help. That last choral movement approached bathos. San Jose State’s University Chorale made it worse. Ensconced by set designer David Guthrie as putti in floating clouds, they often sang flat, and the badly amplified soloists sounded as if they were kept in a cave. One had to pity conductor Dwight Oltman, who did an otherwise creditable job for Ludwig Van.