Sacramento Ballet

February 7, 2008

The Sacramento Ballet

Sacramento Community Center Theater, Sacramento, CA

February 7–10, 2008

Reviewed by Rita Felciano                            

In the first program of the new year, artistic director Ron Cunningham balanced the fleet buoyancy of Balanchine’s Donizetti Variations with the turbulence of his own A Streetcar Named Desire and then rounded his choices off with last year’s popular hit, Trey McIntyre’s Wild Sweet Love (right). It’s the kind of planning with which Cunningham, now in his 20th season, has built a solid, versatile repertoire whose dancers thrive on constantly changing gears.

       Donizetti Variations is a lovely, light-hearted divertissement whose sparkling footwork demands speed and the most delicate of touches, the hints of humor included. Live music would have given these dancers the kind of flexible tempi that would have made a good performance even better. Still, coached by John Clifford, Sacramento’s dancers brought an almost Bournonvillian charm to their quickly shifting port de bras and the challenges of feathery beats. John Speed Orr, a stocky dancer but with fine lines and good elevation, elegantly partnered a pert Amanda Peet.

       Over the years Cunningham has proved himself apt at extracting the essence from literary masterpieces—Shakespeare’s most prominently—for narrative ballets that stand on their own feet. One of them, the stark A Streetcar Named Desire (1999) is not for the faint-hearted. (The piece was announced as for “mature audiences.”) Cunningham fashioned a gripping dance drama of anguished lifts and torrential descents that offered a no-holds barred look at physical and emotional violence. Some of it recalled early Pina Bausch. His ability to create minor characters with a few deft strokes—a tremblingly submissive Stella (Annali Rose Lulebas), a gallant but fickle Mitchell (Michael Vester)—imbued Streetcar with uncommon depth. But ultimately the ballet was carried by the excellent performances of Kirsten Bloom, whose large-scaled Blanche invested extensions and torsions with febrile anxiety, and Jack Hansen’s Stanley—raw, brutal, and helpless in his rage.

       Trey McIntyre’s closer illuminated a more benign though no more attainable picture of love. Ilana Goldman, an austere Death in Streetcar, returned as a woman searching for romance in Wild Sweet Love—named after a line in Roberta Flack’s “Making Love.” That track and a number of others, from Mendelssohn to Lou Reed gave McIntyre the framework for an athletically charged but nicely nuanced suite of entertaining and inventive peeks at the mating game. The dancers adored it, so did the audience.

(Photo by Keith Sutter, Courtesy Sacramento Ballet)