Amanda Farris and Christian Squires in Robert Dekkers' See Saw.  Photo © Bilha Sperling

Amanda Farris and Christian Squires in Robert Dekkers’ See Saw.
Photo © Bilha Sperling

Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, CA; March 26, 2015

Bryn E Namavari

It was quite an evening. Taking the stage to introduce proceedings, Karen Porter Lapointe, and artistic director and co-founder Lauren Jonas were presented with a letter and certificate of recognition from Assembly Woman Susan Bonilla and a 21st birthday champagne toast from Walnut Creek’s Cindy Silva.

In typical form, the anniversary night incorporated two multi-media presentations. Opening the evening, an emotional slideshow featured Diablo’s work with youth through their PEEK program accompanied by the Las Juntas Elementary Honor Choir singing Teresa Jenning’s “Do Unto Others.” Later in the show, the audience was treated to a short film that highlighted the talents of the troupe through stunning slow-motion that brought an elevated appreciation for the dancers’ athleticism and grace.

Filling out the program were performances of the pas de deux from Balanchine’s well known masterpiece, Apollo; Val Caniparoli’s dramatic Hamlet and Ophelia; See Saw, a witty work by Resident Choreographer and dancer Robert Dekkers, set to a live performance of Mendelssohn’s piano trio in D Minor; Incitations, a tango tribute by alumni choreographer and dancer Kelly Teo; and the reprise of Resistance by dancer David Fonnegra, set to Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words, also performed live.

Diablo’s homage to the “great master of dance,” Balanchine’s Apollo showcases the strength of this small troupe. The very embodiment of the Greek ideal of the kouros, Christian Squires’ (a late replacement for the injured Dekkers) platinum hair and youthful looks are the epitome of the classic Apollo. Balanchine’s choreography superbly manifests the idealist vision and Squires fits the bill. The pas des deux is certainly the highlight of Balanchine’s piece culminating in Apollo kneeling to lift his muse (Sandrine Cassini) on to his back and shoulders like Atlas holding up the world.

The 1928 ballet clearly addresses classical antiquity as its subject, but its plot and many of its movements are more contemporary – a reinterpretation of tradition. Balanchine’s Apollo is about exploration, learning, and growth. It is the perfect expression of Diablo’s mission and values.

Originally choreographed in 1985 for Joanna Berman at the San Francisco Ballet, Caniparoli’s Hamlet and Ophelia is widely known for launching Berman’s career. It is more than fitting that she staged the performance for a celebration like Diablo’s 21st. Her thrilling involvement along with the three Diablo member and alumni pieces are testament to the company’s dedication to fostering talent and new, innovative dance – a theme that was accentuated throughout the evening.

The well-executed performance by Amanda Farris and Squires of Caniparoli’s illustration of Ophilia’s death is poetic and fittingly tragic. The audience is left with a final image that is both beautiful and emotional as Hamlet’s dramatic cloak transforms into the river in which she drowns herself.

Fonnegra choreographed and performed Resistance with Tetyana Martyanova, the staging quite elegant: their costumes black, on a black stage with the lacquered piano off to the side. A live trio of musicians also accompanied Dekkers’ See Saw. Diablo’s frequent use of live accompaniment and multi-media is a great asset to the company’s performances. The musicians and their instruments become like a set, a wholly different relationship to the performance than an orchestra in a pit. There is an acuteness brought to the pieces that makes the audience hear the music and even see the movement in a different way.

The third Diablo original piece, Incitations by Teo, was one of the highlights of the evening. An homage to tango and set to an Astor Piazzolla nuevo tango piece, the three-movement work had the four dancers in fiery red and black costumes. The second movement accompanied only by rhythmic clapping, began a bit like a burlesque performance, but proved far more sensitively considered by Teo. Martyanova and Rosselyn Ramirez’s dance mimed the costumes traditionally worn for tango and the audience was left with their ethereal impression through the choreography rather than the dancers actually wearing the swirling skirts.

Diablo’s company certainly hasn’t been around for twenty-one years by mere happenstance. The evening was yet another example the community’s support of its efforts. It is only appropriate then to raise a glass and say, “Cheers!”, “Chin, Chin!”, and “Salude!” to Diablo Ballet and to hope for more of the same in the future.