Diablo Ballet
Program: Love Stories

June 18 through 27, 2021
Streamed pre-recorded performances of Coppélia’s Wedding (excerpts from Coppélia), Carousel (A Waltz) pas de deux, Frugivory

Dean Speer

Confronted by the pandemic, Diablo Ballet, like so many arts organizations, had to shift its thinking and method of presenting what they do, thus turning to technology and social media platforms such as Zoom.

Diablo’s last foray of this season concluded with three works, beginning with the excerpted Act III from Coppélia, titled here, Coppélia’s Wedding, choreographed by Sean Kelly and lovingly and meticulously staged by DB’s Artistic Director, Lauren Jonas. This “Reader’s Digest Condensed” program featured the best and most memorable from this classic ballet — Dawn; Prayer; Ribbon Dance; Celebration; and the wedding pas de deux itself. The series of excerpts clearly signaled “ballet!” (tutus, crowns, and pointe shoes) to the audience, and showcased the entire company of 10 superb artists and trainees. Videoed in their home studio-cum-movie set, the dancers made good use of the limited space allotted to them, never seeming to be cramped or too crowded, and yet fully moving out with amplitude and verve.

Amanda Farris and Michael Wells
in an excerpt from Sean Kelly’s “Coppelia”
Photo by Rosselyn Ramirez

Dawn’s duet was with Amanda Farris and Raymond Tilton, and I enjoyed its sunny elegance and the choreographer’s nod to a few of the iconic poses that I traditionally associate with this ballet, although repackaged. Prayer, with Jackie McConnell, Danielle Troyano, Felipe Leon, and Michael Wells, was sweetly introspective and, dare I say, reverent. I liked how Kelly moved them about and interpolated movement and gestures that were appropriate, but not over the top.

The quintet Ribbon Dance, with Wells, Farris, Troyano, Olivia Cole, and Sophie Kim, was bright, lively and fun and in good contrast to Prayer. This was followed by McConnell and Leon in Celebration, which had some unusual poses (such as tendu a la seconde with their respective opposite legs and their arms overhead to each other, making a bridge shape). Very lively.

Kelly, while “doing his own thing” for the concluding Grand Pas de Deux (wedding), nevertheless again gives a nod or two to some of the poses and shapes that we expect to see in this lovely duet, such as grand rond en l’air from back to front (for the female, while being partnered with a “handshake” single-handed support/guide from the male) and then the behind the guy, upside-down “fish” pose that concludes the adagio section of the duet. Powell and Donghoon Lee are very strong technicians and well-matched, as they deployed superb phrasing and characterization throughout the pas.

The entire company then cavorted for a rousing Finale.

Jackie McConnell and Raymond Tilton
in Christopher Wheeldon’s “Carousel (A Dance)”
Photo by Rosselyn Ramirez

When I was singing regularly, one of my favorite pieces in my repertory was “If I Loved You” from the musical Carousel.  Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon encapsulated the emotional components of Carousel in his ballet Carousel (A Dance), which is highlighted by a duet to “If I Loved You.” The ballet was given its Diablo Ballet premiere early in March of this year, and here McConnell and Tilton were excellent in the excerpted duet, giving every gesture the care and nuance called for.

I first got to see Bruno Roque’s Frugivory at its premiere by Seattle Dance Project at the Vashon Center for the Arts, in Washington State, and it was neat being able to revisit it here. It’s a good showcase work for its three men — Leon, Lee and Wells — who then encounter “apple ladies” and finish with one “banana” lady, who’s eating a peeled one as she saunters across the stage at the end. Frugivory incorporates spoken dialogue into its contemporary movement genre. The ladies were Powell, Farris, McConnell, and Cole.

Bravo to Diablo Ballet for surmounting the difficulties of this past year, plus, and congratulations for returning to in-person shows in 2021-2022 at their Walnut Creek home, the Lesher Center for the Arts.