Whether in a repertory evening or a full length ballet, exceptional performances by ballet companies generally prove that a good show is much more than the sum of its parts. Too often star spectaculars prove just the opposite. Such was the case on Saturday with the latest in the Ardani Artists franchise offering, Tour de Force III, presented at Segerstrom which brought together principal dancers from first rank international companies in a lackluster program that could make you feel that big time ballet has stumbled on hard times.
And while this was certainly not the case for the dancing itself, the dancemaking for Tour de Force III clearly languished in three of the evening’s four works and especially in Russel Maliphant’s duo Silent Echo (Natalia Osipova and Sergei Polunin) a torpid, meandering affair compromised by awful costuming (black fashion cargo pants for both), lighting that hid the dancers rather than revealed them, and an abundance of missed lighting cues. It succeeded in diminishing two capable dancers with movement that was as pretentious as it was bland. As with some of Diana Vishneva’s attempts to kindle a performance career beyond classical ballet, essays of this sort only confirm the fact that top flight classical dance and contemporary, modern dance are more often than not, mutually exclusive zones.
Best on the program was Marcelo Gomes’ Tristesse , a playful , band of brothers confection that borrows much in style and sentiment from two of Jerome Robbins’ works, Fancy Free and Dances at a Gathering. Set to a suite of Chopin Etudes, it provides the requisite burst of short vignettes that define the work’s four characters, and a loosely wrought story of affection and abandonment. As with Dances at a Gathering, the dancing is backed by live on stage music, in this case, beautifully played by pianist, Dimitri Dover. Not beautiful was the fact that the piano was unnecessarily amplified, producing a disembodied sound that seemed at odds with the intended easy intimacy of Gomes’ narrative. The work opens with a joyful ensemble section, followed by four solos that introduce the four men. Joaquin de Luz–on stage he flashes with the the same kind of brilliance and appeal as Edward Villella—was excellent in his buoyant opening solo which radiated irresistible charm and high spirits. Also excellent were Friedman Vogel and former Kings of the Dance regular, Denis Matvienko, in their touching and erotically tinged duo.
Opening the evening was Maxim Petrov’s high concept Le Divertissement du Roi. Based on a cumbersome allegorical text and set to colorful music for dance by Rameau, the piece ricochets between antique ballet idioms and its more recognizable modern equivalent. The text was recited in courtly fashion from the stage by Soslan Kulaev. It tended toward the superficial and missed the boost that it might have had with Diana Vishneva cross-dancing the role of the King. Due to injury she was replaced replaced by Phillip Stepin.
Also on the program was Vladimir Varnava’s Clay for three men and three women, a modern essay that felt old fashioned and also out of touch with Darius Millaud’s Gershwin inflected music. Not danced on this program was Alistair Marriott’s Zeitgeist with Royal Ballet stars Natalia Osipova and Edward Watson. I would have easily traded Silent Echo for a chance at seeing Watson and Osipova and their fellow Royal dancers in Zeitgeist . You can catch a video of the work here on Vimeo.