Jane Vranish | Guest Reviewer
A sense of joie de vivre permeated the Amphitheater Tuesday night as the North Carolina Dance Theatre and Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, with guest conductor Grant Cooper, presented two very different perspectives on Paris — one from an American point of view, the other from a native son.
Mark Diamond’s An American in Paris concluded the evening in grand style, taking advantage of both George Gershwin’s innovative score and Gene Kelly’s cinematic interpretation of a vibrant Parisian life.
It was amazing that NCDT accomplished so much once more on a bare-bones budget. Without scenery or even background projections depicting the City of Light, Diamond succeeded in capturing the spirit of the piece, now so familiar and showing no signs of waning in popularity.
Gershwin had a special tie to Chautauqua — in 1925, he completed his Concerto in F in one of the Institution’s historic practice studios, which are still located on the grounds. So it was with a special sense of tradition that the orchestra tackled the sweeping work, although the brass could have provided more of an edge to their sound.
Diamond used the bustle and brio of the CSO accompaniment to pack the stage with nearly 40 distinctive characters, including the scampering Maitre d’ — a terrific Gregory DeArmond — faux fighting Apache dancers, lovers — of course — a policeman, a pair of nuns, Moulin Rouge showgirls and a pair of scene-stealing poodles named Annie and Charlie.
The American in the title role was the charismatic Pete Walker, clad in a Kelly-style cardigan, who periodically exploded with powerful jumps and spins instead of flurries of tap dancing. Yet those trademark side heel clicks remained a snazzy reminder of the Oscar-winning flick.
In general, Diamond chose a Broadway-style ’50s flair to it all, full of sashays and sugar steps, with a brief nod to the jitterbug. It was all well-staged, except for the ending. Caught in the swirling eddies of music, Diamond brought back DeArmond’s Maitre d’, a great way to add some extra zing. But the final poses reserved for Walker and his charmingly elusive Parisienne love interest, Jamie Dee, seemed to stretch on languidly instead of equaling the music with a dash of panache on that final chord.
Last performed here in 2010, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s “Danse Brillante,” on the other hand, could be called a choreographic amuse-bouche. In other words, it struck a single note, using the classroom vocabulary without exploring any new territory.
He first saw it at the Paris Opera Ballet and re-created it to perform with his wife, Patricia McBride, more than 30 years ago. Although it’s not one of Bonnefoux’s best, his innate musicality still surfaced, touching on the folk elements inherent in Edouard Lalo’s score and adhering to the musical textures, rhythmic versus piquant, in alternating groups of men and women.
It had to overcome a rather staid opening segment and odd accents peppering the second segment to really get going. The high point came in a pas de deux for Anna Gerberich and Walker. It was a microcosm of the classical format but with more connective choreographic tissue. Bonnefoux also showed a good sensibility for the piece’s climactic moments, including a dramatic one-armed lift and a majestic promenade for Gerberich, leg stretching for the stratosphere.
The aperitif to it all, you might say, were selections from “Sleeping Beauty.” It seems that audiences can’t quite get enough of ballet’s handful of classics that have survived fairly intact and include “Swan Lake,” “Coppelia,” “Don Quixote” and “Giselle.”
“Sleeping Beauty” is the jewel box among them, housing a pristine array of divertissements, all to be presented with an effortless technique. But NCDT dancers are noted for their vivacity and personality, which looked overdone in this Bonnefoux arrangement.
So Melissa Anduiza, who can be an alluring dancer, looked more like Carabosse while her legs attacked the beginning of the Lilac Fairy variation and the Bluebird variation, with Dee and DeArmond who failed to soar. Gregory Taylor, however, showed promise in his pas de trois with Sofia Arencibia and Sarah Hayes-Watson, bringing an airy lightness to his jumps.
Once again, Gerberich took the stage, resplendent in white and gold, with Addul Manzano in a shortened version of Aurora’s grand pas de deux with the Prince — there was no male variation. He looked noble, so pulled up and in control. And she presided over the Amp like royalty, moving across the stage en pointe while she embraced the air and then holding balances at will.
Sasha Janes and Rebecca Carmazzi held the stage at will in Janes’ 2006 duet, “Lascia la Spina, Cogli la Rosa.” The title translates as “leave the thorn, take the rose” and indeed, Carmazzi wore a red leotard with a removable “thorny” skirt. But the meaning went deeper than that. In perusing it further, you could find that, “in seeking love, we inadvertently seek our own pain.”
So when Carmazzi wrapped her legs around Janes’ waist as if she would never let go, it was the pain of love that held onto him. Occasionally, the lifts verged on the acrobatic, but with the meaningful performance that these two accomplished, it was the sheer poetry and, yes, the passion, that transcended the dance.
By the end, she was draped over his shoulder, seemingly with the knowledge that this pain, this sorrow, was a burden that he was glad to carry.
As the couple, married in real life, took their bows, a tumultuous applause erupted from the audience, who knew that the dancers would not perform this duet again because Carmazzi is transitioning into retirement.
But what was more rewarding for the pair was the reception they got as they took their seats during intermission. As they entered the Amp, waves of applause greeted them as they passed, perhaps a symbol of how NCDT and its dancers have become a cherished part of the Chautauqua community.
Jane Vranish is a former dance critic for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and continues there as a contibuting writer. Her stories can be read on the dance blog “Cross Currents” at pittsburghcrosscurrents.com.