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OAKLAND BALLET A REFRESHING DRINK

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Saturday’s performance at the Reichhold Center for the Arts was much anticipated and well received as evidenced by the strong attendance and the general reaction of the audience. Because of our relative physical isolation as an island, we do not have constant access to the arts that living in Miami, Philadelphia or New York would provide. Therefore, the performance by a professional ballet company came as a refreshing drink of different cultural water.
To review a company such as this, first, there is only one standard by which to judge: perfection. The dancers must execute technique and style as closely to the standard vocabulary of ballet as they can, and the critic must be able to see how close the performers come to this standard. Secondly, the choreography must be pleasing, entertaining or transporting.
Traditionally, the introductory piece of the evening is a showcase of the company’s mastery of the ballet vernacular — from the basic all the way to the most complicated and demanding. The music is classically traditional, as are the costumes; the more interpretive pieces will come later. "Gallops and Kisses" fit this bill and was well rehearsed, with every dancer in absolute sync with the others. In fact, one of the most remarkable aspects of this company was its very clean execution as an ensemble; every dancer ended every step together in the group passages. This seems easy when it is done correctly, but when it is not, even the novice is aware. Obviously, the company is well rehearsed with much attention to detail.
The duet and solo from "Billy the Kid" are very familiar to me, as the duet is one that I performed many times in New York, choreographed by ballet master Don Farnworth of the Young America Dance Company. Oakland Ballet’s version certainly had the character of the cowboy, but I missed the partnering steps that could equal the loftiness of the music of Aaron Copland. When the music soared, the dancers needed to mirror that bigness with lifts and tosses, maybe, rather than with poses and extensions. All technique was present; the passion of the story was bypassed.
In general, this sense of passion was muted throughout the evening. Once with the solo performance of "Le Corsaire" by Andre Levitt and again in the duet "Secret Garden," the audience was almost to the point of that transporting that occurs when the grandness of the music, the electricity of the dancers and the vehicle of the choreography blend. (These are, in fact, the moments that we as an audience go to the theater to experience.)
Andre Levitt in the tantalizingly brief but famous "Le Corsaire" solo was on the verge of executing this tour de force when the lights on stage were accidentally dimmed prematurely. Due to his professionalism and aplomb, he was able to save the moment, continue and finish the piece. Bravo to him! A touch more grounding to keep those multiple turns anchored to the stage, and he would have danced a truly great Corsaire.
Joral Schmalle and Lara Deans Lowe also gave a moment of pleasure as they danced the pas de deux "Secret Garden": Very cleanly done with a staunch male role and a beautifully extended female partner, the two grabbed the audience when they danced several beautiful lifting and partnering sequences as the music swelled. Schmalle can only be encouraged to be more daring and more confident that his partner can sustain being tossed higher into the lifts and thereby give the audience the breathtaking performance we want.
The more modern "Bolero" was well received by the audience, which gave it a strong round of applause at the conclusion. Here again the female dancers of the company shone with their strong and high extensions and firmly placed poses.
Thank you, Birch Forum, for the production; and thank you, Oakland Ballet, for coming to the Virgin Islands. You remind us of the standards in art and dance that we must strive for and support; you remind us that, even in our removed physical situation, we must expose ourselves to all that the best of the theater and dance world has to offer; and lastly you remind us that we are fortunate to have a world class venue in our very midst — the Reichhold Center for the Arts.

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