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[whitespace] Joyful Ode

Beethoven got his due at Ballet's 'Celebrations and Ode'

By Julia Chiapella

BALLET SAN JOSE Silicon Valley makes no bones about it: spring is in the air. The ballet's performances last weekend of the two-part Celebrations and Ode, choreographed by Dennis Nahat to Beethoven's seventh and ninth symphonies, were no less than a frenzy of perpetual motion in a prancing paean to the busting loose of spring. There were moments during which this frenzy threatened to undermine the eloquence of Beethoven's work, but in the end, the ballet's exuberance and complexity were a fitting complement to the music.

From the opening scene of Celebrations to the stirring finale of Ode, the ballet presented a rousing work with dancers who have clearly come a long way since their season debut last October. More cohesive, better rehearsed and more expressive, these dancers have weathered relocation and transformation as the San Jose Cleveland Ballet morphed into Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley.

That's not to say there isn't room for improvement. In trios and quartets, the dancers weren't always in step with one another. Pirouettes were completed on different beats; descents to the floor were off. These lapses distracted from what was otherwise fine dancing and are no doubt a by-product of new dancers working together. But there were more than enough exultant dancing pieces to compensate for the rough edges.

Celebrations, danced to Beethoven's Seventh, was blessed by the inherent passion and poignancy of the music. The piece begins with a group of dancers center stage. The women are dressed in white organza skirts and leotards, the men in white leotards. Both feature a patchwork of fawn-colored markings at the breast. With their arms lifted skyward, the group sets the tone for the entire performance: We will lift up our hearts.

Nahat turns the somber second movement into ritual and commemoration. Although this movement hasn't the blatant optimistic grandeur so prevalent in the remainder of these symphonies, Nahat and his dancers are able to evoke a kind of determined passion.

Featuring Joanne Jaglowski in the movement's opening solo, the piece weaves couples and groups, men and women in what becomes a trademark of the performance, though here it's taken at a reasonable pace. Stephane Dalle and Ramon Moreno get to show off their stuff together in a series of leaps and jumps that highlight their differences: Moreno's technical brilliance vs. Dalle's expressiveness.

While the long-limbed Jaglowski looked a bit unsteady in her solo, principal dancers Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriguez, both in Celebrations and in their pas de deux in Ode, have clearly developed a chemistry as dance partners. In their lifts and their parrying, they conveyed an unspoken communication that allowed them a power and energy unavailable to other partners.

Ode, set to Beethoven's Ninth, featured the San Jose Chorale in the Ode to Joy and was a raucous tribute to birth and rebirth. From its start in the first movement, where dancers and background were bathed in red, and smoke filtered in from the wings, the pace and fury of the dancing created a pell-mell descent into a Faustian underworld. Male dancers threw their partners over their shoulders and around their waists in lifts that seemed destined for disaster or at least a clumsy recovery but were carried off with nary a stumble. The red gave way to a cloud- and lightning-filled scrim and dancers dressed in dark blue with powder-blue sashes at their waists. Sweat poured off the dancers as they admirably kept up the pace.

The three pas de deux featuring Jaglowski and David Gwatkin, Emi Harimyama and Sean Kelly, and Gabay and Rodriguez delivered some breathtaking moves and powerful moments. Hariyama, in particular, possesses a sylphlike grace.

But nothing can compare with Beethoven's music set to Schiller's text, sung here by the San Jose Chorale as they appeared angelically in the clouds. The chorale's arrival thankfully prompted the departure of an uncharacteristically gaudy set of gold, orb-decked arches, and Dalle led the dancers in breakneck lifts and leaps that provided fitting power to the finale.

A powerful affirmation of life as creative, transformative stuff, Celebrations and Ode is enormously palatable. That Nahat so boldly envisioned a dance to the great composer's work is a testament to his daring and unflappable belief in his company.

Ballet San Jose presents Brahms Quintet, Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder and Piano Man Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 1:30 and 7:30pm at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd., San Jose. Tickets are $20-$65. (408.288.2800)

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From the May 3-9, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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