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Photograph by Robert Shomler

Showpiece Moves: Alexandra Koltun and Alex Lapshin showcased the moves of Russian ballet in 'Diana and Acteon.'

Fine Finale

The ballet finished its season with an eclectic flourish

By Marianne Messina

BALLET SAN JOSE Silicon Valley's last performance of the season felt like the red carpet on Academy Awards night with a series of quick camera shots of the stars, or like the program title, "A Grand Finale." Diana and Acteon (1935), a fleet pas de deux of classical Russian ballet by choreographer Agrippina Vaganova, showcased the company's two Russian dancers, Alexandra Koltun and Alex Lapshin. Accented in jewels, the pair offered a spritz of showpiece moves, cabrioles to fouettés, and finished with an array of lovely bows, tossed kisses and reverences (that lasted nearly as long as the musical movements).

The opening piece, Some Times, reprised a Dennis Nahat dance creation from 1972. Its modern-jazz feel incorporated moves suggestive of pop dances from the '60s and '70s (the pony, the swim, etc.). The ladies (and sometimes guys) moved in hipsy wiggles that seemed to transplant the corps to somewhere between I Dream of Jeannie and an early James Bond film.

Moments, the final number on the program, set to a lively Felix Mendelssohn piece, recapped some of Nahat's choreographic strengths: the precision canon effect, the visual representation of musical elements (such as meter), the balanced painting of movement on a canvas of space. On a bare stage in front of a twilight backdrop, dancers spent space extravagantly, whether strutting, leaping or carrying ballerinas.

The centerpiece of the program was a performance of Flemming Flindt's often-produced The Lesson. Derived from Eugene Ionesco's play The Private Lesson, Flindt's dance takes place in a ballet studio. With a set surprisingly like Flindt's 1963 televised original—fun-house mirrors and all—The Lesson follows the evolution of a ballet teacher's crazed impulse as it escalates to murder.

One chock of his greased-flat hair askew and with creepily jittery hands, Stephane Dalle, as the teacher, poked his head through the studio doorway to watch the student (Karen Gabay). Dalle's hands added a touch of hysteria to Flindt's choreography, which captured the workings of a twisted mind in the knock-kneed dance steps that the teacher forces his student to perform.

As the student, Gabay was gleeful and peppy at first, giving way to a kind of disbelief. Dalia Rawson was the stern piano accompanist who, we eventually realize, has seen it all before. There was an interesting trio at one point: Rawson in her brown squash heels and tight matronly jacket, Dalle in his russet waistcoat and bronze tights and Karen in her bright yellow and orange leotard with the dollishly overdone ruff at the bottom, a trio that suggested a seductive dance between hunter, hunted and accomplice. When the student's sense of her own dance power shifts and she begins to shrink from the teacher, the teacher experiences a complementary shift, and his impulsiveness grows. Dalle seemed to break out of some sort of bodily encasement as his airborne pirouettes covered the length of the studio. practically landing him into the walls.

The chemistry between Gabay's buoyant student and Dalle's high-strung teacher steered the dance a few notches away from the sinister in the direction of the absurd, which may make the impact less disturbing, but it also makes it more thoughtful. Like all the pieces of the evening, this production of The Lesson served as a reminder that Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley has a unique stamp to place on the dance world.

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From the May 4-10, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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