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The Arts
April 26-May 2, 2006

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Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley

Photograph by Robert Shomler
Hawkins on Holiday: For his solo based on Billie Holiday's 'Strange Fruit,' Oscar Hawkins showed off some limber moves.

Full Circle Four

Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley Rounds off its season with a quartet of varied pieces

By Marianne Messina

FROM RUSSIAN FAIRIES to lynchings in the deep South to a blind musician in China, San Jose Silicon Valley Ballet couldn't have packed a more global variety of tones and styles into its season finale, "Spring Repertory." The air sprites of Fokine's Les Sylphides led the way with spring garlands in their hair, dressed in classic snowflake white and accompanied by five piano pieces of Frederic Chopin, performed by Roy Bogas on solo piano. China doll poses within formations that evolve gradually—circles of four splitting into rows of six or arm-locked daisy chains—emphasized a vision of the whole over the individual (except for the lone dreamer of this reverie, a light and graceful Stephane Dalle).

Offset by David Guthrie's backdrop, a dark copse in Romantic landscape tradition, the ensemble formed a living slide show to clippy Mazurkas (Tiffany Glenn brings out her sprightly side) and the more flowing Nocturne, Prelude and Valses (Karen Gabay and Stephane Dalle). At one point Gabay, slowed her soft bourrés to a wisp of movement that seemed to turn the floor into an air cushion.

The internal nature of Gabay's power in this performance was matched only by Yong-Ping Tian's stunning er-hu playing in the introduction to Yong Yao's Moon Reflection on Crystal Spring. Tian's dramatic entry, slowly teetering cross-stage with cane and dark sunglasses, sets up the silent, anticipatory headspace for the breath-holding er-hu solo that follows. As Tian takes the instrument from a forceful wail to a baby's breath, from a whine to a variety of vibrato surprises, a flash of agitation courses through man and instrument like a sun shower.

The three quick and beautiful movements of Moon Reflection on Crystal Spring include a pas de deux depicting the childhood of musician Ah Bing (Raymond Rodriguez) with his playmate Xiao Hua (Gabay). Gabay and Rodriguez in their fluttery silk costumes (hers a bright pink; his aquamarine) made strenuous lifts, rolls and carries (Gabay tucked protectively into Rodriguez' body) look effortless and gleeful. Then as red lanterns dropped from the flies, the women's ensemble came out in their sunburst silks, carrying orange lanterns to dance youthful, girlish levity. At this performance, the audience cheered when the lighting dimmed (Kenneth Keith, lighting design) to show the twirling lanterns as fiery blur patterns in the dark.

During his three-minute piece, Strange Fruit, Oscar Hawkins vaunted his Cirque du Soleil conditioning in yogic-strength poses often held still against all apparent laws of gravity. Every so often, something Billie Holiday sings seemed to catch in Hawkins' movement. When Holiday's lyrics of lynched black men hanging from "poplar trees" in the South reached "Here is a fruit for crows to pluck," Hawkins' hands fluttered and scattered like crows frightened from trees. (Holiday's explicit song was banned from the radio in 1939.)

These first three pieces were hard acts for the finale, Slavonic and Hungarian Dances, to follow. Here, pianos without orchestration (Marja Mutru joins Bogas on piano) seemed to miss both the pomp of the aristocratic ballroom and the boisterousness of country revels. At this performance, the piece felt a bit overlong and included one bad spill. Still, it featured a sensationally fleet comical duo between Ramon Moreno and Patricia Perez, Perez leaping full bore into Moreno's arms, in startling poses—as harrowing as they looked humorous. A sort of seasonal curtain call, this piece offers a last glimpse of the dancers—the enlivened Tiffany Glenn, the dashing/swaggering Maximo Califano, the nimbly tickstery Maria Jacobs and Le Mai Linh—for a nostalgic, full-circle end to the season.

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