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DANCE REVIEW : Energetic Ballet Chicago Makes First West Coast Visit


Founded in 1987 by former New York City Ballet principal Daniel Duell, Ballet Chicago offers stylish, spirited ensemble dancing--but not the distinction at the high end of the roster that would put it in the same league as companies in Boston, Miami, Houston or San Francisco.

At the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday, three familiar Balanchine showpieces and two novelties by resident choreographer Gordon Peirce Schmidt provided nonstop displays of the 21-member company's technical prowess on its first West Coast visit..

The evening began with Balanchine's vivacious "Square Dance," though not the 1957 version listed in the program that features onstage musicians and a caller. Instead, to taped Corelli and Vivaldi, Ballet Chicago danced the 1976 revision: more conventional in form, perhaps, but boasting a majestic new male solo.

Unfortunately, Jason Paul Frautschi looked uncomfortable with its gestural grandeur and not always secure in balance. Moreover, Lisa Kipp proved only marginally more accomplished in the ballerina role. Her mastery of the daunting pointe challenges remained admirable, but she and her partner never made any indelible individual statements or managed to outdance the 12-member mini-corps.

However, nobody knows "Square Dance" better than Victoria Simon, and her staging focused the energy and finesse of Ballet Chicago as a whole for maximum impact. All the group sections had great surety and clarity--qualities missing from John Clifford's staging of "Rubies."

Clifford used to dance this invigorating 1967 Balanchine/Stravinsky collaboration brilliantly, but he appears to remember nothing about its style except bold contrasts in attack and an emphasis on speed. As a result, he smears or undervalues the modernistic landscape Balanchine defined: the clawlike hand-motifs, the bathing-beauty poses, the sudden inversions of classical footwork.

Worse, the three talented principals on Sunday scarcely ever grew playful, spontaneous or anything less than step-obsessed, with the technically exceptional Manard Stewart stuck replicating Clifford mannerisms in lieu of an interpretation. Both Petra Adelfang (opposite Stewart) and Christine Dorian danced skillfully without ever seeming on top of the choreography.

Appropriately, perhaps, the costume colors in this staging evoked rubies far less than garnets--definitely semi-precious.

Frautschi replaced Stewart in Balanchine's "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux," but his rough partnering scarcely bothered Kristie George, a baby-faced dancer from Cypress, Calif., with a knack for highlighting each pose and termination sharply even at high velocities.

Two well-received Schmidt pieces completed the program: "By Django," a six-part compendium of cutesie-poo nostalgia-ballet cliches set to music by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, and "The Sleep of Reason," in which music by Ravel accompanied both the flowing, virtuosic solos of Manard Stewart and the intense gymnastic interplay of Heidi Vierthaler and Robert Remington.

Both works suffered from awkward partnering ploys but boasted an intriguing sense of aerial flow. "Sleep" also showcased the dynamic Stewart as one of the few natural stars in a company with plenty of room at the top.

Part of its first California visit, Ballet Chicago's one-night Cerritos engagement will be followed by performances in Poway, Santa Rosa, Chico and Mountain View.

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