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DANCE REVIEW

Fledgling company shows grit and desire

May 20, 2003|Victoria Looseleaf | Special to The Times

Although they may not be quite ready for prime time, there is still something to be said for the Burbank-based Media City Ballet Company. Founded in 2001 by artistic director Natasha Middleton, the ambitious troupe had much to be proud of at the Alex Theatre on Sunday.

Sure, the small audience was mainly cheering parents and kids, and for much of the first half the dancers made the work look difficult, but the company has grit and a desire to please. Like many fledgling ballet companies, this one is built from a school. Middleton, a third-generation ballet dancer (her grandmother and father were soloists with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo), teaches as well as directing and choreographing for the company.

It's Middleton's choreography that proved problematic. It shows promise, but she unwisely took on the daunting task of restaging and creating new movement to Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3, originally choreographed by her father, Andrei Tremaine. Called "Rachmaninoff Sketches," the 35-minute work was frenzied, repetitive and sloppy.

The concerto, featured in the movie "Shine," is a chain of unrelenting climaxes. With little breathing room for the dancers, lyricism flew out the window; few were ready for their close-ups. Partnering was shaky, landings wobbly and one dancer went down. But, in giving their all, principal dancers Ellen Rosa, Askar Kettebekov, Jennifer Wilson and Askar Alimbetov, although visibly fatigued, managed to stay erect.

That said (and the fact the corps -- mostly students -- was rarely together), the level of dancing markedly improved after intermission with excerpts from Khachaturian's ballet, "Gayne." Choreographed by associate director Ruben Tonoyan, tiny tots wielded candles in "Ritual," a dozen females created effective line formations in "Dance of the Pink Maidens" and Rosa, partnered by Kettebekov, handled the "Adagio" with grace and assurance. Kettebekov also commanded the stage in "Lezginka," his leaps and spins formidable, and the popular "Saber Dance" made an ebullient finale.

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