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`Revenge' would make a sweeter suite

October 02, 2006|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

For years, local audiences have watched excerpts from John Castagna's evolving ballet adaptation of Strauss' comic opera "Die Fledermaus" on various mixed bills. However, performances over the weekend at the Gallery Theatre in Barnsdall Art Park offered the first chance to see how the sections fit together.

Unfortunately, they didn't.

On Saturday, Castagna's two-act "Sweet Revenge" marshaled so little narrative savvy, so feeble a sense of characterization, that the piece would have been more successful restructured as an abstract suite. Many of the dances were cleverly wrought, but all of them were essentially aggressive technical displays, so no emotional connections took place between the participants and the piece quickly settled into a deadly rut.

All of Castagna's instincts about placement, partnering and showpiece steps came straight from academic classicism -- except that he kept the women of his Ballet Collective/L.A. in soft slippers instead of toe shoes. So "Sweet Revenge" proved pointless -- a half-toe exercise that even the majestic and accomplished Gaida Paulovska as Rosalinde couldn't make satisfying. Fouettes and other bravura feats looked compromised.

The men enjoyed more conventional opportunities, with the most stylish performance belonging to Eliezer Rabello (Alfred in Act 1, a nameless but distinctive corps dancer afterward). Tommy Panto (Eisenstein), Yoko Sasaki (Adele) and Myshia Moten (Orlofsky) were also prominent in this choreographically underserved production.

Guest companies gave the evening needed variety, though the members of the Brockus Project Dance Company weren't ready for the speed and intricacy of Deborah Brockus' "Phoenix," a dynamic and often inventive contemporary ensemble piece to music by Harry Gregson-Williams. The same company looked far sharper in Ken Morris' "Next Phase," which used music by Steve Reich to accompany a play-off between one agonized male (Morris) and a cadre of restless women.

Originally created as a duet, Stefan Wenta's "Thais" (music by Massenet) was danced as a solo on Saturday and in that form provided little more than a demonstration of Pamela Davis' classical acumen.


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