Photo courtesy San Francisco BalletConcerto Barocco is a bit of a signature piece for ballerinas in training. Set to Bach's Concerto in D minor for Two Violins (you'd know it if you heard it), 10 or so girls weave in-and-out formations, holding hands and ducking under each other, swiveling around and crossing one leg in front of the other, like demure showgirls.
Festival Ballet includes the 1941 classic in its upcoming Contemporary/Classical Repertoire performance at the Barclay, with a menu that crosses borders and starts with Bach. From George Balanchine to new choreography by Jodie Gates, Michel Gervais and Boston Ballet character dancer Viktor Plotnikov to the flashy Don Quixote pas de deux by San Francisco Ballet principal dancers Lorena Feijoo and Joan Boada and the African-infused Lambarena, this is one stylish program.
Barocco, set by NYCB alumnus John Clifford with permission by the NYCB trust, is one of those pieces that tall dancers just love to do. It's suited for long, unwieldy legs. The music pulses forward, yet even when the dancers are moving quickly, they transition with elegance—as opposed to the short, jumpy steps that cater to the smaller, nervous, twitch-type dancer. The ballet is also a marathon of sorts, with no entrances or exits for the corps de ballet.
"It makes them [the dancers] really strong," says Salwa Rizkalla, artistic director of Festival Ballet. "Most dancers get bored in the corps de ballet, but this has a lot of dancing and keeps them really interested and having a good time while building stamina."
Balanchine created the 18-minute Barocco during a rough period—a time when he was still attempting to create a permanent home for American ballet. World War II raged, and the arts weren't exactly at the forefront of the cultural Zeitgeist. After Balanchine created Concerto Baroccoin '41, he toured the piece through South America with his group, American Ballet Caravan. Yvonne Mounsey, who would later dance with New York City Ballet, was living in Mexico City at the time and recalled running into him, along with Lew Christiansen and Pat Wilde. The group went to the Bankers Club downtown to let loose: "Balanchine was playing the black Steinway, and everybody was getting very drunk on French brandy and French champagne," she remembered—not surprising behavior for those dark, exciting times.
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Back in the United States, the ballet endured, partly because of the durability of its choreography. Similar to Mozart's compositions, you can set it on nearly anyone with solid technique and the ballet will sing. In 1951, Balanchine stripped Concerto Barocco of its costumes and implemented the leotard look still standard today for a classic Balanchine ballet.
The other Bach item on the bill veers from the archetypal. Val Caniparoli's Lambarena mixes Bach tunes with African themes and is danced en pointe with Cuban dancers Feijoo and Boada. Both dancers inject intensity into their movement. Look out for the grand pas de deux from Don Quixote as well—it's a signature virtuosic duet filled with pyrotechnics, fouettes, big jumps and spicy Spanish flair.
But then, this is an entire evening ?of flair.
CONTEMPORARY/CLASSICAL REPERTOIRE, FESTIVAL BALLET THEATRE AT IRVINE BARCLAY THEATRE, 4242 CAMPUS DR., IRVINE, (949) 854-4646; WWW.THEBARCLAY.ORG OR WWW.FESTIVALBALLET.ORG. SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 2 P.M. $22-$32.