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[whitespace] Pair Bonding: Maydee Peña and Stephane Dalle danced in 'Theme and Variations' for the ballet's opening night.

A New Start

The renamed Ballet San Jose of Silicon Valley got off to a rousing start Thursday

By Julia Chiapella

SOMEHOW, Dennis Nahat did it. And his face, following the opening night of the new Ballet, San Jose of Silicon Valley showed it. Gleefully triumphant, the artistic director took a bow along with his dancers as he enthusiastically handed over his own bouquet of flowers to principal dancer Maydee Pena.

Nahat, along with the rest of Ballet San Jose, deserves to feel triumphant. Thursday night's opening, while a little rough around the edges, was a testament to the sheer power of will. Resurrecting the company from the fatal blow that took the Cleveland out of the San Jose Cleveland Ballet in September, the company moved quickly to reshape and redirect dancers and program. The city created a matching grant. Sets, costumes and archives were acquired from Cleveland. The original program slated for the opening, Celebrations and Ode, was scheduled for later in the year and replaced with a repertoire.

Twenty-nine dancers have moved from Cleveland to San Jose along with Nahat. Auditions have taken place to hire more dancers, and 34 appeared in last Thursday's performance. The dancers are from Cuba, Korea, the Philippines, Japan, France, Vietnam and the U.S., among others. To move them and their families from the relative affordability of Cleveland to Silicon Valley's pricey landscape has been no small feat.

All of the sweat and tears appears to have paid off as Thursday's Inaugural Moments portrayed a company that is dedicated and technically strong. Nahat's own Moments, a piece set to Mendelssohn's Piano Trio no. 1 in D Minor, op. 49, opened the show, receiving its West Coast premiere.

The least traditional of the evening's pieces, Moments tread a line between ballet and modern that took some of its cues from Paul Taylor: tableaux of dancers at different levels, dancers gamboling with upraised arms. But the bulk of the piece was pure ballet even while showcasing Nahat's penchant to push the boundaries of the form ever so slightly.

Simple organza skirts over spaghetti-strap leotards gave the women plenty of room to demonstrate the effects of all that rehearsal time while the men were casually dressed in assorted colored leggings and black, loose shirts.

Moments was the most intriguing of the pieces on Thursday purely from the standpoint of personal expression. While the other two works on the program, Bournonville's Napoli and Balanchine's Theme and Variations, are staunch regulars in the world of classical ballet, Moments was Nahat's chance to contemporize his years of ballet experience.

Still, Moments suffered from either first-night jitters or insufficient rehearsal time. Dancers at times seemed to be working doggedly just to stay in step; principal Raymond Rodriguez looked unsure when lifting his pas de deux partner Karen Gabay; Gabay had her own trouble articulating a crisp piqué.

There were, however, terrific highlights, including Ramon Moreno's athletically graceful power and Gabay's gorgeous armwork. In her sublimely controlled solo, it seemed someone was at last hearing the music.

The company chose to perform the third act of Auguste Bournonville's 1842 Napoli for its second piece and did so in its original form, including costumes. With music by Helsted and Paulli and with Dwight Oltman conducting, Napoli was an exercise in honoring not only ballet's roots but those roots interpreted in a Danish retelling of an Italian folktale.

A favorite of the Danish public for the last 150 years, Napoli concocts a crisp, vibrant scene that's played out in solos, duets and trios. Though dated, it serves as a window into the history of ballet, thanks to Bournonville's detailed notes on the choreography. And once again, Moreno was a standout in his solo.

The final piece, Theme and Variations, created in 1947 and set to Tchaikovsky's final movement of the Suite for Orchestra no. 3 in G Major, recalls the midcentury splendor of classical ballet. When the curtain opened on the simple but opulent set, the audience gave small gasps of delight: eight chandeliers hung from the flies while a curtained backdrop framed an ensemble of richly costumed dancers, tiaras and all.

Maydee Peña and Stephane Dalle provided a closing pas de deux that was as enticing as an erotic conversation. Pena, while thankfully not the classical Balanchine gazelle, was superbly in control. Dalle is new to the company, and his work with Peña was artful. He successfully showed her off in the lifts with an effortless grace, something the other members of the male corps could well learn.

Interestingly, Dalle was less successful in his solo, where his jumps looked precariously unbalanced. But this was a tricky ballet, known for its athleticism and lofty heights. That this rearranged and relocated company could pull it off with grandeur and precision says a lot about these dancers' dedication. Inaugural Moments gave every indication that Ballet San Jose of Silicon Valley has risen from the near ashes with style and tenacity.

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From the October 19-25, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. MetroActive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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