‘Western Symphony’ closes NCDT season

Jeff Cravotta | Photo Provided
Anna Gerberich and Frederick (Pete) Leo Walker II

Before Week Seven’s focus on “Diplomacy” comes to an end, Chautauqua Dance associate artistic director Mark Diamond will relate diplomacy to Chautauquans in a way no speaker would have attempted.

NCDT dancers will perform Diamond’s “The Decision Maker to open their final show of the season, which begins at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater. Dancers will be accompanied by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, with guest conductor Grant Cooper.

“It’s about how being the president or leader of one of the strongest countries in the world can maybe be more than any one human person can handle themselves,” Diamond said about his piece.

His first overtly political ballet, “The Decision Maker” was inspired by a comment made by former President George W. Bush at a 2006 press conference, Diamond said.
When Bush became agitated by relentless reporters, he finally said, “I’m the decider, and I decide what is best.”

It was a rather embarrassing moment for the president, Diamond said. Although the piece is not necessarily about Bush, the comment did make him stop and think: Who is actually making the decisions?

Sometimes the leader is a figurehead; sometimes the real power or control is coming from someone close to the figurehead, Diamond said. A leader relies on his advisers for information outside his field of knowledge, he said, and an adviser is almost always going to have an agenda.

In the short ballet, NCDT dancer Naseeb Culpepper performs the role of the president. Culpepper is presented with comments from his advisers, with the chief adviser having the most influence over his answers, Diamond said.

At many times, Culpepper puts on his “public face,” a look he dons to meet people, shake hands and appear in the press, Diamond said. At one point when the dancer is crumbling, his advisers lift him up, making it appear as if the president is still in control.

Diamond admits that had he choreographed this piece in 2013 and based it on today’s White House, it would have been a completely different ballet. There were very few women on the president’s advisory board in 2006, so the piece is dominated by male roles.

But there is one woman featured in the ballet. NCDT dancer Anna Gerberich performs a role that could loosely be interpreted as the first lady, Diamond said.

He calls Gerberich’s character the “voice of reason.” Gerberich is pleading for peace, fair play and help for the poor. Most of the advisors in the piece see her as simply an annoyance, Diamond said, as the have already made their decisions.

With so many varying agendas in the political world, power can be corruptive and judgment can become clouded, Diamond said.

“Even if power doesn’t corrupt,” Diamond said, “it’s still almost impossible to accomplish things unless you are such a strong individual person with a lot of charisma.”

The piece features excerpts from Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” Diamond has choreographed to this same music before; the first time, his choreography featured a group of entirely female dancers.

For “The Decision Maker,” Diamond used the core choreography from that piece and made it more contemporary, grounded and athletic. He also added a pas de deux between the president and the voice of reason.

Saturday night’s performance will also include more classic works, including excerpts from Carmen choreographed by Sasha Janes, NCDT associate artistic director. NCDT dancers Melissa Anduiza and Pete Walker will perform the roles of Carmen and Don José.

“He wants to not just retell the story in the same way, but to recreate a new dimension,” Cooper, CSO guest conductor, said of Janes’ choreography in Carmen.

Janes’ choreography was based on the arrangement Cooper gave him, with music by Georges Bizet. In the abbreviated version of the ballet, Janes will present the scenes in a way that should still tell a coherent story, Janes said. The excerpts will showcase strong themes of jealousy and passion.

Performing at Chautauqua gives the dancers the opportunity to get a head start on future work, Janes said. NCDT plans to perform a one-act Carmen in its first program back in Charlotte, N.C. The dancers will also present George Balanchine’s “Western Symphony,” the final piece of Saturday night’s show.

“Western Symphony” is a spirited piece set in the Old West, with music by Hershy Kay. Cooper described the score as “incredibly colorful,” “boisterous” and “toe tapping.” The music evokes a bar scene, Cooper said, perhaps not the first thing one might associate with classical ballet.

“[Kay] treated the material pretty symphonically,” Cooper said. “It’s not so much the tunes as the evocation of the scene, which is, of course, what you want in ballet.”