Review: Ballet and CSO collaborate for a buoyant final performance

Review by Jane Vranish

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Kreable Young | Staff Photographer
The Charlotte Ballet performs for the final time of the 2014 season in a collaboration with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in the Amphitheater Saturday.

More often than not, Charlotte Ballet (formerly North Carolina Dance Theatre) searches for a celebratory finish to its summer season with a “Shindig” or the saloon-savvy “Western Symphony” or a decidedly “American in Paris.”

But this year the company gave Chautauqua something more at the Amphitheater on Saturday night — emotions that touched the heart in so many different ways.

The final collaboration with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra began innocently enough during the pleasantries of a Mark Diamond ballet based on George Frideric Handel’s “Water Music.”

Originally conceived as entertainment for royal parties floating down the River Thames, the score has a delightful air all its own. That sustained the piece as it oddly ricocheted between foppish aristocratic poses, complete with wrist twirls and heads a-bobbing, and sections resembling a sailor’s hornpipe. There were no real surprises here, but Diamond unfolded a tidy network of dances utilizing classical ballet technique that highlighted the men, particularly a jaunty solo for Jordan Leeper filled with crisp beats, and Sarah Hayes-Harkins’ flirtatious footwork.

The tables quickly turned during the world premiere of Sasha Janes’ “We Danced Through Life,” a commission by longtime Charlotte supporter Terrie Vaile Hauck in honor of her late husband, Jimmy, as the emotions deepened.

Set to three movements from Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, famously known as “From the New World,” Janes and conductor Grant Cooper rearranged the order, beginning with the third section, followed by the second and fourth movements. It gave the work a buoyant and energetic start, led by Anna Gerberich and Leeper.

But the middle section, with an unabashedly tender duet for Hayes-Harkins and Pete Leo Walker, became the centerpiece and emotional linchpin of the work. The pair stood at the back of the stage with a soft spotlight focused on them. Their hands slowly reached out to each other and soon he was cradling her in his arms, the connection both immediate and sure.

Walker seemed to put Hayes-Harkins on a pedestal (in this instance the structure that houses the Amphitheater organ), her face radiant. Others joined them, but this was about a private love affair with each other and with the dance. When Walker left her side, other men surrounded her, but she was still alone.

The finale seemed to capture the rapture of that love, once again led by Gerberich and Leeper, although their connection with Hayes-Harkins’ fleeting appearances was uncertain. At the end she was lifted off stage, moving on with her life, whatever that might entail. Leeper then carried Gerberich onto the stage, perhaps embodying the spirit of what Hayes-Harkins once had and the love of dance that bound them.

Emotion took on a different meaning in George Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments,” the culmination of a particularly fine season of festival programming and a serious gamble for Charlotte Ballet.

But even though the ballet premiered in 1946, it remained stunningly innovative as staged by Patricia McBride. A masterpiece like this, one that helped define Balanchine’s neo-classical style and a hallmark ballet of the 20th century, remains timeless, much like a Picasso or Mondrian painting. And like those artists and their work, “Temperaments” can be savored on so many levels.

It was inspired by the medieval notion that human beings and their personalities were based on the four humors — Melancholic, Sanguinic, Phlegmatic and Choleric.

In this work, Balanchine began to deconstruct traditional ballet, as if pulling it apart. It began so simply with the very first theme, where Ben Ingel and Elizabeth Truell clasped hands, a ritual joining of man and woman. They then crossed their legs in tendu, such an acute angle never seen before, and deliberately flexed their feet, so daring in the ’40s. This opening sequence was all in keeping with Paul Hindemith’s bold and condensed musical statement, played with authority by the CSO’s strings and driven by conductor Cooper at the helm and Nataliya Pinelis as piano soloist.

The choreography continued to unfold with uncommon clarity. Balanchine toyed with the lines of an arabesque. Jutting hip thrusts were inserted, again breaking the verticality of traditional ballet. He created more angles where there had been none, like bending the supporting leg en pointe in a supported turn.

It was all indelibly wedded to music, a style that brought criticism over the years. Yes, the dance is often Balanchine’s visualization of score, but his striking artistic choices make the dance stand on its own.

So there were arms that resembled hieroglyphics. And the aching arch of the spine where Leeper (Melancholic), who made a strong impressions during his performances this season, picked his way off the stage backwards.

It was all tied to Balanchine’s own way of emoting, where the dancers didn’t reflect it in their faces. His “Four Temperaments” were all conveyed through the dance vocabulary.

For example, there was Phlegmatic, described as unemotional and passive. It was unusual for the charismatic Walker to be assigned movement that sagged and drooped. Yet he was able to fill the dance with his own sense of power without disturbing Balanchine’s original intent. And when it ended on a whisper, like blowing out a candle, it spoke volumes.

Hayes-Harkins transported Cholera to a real climax with flickering legs and a sweeping waltz that brushed the floor. She, too, fulfilled her potential this summer with deeply committed performances.

And as the score gathered its force and dancers soared above waves of movement, it carried the audience to a hugely satisfying and inspiring finish.

Jane Vranish is a former dance critic for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and continues there as a contributing writer. Her stories can be read on the dance blog “Cross Currents” at