RALEIGH — One of Carolina Ballet's strengths is its knack of offering smartly balanced programs. On its current bill, there's a delightful fairy tale, a glorious snapshot of ballet history and a lovely new work in the romantic tradition.
Back for its third showing since 2003, Lynne Taylor-Corbett's "The Ugly Ducking" remains a model ballet for children. Clocking in at just 40 minutes, the piece is full of color, activity and humor. Best of all, the performers and creative team know the difference between cute and cutesy.
Lara O'Brien re-creates the title role with great innocence and charm, while narrator Curtis Cregan (of Discovery Kids' "Hi-5") perfectly supports her and the other dancers with spot-on timing and winning characterizations. Michael Moricz's original score, played live by two pianists and a percussionist, skillfully underpins all the action, from barnyard strutting to winter snowstorm. Taylor-Corbett cleverly hides a lot of purely classical ballet within energetic, eye-catching scenes involving twirling ribbons, spinning capes and fluttering wings.
As a fillip to the first half, the company offers a look back at one of ballet's most notable figures, August Bournonville. The 19th century Danish choreographer established a distinctive style that emphasized natural grace and nimble movement, rejecting grand gestures and showy feats. In the short pas de deux from "The Flower Festival in Genzano," Margaret Severin-Hansen and Gabor Kapin joyfully embody a young couple's teasing playfulness, impressing with their extremely precise, smoothly flowing steps.
Robert Weiss, the company's artistic director, finishes the program with the premiere of his new work set to Grieg's popular Piano Concerto in A Minor. Employing 21 dancers, all in white, Weiss sensitively reflects the music's changing rhythms and melodic interplay through constantly dissolving stage pictures, from massed swirling patterns to single couples in elegant lifts and glides. Ross Kolman's glowing lighting, subtly varying with each changing mood, beautifully enhances the choreography's romantic character.
The piece invokes the spirit of Bournonville, never focusing on individuals for bravura effect, although credit is due to Margaret Severin-Hansen and Alain Molina for their stunning third movement pas de deux. Weiss purposefully sustains a dreamy world throughout the concerto's 30 minutes, even in the music's most dramatic moments, which might have benefited from sharper responses to give the work greater contrast. But the piece is a welcome addition to the repertory, a fine showcase for Carolina Ballet's dancers.