Carolina Ballet mixes older works with new pieces and faces

CorrespondentSeptember 20, 2012 

  • If you go What: “An Evening of Robert Weiss,” presented by the Carolina Ballet Where: Fletcher Opera Theater, Progress Energy Center, Raleigh When: 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and again Sept. 29-30; 8 p.m. Saturday and again Sept. 29 Tickets: $27-$65 Contact: 919-719-0900; carolinaballet.com

Carolina Ballet’s matinee last Saturday offered an instructive look into the demanding world of ballet, including the unexpected, the practical and the inevitable.

When the dancers arrived for “An Evening of Robert Weiss,” they were confronted with 90-degree heat and a buckling stage floor. Weiss, the company’s artistic director, had the curtain raised before the show to dispel the heat, giving the audience a peek into onstage preparations normally unseen.

The afternoon featured the usual mix of old and new pieces. At Carolina Ballet, successful works are reprogrammed every three or four years, giving the public a chance to savor them again. In addition, there are alternate casts for most works, allowing for injuries as well as new faces. At Saturday’s matinee, the alternates proved equal to their tasks.

In this third staging of “A Classical Ballet,” set to Prokofiev’s perky Symphony No. 1, Jan Burkhard and Pablo Javier Perez radiated pure joy as they leapt and spun, while Alicia Fabry and Marcelo Martinez were a study in lyrical balance, their bodies seeming to float on air.

“Symposium,” set to music by Leonard Bernstein, based on Plato’s writings, is one of Weiss’ best, still rewarding in this fourth outing. Eugene C. Barnes III made Dionysos sensuously mysterious, his sections interspersed with couples representing various speakers. For Aristophanes, Laura O’Brien and Yevgeny Shalpko displayed precise angularity, while Margaret Severin-Hansen and Gabor Kapin gave Agathon a new delicacy in its stark beauty.

In a new pas de deux, set to Massenet’s “Meditation from Thaïs,” Lindsay Purrington and Adam Crawford Chavis showed great growth in confidence and expression, their romantic coupling beautifully fitted to the lush melody.

Although not announced as such, this program will be the last for principal dancer Melissa Podcasy, ending a 37-year career that included all 15 Carolina Ballet seasons. In Weiss’ new storyline piece, “Intimate Voices,” accompanied by a Sibelius string quartet, she applied her trademark intensity and dramatic expression to the eldest daughter in a family celebrating the father’s birthday. When he dies suddenly, she alone sees him come to console her in a movingly intimate dance. The piece emphasizes characterization over choreography, the projections and costuming helping to sustain interest.

Although she’ll be missed, Podcasy’s retirement reflects the natural transition in ballet. Other dancers will take over roles, such as the Agathon of “Symposium” (she dances it four more times in this run), allowing new talent to shine and make the roles their own.

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