For 15 seasons, Carolina Ballet has kept the flame burning for George Balanchine, rightly revered as one of the world’s great choreographers. On Thursday, “A Balanchine Celebration” offered five pieces that underscored Balanchine’s enduring legacy and the company’s admirable mastery of his style and technique. There were many pleasures in watching longtime members bring mature artistry to their roles and in seeing younger members confidently taking on the difficult challenges.
Timour Bourtasenkov is still perfect for the shining nobility of “Apollo,” a 1928 work with music by Igor Stravinsky about the Greek god’s relationship with the Muses. Lindsay Purrington’s formal Calliope (poetry), Alicia Fabry’s spinning Polyhymnia (mime) and Lilyan Vigo’s playful Terpsichore (dance) all contributed to the serene atmosphere, beautifully shaped by clean lines and precise alignments as they interacted and entwined with Bourtasenkov.
“Valse Fantaisie,” a short 1967 work to music by Mikhail Glinka, had soloists Jan Burkhard and Richard Krusch, plus four additional female dancers, floating and wafting like leaves in the wind. Both soloists’ impressive command put them into the company’s top ranks.
The surprise hit was the brief but riveting pas de deux from “Agon,” another work with a Stravinsky score, created in 1957. Lara O’Brien and Eugene C. Barnes III quickly showed they had the full measure of this quirky, spiky piece. Both made the music’s sudden “pops” and “pings” visible with intricately constructed patterns, O’Brien especially astounding in her leg extensions and contortions. The standing ovation was immediate and genuine.
To invigorating music by Louis Gottschalk, 1964’s “Tarantella” has great brio but goes for crowd-pleasing cuteness. Margaret Severin-Hansen and Pablo Javier Perez brought their familiar charm to this tambourine-shaking confection, if not with the full energy required.
Even more crowd-pleasing is “Who Cares?,” a 1970 tribute to Hollywood and Broadway. Employing 16 George Gershwin tunes, the choreography’s smooth, romantic elegance is pleasant but too often veers towards dance recital territory. The live music from pianist Karl Moraski, bassist Robbie Link and drummer Scott Lane gave as much enjoyment as the dancing, making it difficult not to hum along with each familiar melody.