Producing new work keeps any art form alive, but ballet’s unique requirements make it all the more difficult. That hasn’t stopped Carolina Ballet’s artistic director Robert Weiss from constant creation during the company’s 16 seasons. Its current program showcases Weiss’ 50th original piece, along with a new work from company dancer, Zalman Raffael. Each exemplifies the “Chorus Line” lyric, “everything is beautiful at the ballet.”
Raffael uses Rachmaninoff’s lush Piano Concerto No. 2 to envision the search for rejuvenating love. Against a stage full of happy couples, a forlorn young man appears, unaffected by the attentions of a charming young woman until his troubled spirit finally lifts as he is welcomed into the company of lovers.
At Sunday’s performance, Yevgeny Shlapko, heretofore seen mostly in comic and character roles, made a fine romantic figure, affectingly despondent throughout the long pas de deux with Jan Burkhard’s openhearted young woman making multiple attempts to connect. Raffael’s choreography here was beautifully lyrical, unfolding organically as the pair interacted. Oliver Béres and Cecilia Iliesiu, as the contrasting couple deeply in love, had wonderful energy and flair.
The piece was stunning visually, Ross Kolman’s richly hued lighting reflecting the music’s various moods and Kerri L. Martinsen’s delicately colored costumes bestowing appropriate character. Raffael demonstrated confidence and an eye for pleasing patterns, but Rachmaninoff’s often dreamy 35-minute piece sometimes challenged him to keep steps from becoming too similar and too low-key.
Weiss has chosen Vivaldi’s highly rhythmic “The Four Seasons,” to give his leads opportunities to shine. On Sunday, Lilyan Vigo and Richard Krusch brightened spring with freshly danced combinations and jumps; Eugene C. Barnes III was starkly sensuous in summer; Lara O’Brien and Marcelo Martinez were excitingly dramatic in autumn; and Pablo Javier Perez, Sokvannara Sar and Nikolai Smirnov dazzled as icy gusts in winter.
Kolman’s lighting palette made this work visually engaging as well, while Jennifer Aiello and Sydney de Briel’s costume designs worked best in the soft green spring tunics and the silvery blue winter vests. Weiss seemed to gain inspiration for the corps as the seasons progressed, with spring and summer rather formulaic but autumn and winter arresting and often surprising.
Both pieces are quite pretty and well-performed, but some tweaking could make them into repertory staples.