A celebration of artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux's quarter century of dance leadership at the Chautauqua Institution provided the backdrop for Wednesday night's "Gala Evening of Dance" at the Institution's historic amphitheater.
Featuring North Carolina Dance Theatre and several high-profile guest artists, the evening of dance proved unparalleled in Chautauqua's past 25 years for its magnitude and artistic brilliance.
The program's dozen mostly solo and duet works began with choreographer Alonzo King's duet "Cante," set to traditional gypsy music. Danced by North Carolina Dance Theatre's Alessandra Ball and Sasha Janes, the work melded King's "line"-focused contemporary ballet movement vocabulary with Flamenco-style choreography. In it, Janes adopted the look of a toreador, while Ball -- rifling through arabesque after arabesque -- performed with crisp Spanish flair.
Following a tribute by Bonnefoux for longtime Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra cellist Chaim Zemach in which the accomplished gray-haired cellist performed Bach and danced, Ball and dancer Justin Van Weest performed the duet "Man I Love" from George Balanchine's Gershwin-scored masterwork "Who Cares?" Staged by former New York City Ballet star Patricia McBride, the duet was the epitome of balletic fluidity and lightness.
In the first of his two appearances, former Chautauqua dance student and current New York City Ballet principal dancer Daniel Ulbricht elicited gasps from the audience for his bravura leaps and pirouettes in Peter Martins' folk-dance-influenced solo "Zakouski," with music by Stravinsky.
Rounding out the program's first half were Mark Diamond's Japanese-inspired "Zokusuru" and Janes' "Lasica La Spina Cogli La Rosa (Leave the Thorn, Pluck the Rose)." Dancer Rebecca Carmazzi moved with delicacy to the sounds of wind and rain before leaping onto Janes, who emerged onto the stage from shadow. Carmazzi's arms and legs clutched tightly to Janes like a frightened child. Sumptuous choreography that featured striking lifts and elegant partnering were like an exquisite bolt of lightning in a remarkable pas de deux that garnered Janes and Carmazzi a standing ovation.
The program's second half continued the smattering of dance gems, opening with former Martha Graham Dance Company standout Terese Capucilli in Jacqulyn Buglisi's epic solo "Against all Odds (Quand Meme)." Capucilli was captivating in her stage presence in Buglisi's capsulated story of a woman's life. Animated and expressive, Capucilli moved between a number of emotional states with ease. Whether clawing at the space around her or skittering across the stage with effervescent energy, her tour de force performance and Buglisi's choreography were stellar.
Next, Bonnefoux's choreographic talents were showcased in his Southern-inspired duet "I'm With You," set to the music of and performed live by North Carolina folk singer/songwriter Christine Kane. The duet once again featured Janes, along with dancer Nicholle Rochelle, as lovers caught up in the uncertainty of a romantic relationship. Wistful and playful, the duet meandered down Bonnefoux's version of lover's lane with Kane's dulcet voice beckoning each step.
Two explosive solos followed. The first, choreographer Dwight Rhoden's "Solo" set to the music of Prince featured international star and dance phenom Desmond Richardson. Richardson was the picture of masculine grace and power in Rhoden's sinuous and savagely striking solo.
Following a solid performance of "Swan Lake's" Act II Pas de Deux by Janes and Traci Gilchrest, Ulbricht returned in a solo from the ballet "Don Quixote." The dynamo once again dropped jaws with his high-flying leaps and turns.
Rhoden's "Moody Booty Blues" closed the program. Set to a medley of classic blues songs, the sexy and sassy group work featured a barrage of dance tricks and a cooler-than-you attitude.
WHAT: "Gala Evening of Dance"
WHEN: Wednesday night
WHERE: Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater