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Passionate, stirring performances mark Neglia troupe's tribute to Tchaikovsky

Perhaps no other composer is as associated with great ballet scores as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The Russian composer is responsible for three of ballet's greatest: The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty. In addition, countless other ballets have been set to his music.

Friday night in Shea's Performing Arts Center, Buffalo's own Neglia Ballet Artists and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra joined forces to celebrate the great master's music in An Evening of Tchaikovsky, which featured two ballet classics.

The program began with the first of choreographer George Balanchine's masterworks created in the United States, "Serenade," set to Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings in C.

In one of the most breathtaking openings of a ballet ever created, the curtain rose on 17 female dancers arranged in two adjoining diamonds. The identically posed women in light blue with long tulle skirts stood feet parallel, heads tilted, with one arm lifted in a diagonal in front of them palm outward as if holding back something. Then released from that pose, they moved in waves of choreographic genius that had them maneuvering through a succession of unified arabesques, leaps and lunges, trickling off stage and back on again forming artistically pleasing lines and geometric patterns. Unexpected movement phrases by a single dancer arose here and there to surprise while perfectly timed arm movements and gestures gave one the sense of Balanchine's impeccable musicality.

NBA's corps de ballet gave a satisfying performance despite some lines looking a bit ragged at times.

Weaving in and out of the corps de ballet, the ballet's five lead dancers performed with dizzying beauty.

Sprightly Mary Beth Hansohn bounded with joyous athleticism, while dancers Vilia Putrius and Silvina Vaccarelli were the picture of solemn grace. Partnering Vaccarelli -- a principal dancer with Argentina's Teatro Colon ballet company -- NBA artistic director/principal dancer Sergio Neglia performed with vigor, although the pair together looked a bit hurried with the ballet's fast pace.

"Serenade" climaxed in a moving trio that began with Vaccarelli sinking to the stage floor as dancer Mindaugas Bauzys slowly moved across the stage with Putrius clinging to his back and shielding his eyes with one hand. The trio then intertwined creating splashes of visual brilliance.

Led by last minute replacement conductor Raffaele Ponti of the Paducah Symphony Orchestra, the BPO gave an expressive performance of the achingly beautiful score.

Next in the first of two excerpts from the ballet Swan Lake, Putrius and Bauzys wowed in the "Black Swan Pas de Deux." The pair's chemistry, verve and near flawless dancing together was an unforgettable treat.

The program closed with Swan Lake's full second act. Dancing to a spirited performance by the BPO of Tchaikovsky's music for the ballet, NBA's dancers shone. A company seemingly built for classical story ballets, the dancers performed with a confidence and ease that belied their youth and mere two weeks of rehearsal time together.

The act picked up the ballet's storyline at the first meeting of Prince Siegfried (Neglia) and the white swan Odette (Vaccarelli) in the forest where the sinister birdlike sorcerer Von Rothbart (Ilya Burov) stood watch over part swan, part human creatures.

Passionate and stirring, Neglia and Vaccarelli's performances were like gifts presented to the audience. The pair unwrapped layers of emotion in their adroit dancing that only true artists possess. Vaccarelli was wonderfully swanlike in her graceful movements, while Neglia was powerful and emotive.

A triumph, An Evening of Tchaikovsky was yet another reminder of the boon of top-flight artistry Buffalo dance audiences are currently enjoining with companies like Neglia Ballet Artists. Their spectacular productions filled with world-class dancing rival any in the region.

> Concert Review

An Evening of Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake Serenade

With Neglia Ballet Artists and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Friday evening in Shea's Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St.