Dance Notes: Celebrated Masters

by | Apr 23, 2018 | Dance Notes, Performance

It’s one of those sad facts of life….all good things must come to an end. And for dance lovers and Diablo Ballet supporters, Celebrated Masters, performing at Walnut Creek’s Del Valle Theatre on May 4-5, closes another incredible year where we were able to not only “experience the power of dance,” but revel in every graceful movement and every stunning moment. Quoting a recent post on, “Diablo Ballet knows how to entice.”

Artistic Director Lauren Jonas proclaimed that she is “really excited about this Celebrated Masters program. It’s going to be challenging for the dancers — stretching them artistically and technically and, at the same time, be incredibly pleasurable for the audience. I think they will love it.”

“The company has become noted for its focus on new works by contemporary choreographers, all the while staying true to its classical roots,” stated another theclassicalgirl.compost. Celebrated Masters, with its world premiere of Robert Dekkers’ Red Shoes, the stylish Quartet from Val Caniparoli’s Stolen Moments, and Lew Christensen’s lyrical Four Norwegian Moods, continues the tradition.

Stolen Moments

In 2015, Val Caniparoli created Stolen Moments for the Richmond (VA) Ballet Company. The music, by one of the most important French composers of the 18th century – Jean-Philippe Rameau — is “absolutely beautiful,” Lauren said. Val agreed. “I love Rameau’s music, love Baroque music. These recordings sounded contemporary to me…,” he stated. So he created the piece based on the music and the Richmond Ballet Company dancers. “There’s really no story to the piece,” Val noted. It’s an abstract work, he said, and Diablo Ballet will be the first company to perform this ballet outside of Richmond.

When announcing Stolen Moments as part of his 2015 program, Richmond Ballet’s Artistic Director Stoner Winslet said about Val, “He has a really cool choreographic style…he is definitely a ballet choreographer…but has a very unique interpretation of the classical lexicon, making the movements very current. It’s ‘now’ ballet.”

The piece received glowing reviews when it premiered. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that “Stolen Moments is lush in eccentric movement…layered fantastically with emotion…Caniparoli’s choice in music is fresh and innovative with amazingly avant-garde choreography to match…his choreography is absolutely captivating as it ranges from fast paced energetic steps and hops to slow and slithery sensual poses.”  And RVA News reported that “Stolen Moments, even in rehearsal, made jaws drop. A very contemporary piece set against a much less avant-garde score, the combination is mesmerizing.” And a richmond.comreviewer wrote, “…the ballet is marked by Caniparoli’s signature style of classical lines and frame embellished with eclectic genre influences and quirky gestures.”

Val has choreographed close to 10 pieces for Diablo Ballet, Lauren said. They’ve known each other for a very long time — Val created on Lauren when she was dancing at Marin Ballet many years ago and “I always love working with him.” Joanna Berman, Diablo Ballet’s Regisseur, is staging Stolen Moments; she worked closely with Val at San Francisco Ballet and “she knows me inside and out,” Val exclaimed. “So having her stage this piece makes for a perfect combination.”

Four Norwegian Moods

To celebrate his 25th anniversary as Artistic Director of the San Francisco Ballet in 1976, Lew Christensen, ballet dancer, choreographer and director for several different companies, created Four Norwegian Moods, a pas de deux set to a beautiful score written by Igor Stravinsky in the early 1940’s.

As a dancer, Christensen was the first American to dance Balanchine’s “Apollo” and was thereafter considered to be America’s first home grown significant male dancer.

In his role as director of the San Francisco Ballet from 1952-1984, Christensen choreographed more than 110 works for the company and is credited with transforming it to an internationally recognized neoclassical ballet company. Under his direction, the company toured both nationally and internationally for the first time. Lincoln Kirstein, co-founder of the New York City Ballet, said, upon Christensen’s death, “Lew Christensen was the finest classical dancer of his generation. He was gifted as a choreographer and a teacher. He was a wonderful human being.”

According to notes written by the late Virginia Johnson, a ballet mistress who worked very closely with Christensen and eventually staged all his ballets, FourNorwegian Moodswas created for SFB dancers Susan Mango and Keith Martin in 1976. Apparently, Susan had long arms, a very deep plie and lyrical qualities while Keith was very sharp, quick and a precise jumper/turner. These qualities inspired Lew to create this ballet for them.

Leslie Young, a former San Francisco Ballet soloist and currently in charge of staging Christensen’s ballets, said this particular piece does not follow the typical pas de deux structure. “This one is much more lyrical. The dancers take turns, almost like they’re having a conversation or a relationship,” she explained.

In a previous interview, Leslie talked about Christensen’s ballets, noting that “one of the things I love about them is that he is so musical. It’s been said that while you’re watching it, you feel like the music has been written for the ballet.”

But the music used in Four Norwegian Moods was written more than 30 years earlier; Stravinsky actually composed it for a Hollywood movie about the Nazi invasion of Norway. According to Wikipedia, “using a number of Norwegian folk melodies as a point of departure, Stravinsky produced a score before even seeing the film; the result, unfortunately, was deemed unacceptable by the movie studio. As the composer notes in his memoirs, he refused to compromise, and his music was never used in the film.”

americancomposers.orgexplained further. “The score was eventually completed and published as these four delightful orchestral sketches based on Norwegian folk music…The set as a whole, however, is unmistakably neo-classic Stravinsky, particularly in its orchestration and spiky rhythms…As for the title, Stravinsky explained: ‘Although based on Norwegian folk tunes, the title “Moods” must not be interpreted as “impression” or “frame of mind.” It is purely a mode, a form or manner of style without any assumption of ethnological authenticity.’” The Four Moods–Intrada, Song, Wedding Dance, and Cortège–are scored for full orchestra and premiered under the Stravinsky’s baton in Massachusetts on January 13, 1944.

Following a performance of Four Norwegian Moods in 1983 by the New York Ballet, the New York Times wrote the piece “is an affair of quick-shifting impulse. It begins on a quirky, scrappy note. The mood turns lyrical, with measured courteous partnering. The dance ends with the lovers as young calves, nudging each other off in an inventive exit.”

Red Shoes

Once upon a time. a very prolific Danish author and poet wrote numerous fairy tales, but apparently, was not all that proud of his works.

Hans Christian Andersen wrote some of the world’s best known fairy tales, including “The Emperors New Clothes”, “The Little Mermaid”, “The Ugly Duckling”, “Thumbelina” and, of course, “The Red Shoes”. It’s reported that Andersen came to see fairy tales as the poetic form of the future, combining folk art and literature and describing both the tragic and comical elements of life.

In 1845 he wrote “The Red Shoes” about a girl forced to dance continually in her red shoes. It’s said that the story is based on an incident Andersen witnessed as a small child. His shoemaker father was sent a piece of red silk by a wealthy lady to make a pair of dancing slippers for her daughter. Using some red leather along with the silk, he carefully created a pair of shoes but the customer hated them. She told him they were awful and that he had done nothing but spoil her silk. So his father cut the shoes up in front of her.

More than 100 years later, a British feature film, starring real life ballerina, Moira Shearer, was produced by Michael Powell. The film tells the story of a young ballerina who joins an established ballet company and becomes the lead dancer in a new ballet called “The Red Shoes”, based on the fairy tale. Her desire to dance conflicts with her need for love, ultimately leading to her death. The New York Times called the film “a ravishing fantastical masterpiece in which everything is heightened: color, emotions and, above all, the urgency of artistic expression. Here, ballet is religion….for many dancers and film lovers, The Red Shoes is the only ballet movie that matters.” Other reviewers called it the “greatest dance film ever made.”

A 1993 Broadway version of the film flopped hard, playing only a handful of times and losing millions of dollars.

Matthew Bourne, a British choreographer famous for revamping classics, created a new ballet in 2016, “The Red Shoes”, based broadly on the movie, saying “I have loved the film since I was a teenager…My challenge has been to capture some of that surreal, sensuous quality [of the film] within the more natural theatre setting.” Critical response to this new piece was positive. The London Observer reported that it was “a feast for the eye…it is Matthew Bourne’s finest achievement to date.” The ballet had its US debut last year. For his work on “The Red Shoes”, Bourne won the award of Best Theatre Choreographer and the show itself won Best Entertainment at the 2017 Olivier Awards.

Fast forward to present day when we have the extreme pleasure and honor of watching Diablo Ballet’s Resident Choreographer Robert Dekkers premiere his very own imaginative Red Shoes, which, he said, has no real connection to the Matthew Bourne version and is based more on the fairy tale than the movie.

“I didn’t want this piece to be quite as puritanical and moralistic as the original fairy tale,” Robert explained, “but I liked the idea of the red shoes as being something that’s maybe a bit more complex.” He said that the dancer’s ego over the course of the piece develops “from her acknowledging her individuality and then realizing that she wants more and more until her ego overwhelms her.” There’s the demise of her ego when society turns its back on her, Robert noted, and she has to deal with that; society realizes that they’ve shamed her and “she has to come to terms with what she’s done.”

“The ego is a good and bad thing and in my mind, I’ve been developing the ego as red. But it could represent anything in life — wealth, beauty, success, or anything we crave. Up to certain point, it’s good but after that point, it can become more of a negative,” Robert continued.

Bourne’s “The Red Shoes” used music by Bernard Herrmann; Robert is featuring a score by Philip Glass, widely regarded as one of the most influential musicians of the late 20th century. The piece, In the Upper Room,is music commissioned by dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp in 1986 for a ballet she created.

Lauren and Robert are both extremely excited that a celebrity fashion designer will, for the first time, be costuming the dancers in Red Shoes. An acquaintance of both Robert and Diablo Ballet dancer Christian Squires, Cassidy Haley, an entrepreneur and fashion business owner, is thrilled to be designing for his first ballet.

Cassidy began designing as an extension of his early stage performances as a musician and circus stilt walker. Completely self-taught, his passion to create beauty drove him to excel in his craft, bringing him success in his various fashion, costume and performance endeavors over the past 20 years. His designs have been sold in some of the world’s best boutiques, his collections have been presented at both New York and LA Fashion Weeks and his clothing has been worn by P!nk and Fergie, to name just two of the celebrities he has dressed.

Last month, another post by theclassicalgirl.comstated that “Robert Dekkers’ work always fascinates.” There’s no doubt that his adaptation of Red Shoes will prove that quote one more time.

Although this is the final chance we’ll all get to enjoy the amazing Diablo Ballet this year, it’s certainly not the last time the dancers will take your breath way. Get ready. Next year, Diablo Ballet will be celebrating an incredible milestone – 25 years of bringing the power of dance to the Bay Area and Lauren is promising another fabulous year of beauty, gracefulness, athleticism, passion and incomparable choreography. And there’s no doubt she’ll once again deliver!