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I reviewed Ballet San Jose’s all-Balanchine program for the Chronicle:
“George Balanchine’s 1934 “Serenade” turns ballet dancers into angels. It can’t help but have that effect. From the moment the first stirring notes of Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings” sound and the curtain lifts on 17 tulle-draped women, each with one hand raised toward gentle moonlight as though in protest of tragedy, there’s an inviolable spirit onstage that dancers sense as sacrosanct, that they want to rise to meet.
That’s just part of the larger transformation Balanchine is working on Ballet San Jose this weekend. I’m tickled by the name of this latest program, which opened Thursday and continues through Sunday: “Just Balanchine,” as though the titan of 20th century choreographers (who died in 1983) could ever be “just.” It implies an approachability that is part of the way Artistic Director Dennis Nahat runs his show in Silicon Valley, while his 44 cheery dancers clearly understand the intention behind the title, dancing as though this were “All Balanchine,” or even “Purely.” They have three of Balanchine’s most canonic creations on offer, all staged by guest ballet mistress Victoria Simon. And they do great credit to each, even if much room for growth remains in forging individual interpretations and making the dancing as memorable as the dances.
The most absorbing is “Serenade,” and no surprise; no matter how many times you see this ballet, you can’t help but be moved by the subtle spiritual drama unfolding in Balanchine’s “abstract” spectacle of grace. Amid all of Balanchine’s swirling stage formations and ingenious formalism, a woman meets a man. Another woman, the “Dark Angel” role, leads the man to abandon her, as though by fate. And into the grief pour all those other angel-like women to comfort their heroine, raising her to the light.
The Ballet San Jose ensemble danced with care, eagerness and never melodrama Thursday, while the principal casting mostly shone. ”
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