Cleveland Ballet’s Mixed Repertory Program Yields Mixed Results


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Nurlan Abougaliev and Lüna Sayag in Michel Fokine’s “Les Sylphides.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Cleveland Ballet – Les Sylphides
Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square
Cleveland, Ohio
October 14, 2017
Reviewed by Steve Sucato

In their first mainstage performance since being named a resident company at Cleveland’s Playhouse Square center, Cleveland Ballet showed that the faith Playhouse Square put in the 3-year-old company and its potential wasn’t misplaced. The troupe of mostly young dancers acquitted themselves nicely in a varied program of ballets on October 14 at the Ohio Theatre including a beautiful performance of Michel Fokine’s 1909 ballet Les Sylphides that opened the program.

Wonderfully staged by former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancer and native of Ufa, Russia, Aygul Abougalieva, the ballet had a classical Russian style to it.  Costumed in the white tutus with small fairy wings a la the ballet Giselle, Abougalieva’s staging, beyond deftly capturing the elegance of Fokine’s choreography with its picturesque tableaus, also managed to create unity between a corps of differently skilled dancers whose lines and formations impressed.

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Cleveland Ballet in Michel Fokine’s “Les Sylphides.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Danced to a live piano rendition of Frédéric Chopin’s music for the ballet by Cleveland Institute of Music’s Ralitsa Georgieva-Smith, Les Sylphides featured a cast of eighteen including dancers from Cleveland Ballet’s Youth Company and guest dancer and former principal with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Nurlan Abougaliev.  A veteran performer, Abougaliev showed the same leading man stature and elegance in his dancing that made him a standout PBT. Partnering with rising company star Lüna Sayag, Abougaliev and the French born dancer were magic in Fokine’s classical choreography. The bright-eyed Sayag was spellbinding, dancing with a combination of grace and control. And while Cleveland Ballet is still a long way from artistic director Gladisa Guadalupe’s vision of a world-class troupe, Sayag’s recent growth and her potential as an artist is a very promising step in that direction. Also of note in the ballet were the solid performances of dancers Lauren Stenroos in the “Waltz” and Jenna Steiner in the “Prelude” section.

Next came A Collage of Frank Sinatra Songs, the first of two world-premiere ballets by Guadalupe. Set to a medley of six Sinatra favorites, the ballet had some of the vibe of choreographer Twyla Tharp’s popular masterwork Nine Sinatra Songs, but with more of the nostalgic playfulness and sensibilities of a Fred Astaire musical.

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Cleveland Ballet in Gladisa Guadalupe’s “A Collage of Frank Sinatra Songs.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Sporting luxurious formalwear costumes that included several stunning full-length gowns, the ballet’s eleven dancers performed stereotypical, yet pleasing, Broadway-infused ballet choreography. The work began with Sayag and partner Victor Jarvis in a quaint pas de deux to Sinatra’s rendition of “Young at Heart” that set a lighthearted mood that would carry throughout the ballet. Other highlights included standout dancer Rainer Diaz-Martinez bounding through energetic leaps and pirouettes in a flirty vignette with a quartet of women, and a silky-smooth pas de deux to the song “The Way You Look Tonight” with Abougaliev partnering the statuesque Silken Kelly and the pair recalling a bit of the flair of a Astaire and Cyd Charisse number.

Rounding out the program was Guadalupe’s disappointing Concerto, a banal ballet set to Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Piano in D Minor” performed with skill live by Georgieva-Smith and Sophie Van Der Westhuizen.

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Cleveland Ballet in Gladisa Guadalupe’s “Concerto.” Photo by Mark Horning.

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Rainer Diaz-Martinez (L) and Victor Jarvis in Gladisa Guadalupe’s “Concerto.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Unlike the nostalgic feel of A Collage of Frank Sinatra Songs, Guadalupe’s mostly academic choreography for Concerto, while physically challenging for its dancers, felt like a retread of decades old ballets that have long since lost their mass appeal. The ballet’s lone saving grace was the palpable effort the troupe’s dancers put into performing it.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

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Filed under Dance Reviews 2017

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