Neglia Ballet Artists – Spring Gala
Nichols Flickinger Performing Arts Center
May 10, 2018
By Steve Sucato
Buffalo’s premiere evening of dance each year, Neglia Ballet Artists’ 2018 Spring Gala was a smorgasbord of top flight dancing well worth the price of admission. Once again NBA artistic director Sergio Neglia and executive director Heidi Halt culled together a stellar line-up of guest artists and dance works worthy of a professional dance company many times NBA’s size.
The program opened however with a solo variation from the ballet Raymonda by one of Neglia Conservatory’s own rising stars, Maggie Weatherdon. The statuesque teenager from Grimsby, Ontario, despite some nerves, showed control in her technique and footwork on pointe in the briskly-paced solo.
Next, frequent guest dancers, husband and wife team Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys, performed former New York City Ballet principal dancer Paul Meija’s pas de deux “Romanza Andaluza” to violin music by Pablo de Saraste.
The look of the pas de deux spoke of a matador and a señorita, while the close-quarter classical choreography evoked the feel of the “White Swan” pas de deux from Swan Lake. Arms raised high over her head Putrius spun in and out of Bauzys’ arms and was lifted over his head in arabesque positions that had her lovingly looking down on him. Both dancers radiated star quality in their dancing that combined grace and technical prowess.
After the contemporary dance solo “Under Her Skin” by Victor Smalley danced by Neglia Conservatory student Stephanie Waite, Colorado Ballet principal dancers Dana Benton and Yosvani Ramos performed the balcony scene pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet with choreography by former English National Ballet artistic director Derek Deane. One of the more emotionally rich choreographic versions of the ballet, Deane’s passionate choreography fit perfectly on the girlishly giddy Benton as Juliet and the dashing Ramos as Romeo. Sweeping runs into each other’s arms, soaring lifts and dizzying turn sequences left one believing in the pair’s over-the-moon young love.
The program then switched gears stylistically in choreographer Takehiro Ueyama’s contemporary dance work “PUNG-GYEONG: Landscape” performed by former Seoul Ballet Theater principal dancer Eun-Kyung Chug and former Metropolitan Opera Ballet dancer Seyong Kim. Performed to a piano score by Johann Sebastian Bach, the gestural and calisthenic–like choreography for the pair appeared to outline a relationship between them that was fond yet distant. The veteran pair danced solidly in the somewhat unremarkable piece.
Weatherdon, who placed 1st in the Senior Contemporary Division at the 2018 Youth America Grand Prix dance competition, then returned to the stage this time in the contemporary dance solo “Integer” by award-winning choreographer Viktor Plotnikov. Dancing to music by Zoe Keating, the rangy teen sliced through the air in fluid, angular dance moves that showed off her facility a dancer and gave a glimpse of her vast potential as a dance artist.
Waite then took the stage in another solo, this time a variation from the ballet La Bayadere to music by Ludwig Minkus. While Waite powered through the technically challenging solo with relative ease, her performance felt a bit flat and lacked personality.
Next, Benton and Ramos took another turn on stage in an excerpt from Sacramento Ballet artistic director Amy Seiwart’s “Traveling Alone”. The contemporary ballet pas de deux set to music by Max Richter had everything the earlier “PUNG-GYEONG: Landscape” lacked. Seiwert’s captivating choreography was well-crafted, emotional, and the chemistry and relationship between Benton and Ramos was anything but distant. The pair had an ease to their dancing with Benton floating along in buoyant lifts and in dreamy turns on pointe.
Putrius and Bauzys also came back for an encore in Putrius’ “Avere”. Danced to music by Baroque Italian composer Giulio Caccini, the heartfelt contemporary ballet pas de deux swirled with graceful spins and tender embraces with only a modicum of clunky choreographic moments. One being Putrius lying on her back and walking her feet up the side of Bauzys’ body and then waiting for him, legs hovering in the air, to complete a solo dance phrase before walking them down again which served to briefly interrupt the sensual flow of the duet. That being said, the pair’s dancing was fabulous as always.
Brilliance continued in arguably the best performance of the evening, Tulsa Ballet soloists Jennifer Grace and Joshua Stayton dancing an excerpt from Tulsa Ballet resident choreographer Ma Cong’s “Glass Pieces”.
The exquisite lover’s pas de deux to music by Philip Glass unfolded with Grace (a perfect moniker for her dancing) twisting about on the stage floor before Stayton engaged her reposed body, causing her to arch her back and flutter one leg from the sensation. The pair then deftly moved through a sequence of picture-perfect balletic poses that riveted one’s attention squarely on them. Both Grace and Stayton were razor sharp in their dancing and left the audience mesmerized and breathless.
The bountiful program concluded with an encore performance from 2017 of Plotinikov’s “La Vida,” a work loosely based on NBA artistic director Sergio Neglia’s life and family. The work traces Neglia’s feelings in losing and missing his fatherArgentinian ballet star Jose Neglia who tragically died in a plane crash in 1971 when Sergio was young. In it, Eun-Kyung Chung portrayed Neglia’s grieving mother, Sergio, his younger self and a puppet controlled by Michele Costa represented the memory of Jose. The very personal work was playful and charming at times, poignant and memorable.
Neglia Ballet Artists perform their 20th Anniversary Spring Gala, 8 p.m., Saturday, May 18, 2019. Nichols Flickinger Performing Arts Center, 1250 Amherst Street, Buffalo. Tickets are $25/student, $75/general ($80 at door) & $100/patron and are available at http://negliaballet.org/gala/
Featured performances by:
– Emily Bromberg & Ariel Rose (Miami City Ballet)
– Former Neglia Conservatory student Adelaide Clauss & Tamas Krizsa (Washington Ballet)
– Vilia Putrius & Mindaugas Bauzys formerly of Festival Ballet in Providence
– Sergio Neglia, Sherri Campagni, puppeteer Michele Costa and actor Nico Neglia in a new ballet inspired by Mozart and Salieri and choreographed by Viktor Plotnikov
– Current Neglia Conservatory Pre-Professional students Ava DiNicola, Adrien Malof, and Maggie Weatherdon
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.