at the Civic Theatre

February 13-15

Ballet Chicago’s three performances in the Civic Theatre last weekend offered proof positive that the term “promising” can no longer be applied to the troupe. Their five years of struggle and adversity are paying off handsomely, and artistic director Daniel Duell can take pride in his company’s panache, charm, airy technical virtuosity, versatility, and good looks.

This program of six works was shrewdly designed to demonstrate different facets of choreographic ingenuity and the dancers’ ability to move effortlessly from one style to another. It opened with the premiere of Brahms Quintet in G Major (the allegro non troppo movement), a new romantic, plotless work by Ballet Chicago’s resident choreographer, Gordon Peirce Schmidt. Accompanied live by a string ensemble and performed by a cast of nine, Quintet is a fleet, joyous exploration of youthful meetings and partings expressed through nonstop spins, leaps, and stunningly complex, if brief, partnerings. Despite its classic balletic structure, the piece hints at Martha Graham’s Diversion of Angels–notably in the way Schmidt has designed the group patterns and in Jeff Bauer’s striking unisex costumes (which don’t sufficiently distinguish males and females). Principal dancers Petra Adelfang, Lisa Kipp, Jason Paul Frautschi, Jeff F. Herbig, and Alexies Sanchez added their own ecstatic fervor to the music.

The program continued with Schmidt’s The Sleep of Reason, to Maurice Ravel’s violin and piano sonata. This short piece, performed by Heidi Vierthaler, Robert Remington, and Manard Stewart, further demonstrates the young choreographer’s keen intelligence in establishing emotional relationships through intricate movement. Duell’s Xylo-Time, an intriguing neoclassical excerpt from his Time Torque, was brilliantly danced by Suzy Strain and Troy Haggard. Gerard Charles’s 1988 Feral Forms is another in the seemingly endless series of dances on the battle of the sexes. I’ll grant the piece its humor, and I found Karen Baynham, Christine Dorian, and Lesley Bories gorgeously indifferent predators as they overcame John Ross and Mark Ward, but the joke is wearing thin.

There is nothing thin, however, in Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, George Balanchine’s show-stopping masterpiece, performed with consummate ease and pizzazz by Adelfang and Stewart in its Ballet Chicago premiere. It did seem, however, that the Civic Theatre’s stage, which was large enough for other works on the program, was somehow too confining for this one and hampered the pair’s daring.

The program concluded with David Parsons’s overlong, chaotically cluttered comic A Hairy Night on Bald Mountain. The audience liked it a lot more than I did. I found the figures of Death, the Detective, the Butler, and the other characters (which brought most members of the company onstage) excessively juvenile in their humor. Is Parsons trying to emulate Paul Taylor’s witty, nutty The Rehearsal? Hairy Night is indeed nutty, but its nuttiness is too meandering, an exhausting embarrassment of riches. It was a long haul till the truly comic and wonderfully danced spoofs of the flamboyant Bolshoi and Moiseyev styles.

But whatever it performs, Ballet Chicago shows itself an exceptionally accomplished troupe. The women move beautifully, with arms, legs, and bodies in perfect classic positions; the male contingent is very strong, capable of fulfilling all choreographic demands; and the attractive costumes and lighting contribute to the overall effect. The company’s forthcoming tour of the northeast will be an eye-opener for its new audiences: Chicago’s homegrown ballet has come of age. Now Ballet Chicago needs to continue to develop its diverse, refined talents, as well as gain expanded moral and financial support. Though the times are tough, it’s a challenge well worth the effort.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Peter Vanderwarker.