Ballet Whimsy

When I was a kid, I thought that ballet was for sissies and effetes. Life has taught me a thing or two–Gail and I subscribe to two ballet companies, The Smuin Ballet, and Company C Contemporary Ballet. Tonight, we enjoyed Company C.

Beforehand, dinner at Massimo, of course. The perfect location combined with good food and solid service. If you go, order the Waldorf Salad–it’s a signature dish for the house. They’re experts at getting you to the theater on time–I just make a note on my Opentable reservation and they pace the meal perfectly.

On to the Hoffman Theater in the Lesher Center for the Arts. Charles Anderson, company founder/artistic director/ big Kahuna stepped ontstage awfully close to 8:00 on the dot–a pleasant surprise in a world where everything starts 10 minutes late. He gave the usual talk, about how much support they need, and stunned us by saying that ticket sales make up only 10% of the annual budget. Most organizations expect sales to fund 50-60% of the operation.

Then, the show started. The first piece, choreographed by Anderson, was Beautiful Maladies featuring two couples dancing to the music of Chet Baker. Aaron Jackson stands out with grace, fluidity, timing and acting skills. The four dancers received the longest ovation I can remember.

The second piece, Surfer at the River Styx, is a modern classic choreographed by Twyla Tharp. This is a non-narrative piece, set to ultra-modern music. It seemed to be going on and on, but segued into a beautiful, emotive finish.

Finally, there was boink!, choreographed by Val Caniparoli, 10 short, light pieces set to mostly modern music. The whimsy came from having 4 men dancing to Dance Ballerina Dance. You don’t expect to go to the ballet to laugh out loud, but that’s what was happening. The entire piece was simply delightful.

I learned something tonight. We went with Lois Grandi, who was the founder of Playhouse West, a professional theater company in Walnut Creek that sadly succumbed to the economy 2 years ago. Lois started out in life as a ballerina, moving to New York at 17, only to find out that she was too short (4′ 11″) for the ballet and making a career as an actress.

Have you ever wondered how they different companies can perform the same ballet? How do they know what to do? Who goes where? I could never figure it out, after all they’ve been doing this since long before videotape. So I asked Lois, and she told me.

Turns out that ballet is essentially oral lore, passed down from one dance company to another. If you want to perform that Twyla Tharp piece, Twyla or an assistant has to come out and show it to you. There is a way to write a dance down, called Laban notation, but it’s very difficult and not often used, although they study it at Julliard. Consider that my lesson for the day.

This was the close of the Company C season, so it will be next February before we can see them again. Thank heavens there is the Smuin to see between now and then, I may just be an effete sissy after all.

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