Diablo Ballet's Love Stories Has Something for Everybody

06/21/2021

Love Stories is the fourth and final performance of Diablo's 27th season. Their last virtual performance before returning to the stage live next season, it was performed and recorded at Diablo Ballet Studio Theatre in Pleasant Hill on June 18. Love Stories features a balanced bill of romantic works, including Sean Kelly's version of the classic Coppélia's Wedding, Christopher Wheeldon's Carousel (A Dance), and Bruno Roque's tongue-in-cheek Frugivory. As Artistic Director Lauren Jonas says about Love Stories in her introduction, "It has something for everybody."

 Amanda Farris and Raymond Tilton in “Coppelia.” Photo by Rosselyn Ramirez
Amanda Farris and Raymond Tilton in “Coppelia.” Photo by Rosselyn Ramirez

Coppélia's Wedding, which opens the program, is a treat for fans of classical ballet. Staged by Lauren Jonas to Leo Delibes' triumphant score, with glamorous tutus and classical costumes by Renee Rothmann & Rebecca Berke, Kelly's demanding choreography is done justice by the capable Diablo dancers. In the Dawn pas de deux Amanda Farris is poised with her elegant arabesques and delicate battements to Raymond Tilton's graceful and effortless lifts. Other highlights are Prayer, which features Jackie McConnell with Felipe Leon and Danielle Troyano with Michael Wells partnered in an elegant pas de quatre, and Celebration, a playful and happy pas de deux between McConnell and Felipe Leon. Perhaps the most romantic dance in Love Stories is between Olivia Powell and Donghoon Lee in the sweet Wedding Pas De Deux & Variations.

Jackie McConnell and Raymond Tilton in “Carousel (A Dance)” by Christopher Wheeldon. Photo by Rosselyn Ramirez
Jackie McConnell and Raymond Tilton in “Carousel (A Dance)” by Christopher Wheeldon. Photo by Rosselyn Ramirez

Carousel (A Dance) is danced by Jackie McConnell and Raymond Tilton to Richard Rodgers' classic love song "If I Loved You" from the 1945 musical Carousel. Played movingly by pianist Mungunchimeg Buriad, this sole accompaniment expresses perfectly the elegance and beauty of Wheeldon's choreography. Holly Hines' simple costumes, McConnell's knee-length yellow dress and Tilton's grey shirt and black pants with red neckerchief, befit the simplicity and elegance of the music and focus attention on the outstanding dancing. Staging is by Joanna Berman, celebrated former principal dancer of San Francisco Ballet.

This tender and joyous piece celebrates a couple's love for each other in a dreamlike pas de deux. Beginning slowly with caresses and supported pirouettes, each of the couple in turn moves away yet returns to the other's beckoning. The music builds in tempo and crescendo as the dancers realize and express their joy in their love for each other. Tilton's repeated high lifts and cartwheel are impressive; remote rehearsals evidently haven't slowed him down. McConnell's expressiveness is touching and convincing of her caring and joy. This piece is a pleasure to experience.

Lauren Jonas, Artistic Director of Diablo Ballet
Lauren Jonas, Artistic Director of Diablo Ballet

Frugivory is by Portuguese choreographer Bruno Roque to music by the Portuguese band Dead Combo, a mostly instrumental group with eclectic influences. I admit I had to look up the word frugivory. The dictionary defines frugivory as referring to animals that live mostly on raw fruit. Among primates there is a connection between this diet and sociality. Be that as it may, what is clear in this piece is there is more going on than meets the eye.

The work opens as three men in street clothes begin moving slowly to a string instrumental. Suddenly the tempo picks up to something resembling 1960s pop music. I begin to wonder if Frugivory also refers to the popular 1960s dance The Frug. Three women in street clothes enter, each holding an apple, reminiscent of Eve and the Garden of Eden. They writhe to the '60s sound. As the music ends, each woman holds her apple in her mouth and partners with a man. The men take a bite of their apple. Olivia Powell and Felipe Leon dance to a slow and sultry guitar instrumental while Donghoon Lee and Michael Wells eat their apples and Amanda Farris and Jackie McConnell dance in the background. Roque has choreographed some challenging dancing, and the Diablo dancers are up to the challenge. A big surprise, to me at least, is the lengthy dialogue about apples between McConnell and Wells, who articulate it very well, by the way. It's clear that Roque has a lot going on below the surface of this witty and clever piece. Frugivory is different and fun, and I like it a lot.

Diablo Ballet plans to return to live performances in November. For now, Love Stories is available online from June 18 to 27 at diabloballet.org.