The usual first seasonal appearance of our community ballet companies comes at Thanksgiving, when the arts world is suddenly flush with performances of The Nutcracker.
This year, though, Ballet Palm Beach has changed that by mounting a show in October that featured not only its first Balanchine ballet but also a new work based on a classic fairy tale.
That new work, company chief Colleen Smith’s staging of the Grimm fairy tale Snow White, proved to be an excellent idea for a ballet, particularly one for a troupe that serves as an educational institution for young performers. It has all of the Smith trademarks: Clever-but-disciplined stage business to occupy the younger dancers and a delightful presentation that seizes the audience’s attention.
In this case, it was the seven “little men,” with beards, pickaxes and much dancing on their knees, plus four henchmen for the evil queen dressed in elaborate and impressive gryphon costumes. The familiar story, set to unspecified music from medieval Europe and pieces by the contemporary Italian composer Ezzio Bosso, also featured lovely movement from 11 girls as the Myst, shape-shifting in elegant counterpoint to the swagger of the main events.
The show — which I saw Oct. 23 at the Eissey Campus Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens — also looked terrific, with set (Scott Smith, Roger Mitchell, Marshall Levin) and lighting (Chris Esterline) designs that made effective use of a scrim, hanging eyes in a forest, plenty of fog and a color scheme that immediately immersed the viewer in a different world. The costumes, too, credited to Elisa Saether, Deborah Marquez, Rogelio Corrales and the St. Lucie Ballet, were apt and attractive, well-suited to a legendary world.
The principal dancers were the company’s longtime prima ballerina Lily Ojea Loveland as the Queen, and Sarah Wilson and Aaron Melendez as the Prince. Loveland spent much time on the shoulders of her gryphons, swooping in and out, and making appropriately menacing and haughty poses as she plotted Snow White’s demise.
Wilson and Melendez proved to be fine, graceful dancers, but it would have been nice to have a big pas de deux, instead of leaving them watching, Nutcracker-style, as the rest of the company celebrated the Queen’s comeuppance. Nonetheless, this was an effective and charming ballet, well worth seeing and offering as a piece for young educational companies like this in other places.
It would be nice to see a program featuring excerpts from Smith’s other ballets on a retrospective concert; over the years she has turned out one engaging show after another, and it might be time to take stock of them in the aggregate.
The program opened with Loveland and Steven Melendez in Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, set to music the composer added to Swan Lake for a different ballerina but shelved after that until it was unearthed in the 1950s. It was a pleasure to see this classic work, with its encyclopedia of moves employed in the service of a surpassingly elegant, joyful courtship. Loveland has strong technique and a commanding stage presence, and Melendez was light on his feet and full of youthful energy.
It’s a coup for this small company to have been granted the rights to do this Balanchine piece, its first ever, and Loveland and Melendez brought the piece home with stylish verve.
The two other works on the program also impressed: Donna Murray’s Space Between Words, set to a minimalist score by Arvo Pärt and enacted in half-light. This man-woman duet, featuring Tyveze Littlejohn and Madeleine Miller consisted of a series of slow-moving, gorgeous body sculptures; Littlejohn wore only shorts and Miller, shorts and a bandeau, which highlighted muscles and motion. This is a beautiful, highly communicative, subtly erotic work, and it was impressively and memorably performed.
Roger Van Fleteren’s unRAVELed, set to music by Ravel, was a vivid, strong piece for three couples (Loveland and Aaron Melendez, Miller and Ricardo Gil, Littlejohn and Nineh Irving) and a seventh dancer, Danielle Glynn, who moved among them as a free spirit while the couples went through similar motions; at the end, she leaped past them at the end in a beautifully judged exit that in this context personified the idea of dance itself.