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March 22, 2008

Dance Salad, Program 2

By Molly Glentzer, Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle


Program two of this year's Dance Salad Festival made me think about stamina.

By repeating Thursday's two longest works, producer Nancy Henderek made Friday's show a marathon. The Cold Dagger and Among the Mountains are both composed in sections with clear endings -- the kind of moments that make you think, "Okay, this is it" -- that would have made it easy to run shorter excerpts the second time around.

The audience wore out faster than these world class contemporary ballet dancers, of course. Athletic stamina fused with virtuosic artistry in all of Friday's pieces. Of special note:

The independent duo of Rubinald Rofino Pronk, a sleek Black dancer formerly of the Dutch National Ballet, and Drew Jacoby, a tall, perfectly-ripped woman formerly of Alonzo King's Lines Ballet of San Francisco, were sensational -- all sinewy dynamite and flexy agility -- in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's angular showpiece, One.

I would have loved to see the National Ballet of Canada in Christopher Wheeldon's amazing Polyphonia earlier in the program, when I wasn't so worn out. It featured the festival's only live music: Pianist Andrew Burashko made the Gyorgi Ligeti score twinkle.

Watch this piece for eight top-of-their-game ballet dancers, and you understand why people call Wheeldon this generation's Balanchine. Polyphonia is very-much Mr.B-inspired in its abstraction and speed, yet full of fresh twists and partnering for the four couples.

The entire cast was elegant. It was fun to see former Houston Ballet principal Zdenek Konvalina in the jazzy variation. Now an NBC principal, he danced with such clarity and lightness that my guest whispered, "He's really special, isn't he?". And what a treat to see superstar principals Chan Hon Goh, Aleksandar Antonijevic, Greta Hodgkinson and Xiao Nan Yu in action -- living up to their reputations -- along with first soloists Patrick Lavoie, Piotre Stanczyk and Jillian Vanstone.

The audience loved Maria's Dream, Petr Zuska's comedic man-as-clumsy-swan ballet for the National Ballet Theater, Prague. The program said we were seeing a short version; I was thankful for that -- as the dance was mostly a series of silly pratfalls with a bench. Viktor Konvalinka, Lubor Kvacek, Jiri Vratil and Radek Vratil showed their acrobatic skill (along with their rear ends in the final moment, as they shed their white tutus). The dance's sole woman, ballerina Nikola Marova, wearing a man's suit, was too loud in her pointe shoes.

Once again, Polish National Opera Ballet's Marcin Krajewski brought down the house with the swift solo Les Bourgeois. He flew even higher, faster and cleaner Friday than he did Thursday.

The Jiri Kylian-Boris Paval Conen film CAR MEN is a masterpiece, although it was an odd choice for this program. Set in an Eastern European coal mine with mountains of ash, it's a surreal meditation on death, riffing on Bizet's Carmen through four zany characters who build a car from junk parts and fantasize about racing, death and sex. Think Charlie Chaplin-meets Frederico Fellini- meets Road Warrior, and you might start to get the idea. It deserves much more explanation than I can do justice to here, in the context of Dance Salad. Sabine Kupferberg, fabulously provocative, mean and fragile, is as amazing an actress as she was a dancer in her Netherlands Dance Theater years.

CAR MEN was recently released on DVD by ArtHaus Musik. My recommendation: Order it and see for yourself. It's a keeper.


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