DANCE REVIEW: Guests provide the star power in Brandon Ballet program
It's nice to have friends in high places — particularly when you are directing a small regional ballet company struggling to make a name for itself.
Octavio Martin, the former Sarasota Ballet principal who now serves as artistic director of the Brandon Ballet, called in favors from fellow Cubans and acquaintances around the ballet world to add some star power to his second annual "Dancing Through Generations" program presented at the Manatee Performing Arts Center Saturday night. Whether it was a one-shot injection of royalty or the catalyst toward realizing his lofty ambitions, however, remains to be seen.
Dancers from American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, Orlando Ballet and Washington Ballet bolstered a roster that, at present, has only four very part-time professionals and a half dozen amateur dancers. They added lustre to what might otherwise have been a fairly typical student production, contributing mostly bravura variations from well-known historical ballets; pre-professionals from Martin's company filled the lesser roles.
Not surprisingly, the highlight of the evening was the balcony pas de deux from Kenneth MacMillan's "Romeo and Juliet," performed by American Ballet Theatre's Cory Stearns and Luciana Paris. To their credit, the two New Yorkers didn't just call it in, but embraced their roles with enthusiasm and credible passion.
Paris's sweet and innocent personna was just right for the familiar love scene as was Stearn's boyish charm. Given the unusual height of the balcony set and choreography that called for him to reach up and touch his beloved's hand Stearns' his lean, long limbs were also a plus.
The other glitterati couple — Ashley Ellis and Alejandro Virelles of Boston Ballet — closed the show with the pas d'action from "La Bayadere," but generated a lot less electricity. Ellis, who spent one season with the Sarasota Ballet two years ago, has quickly risen to principle status in Boston, but while both she and Virelles were technically flawless, there was little chemistry between them and I missed the musicality Ellis often brought to the roles she danced here. Many ballerinas, however, would kill to have feet as beautiful as Virelles'.
More exciting was Boston corps member Irlan Silva in the Bronze Idol variation, performed with high energy but controlled precision in the usual head-to-toe gold body makeup.
I also enjoyed Ariel Breitman and Taylor Massa of the Washington Ballet in "Flames of Paris," a great vehicle for Massa's unabashed flamboyence and bang-flipping head fluorishes. Both compactly-built dynamos, they were well-suited for the variation, known for its bravura turns and leaps.
Locals were pleased to see Martin's wife, Yaima Franco, paired with Cuban friend Yosbel Delgado in the pas de six from "Esmeralda," (with Brandon Ballet's Shaelyn Estrada, Jullian Grall, Taylor Hardcastle and Claire Synhorst). Franco served as ballet mistress with the Sarasota Ballet, but never danced with the company.
Martin, mostly retired from the stage, does primarily character roles these days, but his latest choreography was on display in the contemporary "Claro de Luna," to the familiar Debussy score. It lacked a sustained vision, but Gerard Avelar and Stephanie Carpio of the Orlando Ballet handled the challenging partnering fluidly.
The program began with a plea from Martin — against a video backdrop of himself and Franco dancing a pas de deux — for support of his company. Though it has been around for two decades, Brandon Ballet has, until now, been mostly an amateur operation. It is Martin's goal that it soon will become a professional troupe, one that can supply its own stars rather than import them from elsewhere.
DANCING THROUGH GENERATIONS II, Brandon Ballet. Reviewed at the Manatee Performing Arts Center Nov. 16. No additional performances.